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With family, having more brings them more

Lindsey just wanted the new baby and Eliot to have different birthdays. And sure enough, just after celebrating Eliot’s 2nd year on Feb. 20, she woke up with contractions.

Lindsey and John with kids (from left): Penny, Eliot, and Jamie.
Lindsey and John with kids (from left): Penny, Eliot, and Jamie.Read moreCheri McMonagle

THE PARENTS: Lindsey McMonagle, 34, and John Flagler, 42, of Havertown

THE CHILDREN: Jamie Rose, 11; Eliot Louise, 2; Penny Dolores, born Feb. 21, 2021

THE HARDEST PART OF PANDEMIC PARENTHOOD: The immediate postpartum weeks. “We’d been home for a year, the world was still too weird, and now we have this brand-new baby who doesn’t have an immune system and can’t go anywhere,” Lindsey says.

Lindsey’s sudden fatigue should have been a sign. She and John were painting the house they’d just bought, and she fell asleep on a tarp on the dining room floor. A few days later, after peering at a drugstore test in the early morning dark, she said to John, “I think I’m pregnant.”

That was May 2018. “The timeline was that we’d put a deposit on a wedding venue and then made settlement on our house and then found out we were going to have a baby,” Lindsey says.

They’d been together for about a year — ever since John, an English teacher, was grading student papers at the cafe Lindsey managed. The two began talking over lattes. “Lindsey was a free thinker,” he recalls. “We talked about social issues, politics, life issues. Her responses were so authentic and so genuine.”

Lindsey was drawn to John’s goofiness and gregarious personality. The two dated for a few months before she introduced him to Jamie, then 6, the child she’d been raising alone. “Financially and emotionally, it was very difficult being a mom by myself. But by the time I met John, I was OK and happy. I wasn’t trying to fill a hole. I’d made peace with myself, and the world kind of opened up.”

For John, the relationship meant committing to one place — and to two people. He’d been accustomed to an itinerant life: renting a room in Ardmore for $500 a month, taking off on a five-week road trip, toying with the prospect of a job in Montana.

“I love to be able to just up and go,” John says. “That’s what I did for a long time. But after a few months, I realized I didn’t want to do any of that stuff without Lindsey and Jamie. I realized: This is my path.”

There was no proposal; instead, both recall a “logical conversation” about their future. The “engagement ring,” Lindsey jokes, was a twin house in Havertown. Jamie refers to that period as “the time we adopted John.”

For years, Lindsey figured Jamie would be her only child. “But after I met John, I thought: It makes sense to have children with this person.” And John was completely on board: “I couldn’t imagine not having kids with this person. It was: Let’s go big or go home.”

They waited 12 weeks after that positive pregnancy test, and Jamie was the first one they told. “We said, ‘We’re going to have another baby,’ ” Lindsey recalls. The response? “The whole range of human emotions. First, Jamie said, ‘Are you pranking me?’ Then, a moment of shock, and then Jamie was really happy.”

Lindsey recalled her first labor and childbirth — nothing traumatic, just a standard hospital experience that left her feeling disempowered, as if labor were something that happened to her. “I wanted a model of care where I wouldn’t have to fight with my provider about things I wanted,” she says, so they chose Lifecycle WomanCare, the birth center in Bryn Mawr.

When labor started, Lindsey held off on leaving the house, waiting long enough that “I was pretty convinced we were going to have a baby on our bedroom floor.” They barely made it to the birth center; Eliot was born 45 minutes after they arrived.

“The hardest part for me was seeing the amount of pain Lindsey was in and not being able to do anything,” John recalls. “I was cradling her head in my arms, saying, ‘I’m right here. You got this.’ ”

When Eliot emerged, John felt awash in emotions: stunned, protective, overwhelmed.

“I was about to turn 40 the following month; this was something I never thought would happen to me.” Eliot was born at 7:07 a.m. By midafternoon, they were home — a family of four, now, having pizza.

“We knew we wanted at least one more,” Lindsey says. “Neither of us was getting any younger.” They began talking about a third child around Eliot’s first birthday — which turned out to be the final big get-together with family and friends before 2020′s quarantine began.

Then the question became: Try to get pregnant now or wait until the pandemic subsides? At an annual checkup, Lindsey’s midwife said, “Babies are still being born. We’re still here. We need new life, too.”

In late May, Lindsey found herself once again squinting at a pregnancy test. She had a hunch it would be another girl. In some ways, this pregnancy mirrored the one with Eliot: intense first-trimester nausea and third-trimester discomfort.

But this time, there was a high-energy toddler to chase, and a pandemic that kept them all marooned at home. “In a lot of ways, being pregnant during the pandemic was kind of nice. Over the winter, it felt like we were just tucked in and cozy,” with John teaching from home and Jamie’s school, too, operating virtually.

Lindsey just wanted the new baby and Eliot to have different birthdays. And sure enough, just after celebrating Eliot’s 2nd year on Feb. 20, she woke up with contractions. She ate a protein bar, her water broke on the kitchen floor, and Penny was born an hour after they got to the birth center.

John took one look and dissolved in tears. “The whole family was real,” he recalls thinking. “Everything we’d done in the previous three years was all real.”

Now, they both feel acutely aware of time’s strange trajectories. “I was 23 when Jamie was born,” Lindsey says. “I had unlimited energy. Now, I don’t. But I am much more patient, and I feel more confident in my parenting.”

For John, the last four years vaulted him from single guy to married father of three. He tried explaining to his own mother how each child somehow deepened his love for all of them. “She said, ‘Yes. Because you have become more.’ It was profound.”