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Long but eventful drive to the hospital

“We knew we wanted to have children, but it was a matter of when,” Keating says.

Keating and Yiran with Maeve (left) and Rafa
Keating and Yiran with Maeve (left) and RafaRead moreJudy Sherry

THE PARENTS: Yiran Sherry, 33, and Keating Sherry, 34, of Wayne

THE KIDS: Rafa Evan Daniel, 3; Maeve Lily, born Sept. 9, 2021

THEIR NAMES: Rafa is a nod to tennis star Rafael Nadal and the painter Raphael; Maeve is a character in The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, a novel they both read during quarantine.

For one loopy, grateful, astonished minute, they thought about changing the baby’s middle name to Tess.

After all, the nurses at Paoli Hospital were referring to newborn Maeve Lily as “the Tesla baby” and querying Yiran every time they entered her room: “Are you the one who delivered the baby in the car?”

Sept. 9 began with contractions in the middle of the night — just like Yiran’s labor with their son, Rafa, three years earlier. “I knew,” she recalls. “I said to Keating, ‘Today’s the day, but I don’t think it’s happening anytime soon.’ ” At 8:30, she was doing laundry and readying Rafa for preschool.

“I put him in the backseat and went to check on Yiran,” Keating says. “Her water had broken a few seconds prior. She said, ‘Take Rafa to school, then come back and get me.’ But I thought: Time is of the essence.”

So he helped his wife — by then, contracting so fiercely she could barely walk — into the car, where she crouched on the floor in front of the passenger seat.

Lancaster Avenue was choked with rush-hour traffic. Keating put the car on autopilot, which meant he could keep his left hand lightly on the wheel while glancing back to check on Rafa and swiveling to tend to his wife.

Yiran’s contractions were one minute apart. “She was squeezing my hand to the point where I thought she was going to shatter it,” Keating says. “I was [saying to] Yiran: OK, focus on your breathing. That was advice to myself, as well. My adrenaline was pumping. I said, ‘Rafa, everything’s fine. Your baby sister is arriving.’ ”

The 20-minute drive from Wayne to Paoli felt like two hours; each time Yiran caught her breath between contractions, she glanced at the GPS to clock their progress. And then, just as they pulled up to the hospital, she whispered, “Oh, my God, Keating. She’s out.”

A pediatrician happened to be standing outside the doors; he summoned nurses, who raced down and cut the umbilical over the car’s front seat. “Once the pediatrician said, ‘She’s healthy. Congratulations,’ that was quite the sigh of relief,” Keating says.

Yiran, who had worried about a long labor, calls the birth “perfect.” And Rafa tells it this way: “Mommy had an owie, so we went to the hospital and Mommy had a baby.”

It couldn’t have been more different from his own birth, in San Francisco, three years earlier. That time, Yiran labored for hours in the hospital, with the help of an epidural, until she was fully dilated and ready to push.

“All of a sudden, the monitor showed Rafa’s heart rate was dropping. They pushed the red button; it was like watching Grey’s Anatomy.” Keating was frantically using Google translate to explain to Yiran’s mother, in Mandarin, what was happening.

The next thing Yiran knew, she was being wheeled into a chilly operating room. Less than an hour later, she had an infant in her arms. “I was on the other side of the curtain,” Keating recalls. “As soon as he came out, I got to hold him. An unforgettable moment. Such relief that he was OK.”

The couple, who met while teaching at Rainbow Bridge International School in Shanghai, were immediately fascinated with one another. “She has a great energy and presence, a lightness,” Keating says, while Yiran remembers “this tall and handsome guy — late [for the teachers’ first-day orientation], but charming.”

Their first date was at Jin Mao Tower, with a spectacular view from the 88th floor. “From early on in the relationship, I felt like: This is the one,” Yiran says. “He’s very caring. Very optimistic. He always thinks of the best side of everyone and everything.”

Keating admired Yiran’s skill as a teacher. Their interests — yoga, travel, a penchant for wandering around cities — dovetailed. When she opened a small bakery business at their school — a specialty was a layered concoction made of graham crackers, Nutella, condensed milk, and Snickers bars — Keating became official taster and sous chef.

He returned to the United States for an ed tech job in San Francisco; Yiran remained at the Shanghai school for one more year before joining Keating in the Bay Area. He proposed near the Golden Gate Bridge, exactly three years after they’d met.

A wedding seemed complicated: her family in China, his mostly on the East Coast, two grandparents nearing 100. They settled on a courthouse ceremony and hope to bring their families together for a bigger celebration at some future date.

“We knew we wanted to have children, but it was a matter of when,” Keating says. “We liked the independence and freedom. We were enjoying that season of our lives.” Yiran, an only child, definitely wanted a larger family. “There’s a one-child policy in China,” she says. “It was very lonely growing up as a single child in the family. There was no one to play with.”

Friends had prepped them for parenthood — ”You’re not going to sleep,” they cautioned — but Rafa turned out to be a sound sleeper who could go six hours without waking during his first month. And it helped that Yiran’s mother came to stay with them after the birth. She taught Keating tai chi and spoke Mandarin to the baby.

They moved to the Philadelphia area just before Thanksgiving 2018 and began talking about having a second child after Rafa turned 2. Yiran had an early miscarriage in the fall of 2020; a few months later, she was pregnant again.

“We were so thrilled. We were definitely ready to have another one,” she says.

In the end, they stuck with “Lily,” one of the characters in Yiran’s mother’s name, for the baby’s middle name. But they plan to hang onto the car. “I wouldn’t be too surprised if, in the year 2037, Maeve is getting her permit with that Tesla,” Keating says.