THE PARENTS: Megan Alt, 29, and Dan Alt, 29, of Glenside
THE CHILD: Eleanor Lane, born June 28, 2019
DAN’S THOUGHTS ON ADVICE: “We’d read all the books, talked to our friends, got input where we could. But there’s nothing that is going to prepare you for having a child.”
When in doubt, Megan makes a spreadsheet. There was one that parsed all the tasks leading up to their wedding; another to organize the endless details when they bought a house and moved.
So after their disbelief and joy at that faint line on the drugstore test (“Does that mean you’re a little bit pregnant?” Dan had asked), Megan launched into her typical approach to any big life change.
Her spreadsheet included doctor’s appointments, items to buy, household projects, resources on labor and parenthood, financial reminders. “I think, knowing that parenthood is such an uncontrollable time period, this was the component I had a little control over,” she says. “It helped me transition into that period of the unknown.”
When they met, as students at American University, Megan’s steady internal compass was part of the appeal. Dan came from what he describes as “a very unstructured life,” raised by a single mother who left the military with multiple health issues and disabilities. “Megan provides so much structure and consistency,” he says.
In turn, she welcomed Dan’s easygoing style as a counterpoint to her own type A tendencies. “We really balance each other out,” Megan says.
Their first date was for pizza and ping-pong. Within a few months, when Dan spent the last $7 in his bank account to take Megan out for frozen yogurt, they had a feeling this relationship was something serious. And when they remained a couple during a long-distance stint — Megan spent four months working in Nicaragua after graduation, while Dan still had a semester remaining at school — the deal was clinched.
When they moved to a small apartment near the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, they decided to be proactive about their preferences. “We had a whole conversation about ‘I like to stack the dishes this way. … I like to have the toilet seat down,’ ” Megan says. “We were very cognizant of communicating with each other.”
By Fall 2014, Megan had been communicating — clearly and frequently — her wish to be engaged. “Maybe tomorrow,” was Dan’s casual reply. Then, right before her birthday, he suggested an outing to a park near Washington National Airport. He brought a picnic. He proposed.
They married on Halloween — not in costume, though they did nod to the holiday with a “trick-or-treat” candy station for guests. Megan, as usual, had been upfront about her ideas for the future: a move closer to both of their families (hers in Hatboro; Dan’s mom in Long Island) before embarking on the baby project.
They lived for five months in Megan’s parents’ basement before buying a house in Glenside. Megan was already reading about conception, labor, and parenthood, “trying to see how this all works.”
For most of 2018, they were trying — “living and breathing by the [ovulation and pregnancy] tests,” Dan says — until that faint line showed up in October. On Halloween, their anniversary, they dressed as peanut butter (Megan) and jelly (Dan) and used their wedding flutes to toast with champagne for him and ginger ale for her.
The first trimester felt treacherous; Megan’s mother had a history of miscarriages, so their excitement was tempered with anxiety. “I threw up almost every day,” Megan recalls. “I took a lot of naps. I’d come home and sleep; Dan would make dinner and clean and do everything we needed to do to keep ourselves running.”
A HypnoBirthing class helped prepare them both, with relaxation techniques, mantras, and soothing music they could use during labor, along with coaching in how to advocate for themselves during the process. The week before their due date, Dan was scheduled to be best man at a friend’s wedding; he went, with a refundable plane ticket and a backup pal ready with a speech, just in case.
“Dan being in Cincinnati the week before the birth was nerve-racking for me,” Megan says. “And I was pretty nervous about things I didn’t have any control over — if breastfeeding was going to work out, what my labor was going to look like.”
Again, Dan’s laissez-faire demeanor provided balance. “I had faith that whatever was going to happen, we were going to get through it.”
On June 27, Megan woke up at 5 a.m. and soon found herself googling, “What does it feel like when your water breaks?” They labored at home until after lunch, then headed to Abington-Jefferson Hospital, toting their yoga ball. After each contraction, even the fiercer ones brought on by a Pitocin drip, Dan would coach her: Can you do one more? “He helped me get through them one at a time, which was awesome.”
The baby was head-down but faceup. Megan pushed for four hours. And when Eleanor finally emerged, her head was so swollen from being stuck in the birth canal that it looked as though she was wearing a bowler hat.
“She latched right away, which was incredible,” Megan says. “Both of us not having any idea who the other was, and having this intimate connection.”
Despite all their planning, parenthood was paved with questions. “Where do we put her?” Dan asked on their way home from the hospital. “I mean, we can’t hold her all the time.”
Megan found that she needed to connect with others — people at the Breastfeeding Resource Center, friends with children, a moms’ group in Jenkintown. And when she realized that the prospect of going back to work felt overwhelming, she sought counsel from a therapist. “She helped me understand that I’m my own person, that being a mother is part of my identity, not all of my identity.”