THE PARENTS: Samantha Giusti, 34, and Amy Scarano, 43, of South Philadelphia
THE CHILD: Beau Sebastian, born March 15, 2020
HIS NAME: Samantha had a dream in which someone was holding a baby — hers — and uttered that name. “It just felt like a prophecy,” she says. “Like it was given to us.”
They finished their hike — it was a “glamping” trip in the Finger Lakes for Amy’s 40th birthday — and sat down to admire the waterfall.
“I appreciate that you take me outside my comfort zone,” Samantha began. “And that you bring out the best in me.”
Amy started to respond, saying what she cherished about Samantha. Then she began to cry. “I looked down, and she had this small box,” Samantha recalls. “She opened it, and there was a ring. I was flabbergasted.”
For the pair, who met while volunteering at the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund, “slow and steady” had been their relationship’s tempo. They zipped around Philadelphia on Amy’s Vespa; they deflected friends’ queries — “Why don’t you two just date?” — by saying, “No, we’re friends.”
But after a year or so of casual dating, they were walking across the bridge from Lambertville to New Hope when Samantha said, “Can we name what we’re doing?"
“A year after that, Amy asked me to move in with her. And then on her birthday, she asked me to marry her.”
Both women are from New Jersey; both are Italian, with families whose traits felt recognizable. “Samantha’s the smartest person I had ever met. When we started dating, she was 26, but she was so wise beyond her years.”
Samantha recalls reading a quote that advised, “You should find the best person you know, and marry them.” And that was Amy.
Children might have been a deal-breaker; Amy had previously been in a long relationship with a partner who didn’t want children, and she’d made peace with that. “But when I met Samantha, I felt differently.”
Samantha loved playing house and tending dolls as a child; as an adult, she still wanted kids. “I settled into a life I really loved. Nothing was missing. And that’s a good thing. It wasn’t that I wanted to have kids to fill a void.”
They thought about international adoption: too many barriers. A private domestic adoption would be costly. They knew friends who were fostering and hoping to adopt, but that could take years.
“Neither of us was getting any younger,” Samantha says. “When we looked at the sheer logistics — what was the easier, most direct, most cost-effective way — that was going to be me carrying a baby.”
Initially, she favored asking a male friend to donate sperm. But Amy balked. “I already was not a biological parent of this child. I didn’t want to feel like the third wheel,” she says. So they used a sperm bank, scanning donor lists until they found someone whose traits — height, an aptitude for math and science — complemented Samantha’s.
“I didn’t see a lot of people who really wowed me,” Samantha recalls. “It’s hard to get a sense of who they are as a person: Are they kind? But we listened to his interview, and he sounded nice.”
He was also an “open-identity” donor, meaning he was willing to meet any future offspring, if they wished, once they turned 18.
Samantha was pregnant after one intrauterine insemination. “Amy wanted to shout it from the rooftops,” she says, but they kept the news to themselves for several weeks while Samantha struggled with constant nausea, vomiting, and sweats. When they did tell family — a special Christmas ornament for Samantha’s parents, and a onesie for Amy’s mom — they wept with joy. This would be the first grandchild on both sides.
After the first rough trimester, the pregnancy grew easier. They took a “baby-moon” trip to Palm Beach; they attended a birthing class and read a bit — but not too much — about labor and birth. “I figured I would just experience it as it came,” Samantha says. They called the baby “Poppy.” They planned on delivering at Jefferson Hospital, with Amy in the delivery room and immediate family joining them postpartum.
Some women in Samantha’s mom groups were starting to worry about the coronavirus. But there were only three cases in Philadelphia; Samantha continued to take the subway from South Philly every day, and when she checked into the hospital on the morning of March 13, all seemed normal.
Sixty-two hours later — after high doses of Pitocin, an epidural that didn’t quite work, and finally a C-section — the COVID-19 situation had changed dramatically. The emergency department was suddenly hectic with staff and patients in masks. Amy checked the CNN feed on her phone: shelter-in-place orders, the shuttering of nonessential businesses, the number of cases rising here and elsewhere.
The hospital refused deliveries of balloons or flowers. The kennel that was boarding their dog called to say it was closing. “It became increasingly clear that the situation was escalating around us,” Samantha says. They were discharged two days after her C-section.
They’d anticipated family and friends jumping in with a meal train, helping with laundry and dishes and shopping. They’d pictured lazy walks to the corner coffee shop. They were going to plan a baptism.
“It’s really just survival mode,” Amy says — spraying new baby items with Lysol, crossing the street with Beau when a stranger approaches, the swelling highs and grinding lows of new parenthood in the midst of a pandemic.
“If we were to get sick, what does that mean for Beau?” Samantha wonders. “Parenthood is life-changing. But for me, this is soul-changing. It’s beautiful, and it’s brutal.”
Samantha keeps flashing back to their wedding — March 2017, two months after President Trump’s inauguration, when their private jubilation felt layered against a collective anxiety. She didn’t realize until the two walked back down the aisle and out the church doors that she’d been holding her breath.