THE PARENTS: Laura Laws, 29, and Robert Laws, 29, of Chestnut Hill
THE CHILD: Calvin Herbert, born Sept. 9, 2019
THEIR PREPARATION FOR LABOR: Several sessions with a doula and some birth videos that Robert watched and then recapped for Laura. “I didn’t want to watch,” she says. “I don’t do well with blood and things.”
Riley, it turned out, was an enlightening rehearsal for parenthood. When they adopted the dog, a hypoallergenic poodle mix, during Laura’s second year of graduate school, Robert was a novice in the canine department.
“I’m not a dog person,” he says. “It was very much her wish to have a dog.” After Laura spotted 4-year-old Riley online, the couple entered a competitive, multistage process: a home visit, an interview, a trip to the rescue where Robert found himself sitting amid a group of homeless pups.
“Only one dog came up and growled at me,” he says, laughing. “I remember turning to Laura and saying, ‘Well, that dog didn’t like me very much.’ ” That dog was Riley, the one Laura was hoping to adopt.
Once Riley was home, they had to talk about discipline, about positive reinforcement, about what to do when Riley whimpered in the middle of the night. They had to divide the work: Robert walked the dog in the morning, Laura did so in the afternoon, and both took a post-dinner stroll with Riley while they shared stories of their days.
For Robert, dog care was an exercise in empathy. “It didn’t take long to love him. But it took a while to be patient and understand that he was communicating with us in the best way he knew how.”
“It was tough, the first five or six months,” Laura recalls. “I think we learned some preliminary parenting-type skills.”
When Robert decided to propose later that year, Riley became an integral part of his plan. Laura was cleaning house in anticipation of a Thanksgiving visit from Robert’s mother. “He came home and put his coat on the chair. I said, ‘Can you put your coat away?’ He was really weird about it. Then he picked up Riley and brought him over and said, ‘Here. Look.’ ” The dog’s collar held a heart that said, “Will you marry me?”
By that point, the two had known each other for seven years, ever since they lived on the same floor as first-year students at the University of Vermont. They took a class together — American history, in which Robert was impressed by Laura’s meticulous note-taking — and hung out with a cluster of friends who played Kan Jam, a Frisbee game, and Monopoly, and inevitably gravitated to Robert’s room to watch movies.
The friendship evolved into romance. “I could trust that she cared about me as a person,” Robert says. “Being friends first really helped.”
They married in 2017 in Bethesda, Md.; highlights included a choreographed group dance and the 15-minute Uber ride from the church to the reception, a quiet interlude to absorb the vows they’d just made. Even the unscripted moments — cutting into a tres leches cake that was still frozen solid, or being locked out of their hotel room due to a glitch with the electronic key — are funny in retrospect.
Having children was never a question. “I lost my father when I was pretty young; I was 12,” Robert says. “I distinctly remember him mentioning the importance of having a family. That stuck with me for a long time.”
Laura began babysitting as a preteen and works with children as a speech and language pathologist. Sometimes she and Robert would point out winsome children in their midst, or blurt in the middle of an outing, “Someday we’ll take our kids here.”
Conception took exactly two months, and they found out early — too early to share the news with family, even through a December dinner in an Italian restaurant at which the odor of fish sent Laura bolting to the bathroom. “I threw up in my dad’s car on the way home,” she says. “He kept asking me if I was OK. This was the first grandchild. Everyone was waiting. But we wanted to make sure everything was 100 percent.”
The baby was fine, and the pregnancy easy after the initial nausea. For Laura, there were moments of realization — for instance, when she felt a decisive kick — but for Robert, the prospect of a baby remained remote, hypothetical.
“I’d touch her stomach and feel things,” he recalls. He’d watch a blurry figure swim through ultrasounds. He reasoned that “someone” was going to occupy the crib he assembled and wear the clothes they were folding into dresser drawers. “But it didn’t hit me until labor actually started. I was just taking care of my wife who was going through some pretty significant changes.”
They opted not to learn the baby’s sex before birth. “I felt like if I knew the gender, there would probably be some expectations I’d start setting myself up for that wouldn’t be fair to the child,” Robert says. So they called their future child “baby,” or sometimes “they,” which puzzled listeners who would ask, “Wait. Is it twins?”
On her due date, Aug. 31, the two went out for Indian food. Nothing. Laura bounced on her yoga ball. She walked the dog. She scheduled an induction date but secretly hoped labor would begin naturally. And it did — with cramps that came intermittently while shopping at Acme, then ramped up throughout the day and night.
At Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, though, her labor stalled. Pitocin helped — as did stints in the shower and on the yoga ball, bouncing through contractions. She pushed for two hours.
“I was just kind of in awe of what she was doing,” says Robert. “Women have a higher pain tolerance, I understood that, but this blew my mind. She was tired, exhausted physically and emotionally, and just pushed through.”