THE PARENTS: Nikol Lewis, 44, and Uriel Lewis, 42, of Wynnefield
THE KIDS: Jael Josephine (JJ), 8; Ezekiel Nathaniel, born Oct. 20, 2021
THE AGE GAP: “I had some concerns that the kids are going to be so far apart in age,” Nikol says, “but Jael is such a big helper. She’ll give him his paci; she’ll ask, ‘Can I hold him?’ The big age gap has honestly been good.”
When Nikol and Uriel went ring shopping in New York — she loves green, and he’d found a guy who sold loose emeralds — he confided that God had told him, early in their courtship, “That’s gonna be your wife.”
More than a decade later, when Nikol was certain her missed period meant pre-menopause, then found herself shaking with nervous laughter over a positive pregnancy test, she ran to show Uriel the results.
“Oh, yeah, you’re pregnant,” he said with a grin. “God told me we were going to have another kid.”
Nikol’s response: “Why am I never in on it when you guys talk?”
At the beginning — at least, once she realized his email through the eharmony dating app wasn’t spam from a porn site — their faith in God and their commitment to family drew the two together.
During their first date at Dave & Buster’s, Uriel recalls asking questions as if he was conducting a job interview: “I asked about her background, what her dreams were, where she saw herself in five years. She seemed genuine, and she didn’t take herself too seriously.”
“I remember him putting his arm around my waist,” Nikol says. “Normally, I wouldn’t let anybody touch me on a first date. But it felt really easy.”
Soon, Uriel figured out that Nikol loved food but didn’t care much for cooking. He made Southern-style feasts using his grandmother’s recipes, sometimes pairing spaghetti with fried chicken.
They married in 2010: a church wedding, a garter ceremony, and — a surprise to Nikol — the gift of a pearl necklace, clasped around her neck just before they were announced at the reception as husband and wife.
Nikol is close with her mother — she lived with her until she and Uriel were married — and always knew she wanted to nurture a child in the same way. And Uriel, who deeply admires his father, also wanted to pay the gift of parenting forward.
But six months after their wedding, Uriel felt a lump in one testicle. “I tried to ignore it, but the pain was too much for me to bear.” The diagnosis was cancer. The treatment: surgical removal of that testicle.
“The fear was that I wouldn’t be able to have kids. And the fear that the cancer would come back,” he says. “But I think I just trusted God. I believe he was calling for me to be a father.”
Nikol remembers that unnerving time: “I really was so optimistic about it. I didn’t think he was going to die. I didn’t think we were not going to have kids. But after two years of trying, I got pretty nervous. I made him go to the sperm bank to check viability. We didn’t know at the time that I was already pregnant.”
She was 35 — “geriatric” in obstetric terms. But the pregnancy was healthy, and Nikol remained at her job in fashion retail until less than a week before the due date. There was a last-minute trip to Walmart, a lavish steak dinner made by Uriel, then contractions that kept her awake all night.
At Delaware County Memorial Hospital, she pushed for four hours. “Every time I would push, she would rock back into the birth canal. Finally the doctor comes in and says: With this last push, if she hasn’t come out and the suction doesn’t work, you’re going to have to get a C-section. I was like: Are you frigging kidding?”
Jael emerged with jet-black hair, dark eyes, and a light fuzz on her back that made her parents laugh. She was the first infant of her generation on both sides of the family. And though the first six weeks of parenthood were, in Nikol’s words, “no joke,” they soon eased the strain by moving in with Uriel’s grandmother.
They wanted another baby. “But after five years of trying, I thought: Well, this is not going to happen,” Nikol says. “I came to the conclusion that we’d be blessed to have just one.” So when she missed a period early last year, she began researching symptoms of pre-menopause. A colleague convinced her to try a pregnancy test instead.
This pregnancy was different — more ligament and sciatic nerve pain, as well as the strain of walking in brutal summer heat. “I thought: This is totally changing our lifestyle,” Nikol says. “We were excited — finally, another kid — but it was also very jarring.”
Uriel wondered if he was too old to begin again with an infant. “But I realized I’m not the oldest parent in the world. And I’m more patient [now].”
The birth, at Lankenau Medical Center, was harder, too. “I was a hot mess, screaming, ‘You’ve got to get him out.’ They were saying, ‘No, you’ve got to get him out.’ ” The baby was breathing heavily; Nikol nursed him for a swift moment before he was trundled to the NICU and remained there for two days so doctors could monitor his lungs.
Now Nikol is home full-time, a mixed blessing. “When I had Jael, her grandmother was her primary caregiver in the daytime. I was able to go back to work, but I sacrificed some special moments. I’m getting to really experience his firsts … but I’m more on my own. It’s been more of being in the trenches with this baby.”
There have been rough stretches: sitting in the bathroom, in tears, her breasts fist-hard and painful despite regular pumping. And moments awash in gratitude for the baby they never thought they’d see.
Over the course of his career, Uriel has worked in child care and hospice care. “I remember sitting at the funeral of a 3-month-old baby who died of SIDS,” he says. “A 16-year-old boy who’d been shot in the back. And seeing old men die, folks in their 90s.
“I will definitely tell my kids: Life is short. Tomorrow’s not promised. Serve God with the time you have.”