THE PARENTS: Rachael Braciszewski, 33, and Nick Braciszewski, 31, of Haddon Township
THE CHILD: Noah Rose, born March 24, 2020
SWEET ANTICIPATION: They look forward, once the coronavirus crisis has eased, to a family gathering that will include Nick’s Mommom. “Time’s ticking,” he says. “I want to make sure we get four generations in one room together.”
Rachael and Nick needed Google translate to decipher the directions on the pregnancy test they’d picked up in a Dubrovnik pharmacy. It was the middle of their honeymoon — tours of Germany, Poland, and Prague, followed by a cruise around Italy with stops in Sicily, Malta, and Croatia — and Rachael’s period was three days late.
The pharmacist spoke English, but the test kit’s directions were in Croatian. “The picture on the front was really tiny,” Rachael recalls. “And I have really bad eyesight. Then the words popped up, with a plus sign.”
Nick catalogs that moment in the same emotional archive as the day he proposed and the day they wed: “I didn’t cry, but I was a little emotional. Just shaking … all the things that are going through your head. We were in the middle of our honeymoon. It was beautiful out. It was the perfect time.”
They kept the news to themselves; Rachael even made sure to pose for photographs with a tumbler in her hand, so Instagram pals wouldn’t think she was avoiding alcohol. After returning, they invited their parents, Nick’s beloved Mommom, and their siblings to see pictures from the trip. One shot showed pregnancy tests in nine different languages.
The two met on eHarmony, shared their first-date dinner at a Collingswood restaurant, and, within six months, were house hunting. Rachael took note of Nick’s affection for his family; he appreciated her adventurous spirit, her love of annual trips to a lake in New Hampshire.
“A lot of dating had felt like work,” Nick says. “But the more time I started to spend with Rachael, the easier it was for me to be myself.”
“We never had to put on a show for each other,” she agrees.
Living together in a 1950s fixer-upper highlighted some of their differences: Rachael cooks strictly by the recipe, while Nick will grab four cans from the pantry and toss their contents together to make a meal. He bought a trash can with a foot pedal; she preferred one that opened when you pressed the lid.
On the day of a housewarming that doubled as an Eagles party, Nick kept offering to make breakfast, while Rachael focused on readying the house for guests. Finally, 15 minutes before kickoff, he coaxed her to the porch and proposed. “She said yes. We kissed. Then we went back to cutting the ham and vacuuming before all the guests came.”
They married in November 2018, a dank and chilly day, with the reception in an uninsulated barn. Guests began dancing — maybe it was the Michael Jackson soundtrack, perhaps an effort to keep warm — between the salad and the main course. Friends formed a sparkler bridge for the couple to run through as they left.
“I’ve always wanted three kids, and I wanted them soon,” Rachael says. “I pretty much think I was put on earth to be a mom.” They thought they’d hold off until after their July honeymoon, but by spring, they couldn’t think of a good reason to wait.
“It was the next step of life,” Nick says. “I was ready to be a dad.”
On March 1, after her baby shower, Rachael began to bleed, a consequence of placenta previa, a condition in which the placenta covers the cervix. The remedy: hospitalization, with the first few days on complete bed rest, for the remainder of her pregnancy.
At first, the stay at Virtua Voorhees felt like a vacation: Rachael wrote thank you notes for shower gifts, began knitting a baby blanket, and became glued to daytime TV talk shows. But more and more, breaking news about the coronavirus interrupted those broadcasts.
“That’s when it hit me: This is something real,” she says. The second Sunday in March, their parents and Nick’s grandmother clustered in the hospital room to celebrate his and Rachel’s birthdays. By the end of that week, policies had changed: only one visitor per patient.
Moments before Rachael’s scheduled C-section, Nick found himself idling in a hallway. “I was a nervous wreck, but trying to be calm. Then the doctor came in, whistling. I sat right next to Rachael, and 10 minutes later they said ‘Look up,’ and the baby was floating there, over the plastic cover. She was silent as could be. She just stared.”
Rachael had pored over What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but nothing in that book prepared her for parenthood during a pandemic: an Amazon website swept clean of baby wipes; no grandparents permitted to visit the hospital.
By the time they were discharged with Noah, “most nurses were wearing two masks,” Rachael says. And when it was time to leave, an orderly wheeled her to the couple’s car and said goodbye, leaving them to fumble with the car seat.
Now they’re hunkered at home — a relief, on one hand, because they don’t have to entertain visitors, but a lonely contrast to the postpartum weeks they envisioned. Rachael can take walks with her mother, who lives five blocks away, as long as she stays on the sidewalk with the baby while her mom strolls in the street. Nick’s parents saw Noah once in person, from a safe six-foot distance. The rest of their encounters have been on FaceTime.
Rachael and Nick try hard to keep their focus on the life unfolding at home rather than the crisis seething outside. “I’m seeing how much of a team Rachael and I are — how at 2 a.m. we can both be irritable, but we’re going to make sure Noah has everything she needs.”