THE PARENTS: Kristen Ashare, 38, and Becky Ashare, 38, of Roxborough
THE CHILD: Margaret (Maggie) Maureen, born Oct. 10, 2019
A WEDDING SOUVENIR: A signed card — preprinted, but still meaningful — from then-President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama congratulating them on their marriage.
At first, Kristen had the pregnancy test cloaked in a onesie inside a gift bag. Then she decided that was too optimistic, pulled the stick out of its wrapping and left it on the kitchen counter for Becky to see when she returned from her morning workout.
By that point, any glee about a pregnancy was tempered with wariness. They’d been trying for more than a year: eight intrauterine inseminations, one pregnancy loss at eight weeks, one ectopic pregnancy, and finally, a cycle of IVF.
“You start living your life in two-week increments,” Kristen says of those months of endless doctor’s appointments and hormone injections. “After IUI number eight failed, I thought: I can’t keep doing this roller-coaster.”
That year, 2018, was veined with other sorrows: Becky’s father died on the day of their final IUI, and her mother passed away a month later. So when she came home from the gym that morning and noted the drugstore test stick on the counter, she figured it was more bad news.
“Kristen said, ‘Look at the test!’ ” Becky remembers. “We were both very excited and also cautious.”
Kristen was so certain she wanted children that she’d been collecting children’s books even before she and Becky were a couple: an online meeting that led to a first date at Tria Taproom that segued to seeing one another almost every weekend. They called their inevitable weekly farewell “The Sunday Sads.”
“There are people who get really excited about the beginnings of relationships, the initial butterflies. And we both disliked that part,” Kristen says. “We wanted to get to the stability and solidness.”
After six months of dating, Kristen moved into Becky’s Roxborough house, adding her boxer, Mousse, and her cat, Squirrel, to Becky’s two-cat family. And even though Becky’s brand of housekeeping involves shoving items into boxes, while Kristen loves to organize her space, both the animals and the humans settled into a happy coexistence.
Near their one-year anniversary, Becky led Kristen on a scavenger hunt throughout the house; the final clue led to a ring, on their bed, surrounded by printouts of their first text messages to each other.
“Then it dawned on me: Oh, now I have to say something — words like ‘Will you marry me?’ ” Becky says. She stammered through. Kristen said yes … and a few hours later, revealed the ring she’d bought for Becky.
They planned to marry in the fall of 2017. But after the 2016 election, legalizing their union felt more urgent. “After Trump got elected, we freaked out a little bit,” Kristen says. “We didn’t want the writing to be on the wall and for us not to pay attention.”
So they invited their parents and two close friends, bought tickets to the National Constitution Center, secured a Quaker self-officiating license, and married in the museum’s main hall, under a huge American flag. “We were exercising a constitutional right, and that was important,” Kristen says.
Early on, they decided to use a sperm bank and an anonymous donor — a process Kristen describes as “the weirdest online dating we’ve ever done” combined with a frenzy like that of securing high-demand concert tickets, as vials of sperm from sought-after donors were released for purchase on a specific day and time.
It was Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the Jewish year, when the vials they wanted — the sperm that, ultimately, helped to create their daughter — were scheduled to drop. Kristen slipped out of her synagogue’s High Holiday services to discreetly use her phone and order some.
“Everything in the beginning [of the pregnancy] was shrouded in cautious optimism,” she says. But after a six-week ultrasound showed one healthy heartbeat, she relaxed into “an extraordinarily easy, normal pregnancy.”
They wanted a doula who could be both support and buffer, explaining their relationship to all the health-care providers they would encounter during the birth, so that no one would say, “What’s hubby’s name?” or ask about the baby’s father.
Their doula not only affirmed a non-gendered approach to labor and parenthood, but even asked Becky whether she wanted to try inducing lactation. With a regimen of progesterone and diligent every-three-hours use of a breast pump, Becky succeeded; by the due date, they already had a stockpile of breast milk in their freezer.
Kristen wanted a natural birth: no Pitocin, no epidural. Her labor began around 3 a.m., and she managed a day and evening of contractions at home by making deliberate eye contact with Becky during each surge of pain.
At Pennsylvania Hospital, when she was not quite dilated enough to push, the baby began jumping, straightening her legs with each contraction’s squeeze, enough that Kristen could feel the movement and Becky could watch her belly shaking.
“Watching Kristen give birth — a natural birth, unmedicated — was the most heroic, inspiring, unbelievable thing I have ever witnessed a human do,” she says. Becky caught the baby — “this tiny, slimy human” with a head of thick, dark hair.
Maggie’s eyes were wide open. She uttered one cry, then shoved her hands in her buttonhole mouth.
“The first week, you just live in three-hour increments,” Becky recalls. “There’s no sense of time or daylight, just this repetitive cycle that you zombie yourself through.”
Kristen believes they learned a crucial lesson of parenthood after that first pregnancy loss, back in 2017: that they were not in control. “It started off as a question: Are we going to spend the rest of our lives worried about whether this ball of cells makes it to the next stage? Then we realized: Oh, that’s parenthood.”