THE PARENTS: Andrea Thomas, 35, and Jeff Roman, 37, of Dresher
THE CHILD: Elanah Jade, born November 14, 2018
THE STORY OF HER NAME: “Elanah,” following the Jewish tradition to name a baby for a deceased relative, is for Jeff’s grandmother, Ethel. And both loved the euphony of that name with “Jade.”
He looked at the pregnancy test. He said, “I don’t believe it.” A second test, with the same unequivocal result, didn’t crack his denial. It wasn’t until Andrea, a physician assistant, brought a mini fetal Doppler home from work that Jeff felt convinced: There was parenthood, galloping toward them at 180 beats per minute.
“It’s not that I was against having a kid,” Jeff says. “It just didn’t register. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.”
Though the pair had decided “not to try not to get pregnant,” Andrea says, “I was a little shocked. I didn’t think it would happen that quickly.” And though they weren’t married — they’d met a little over a year earlier and had just moved in together — parenthood seemed like the next logical step on their journey.
“We’d both been through a lot, we had steady career paths, we were comfortable,” Jeff says. “I remember both of us saying, ‘If I had a kid now, I wouldn’t feel it was cramping our style or that we were missing out on things.’ ”
They’d even received a benediction from Jeff’s grandmother, Ethel, born in 1922, who surprised him by pointing out, “You don’t have to be married to have kids.” They brought her the first ultrasound image. “Mom-mom, we want to show you something,” Jeff remembers telling her. “And her face lit up. That was a few months before she passed away.”
The two met online and soon discovered common ground; not only did both work in health care — Jeff is a nurse — but both came to those careers circuitously, exploring art and design (Andrea) and music (Jeff) first. The day of their first in-person meeting, at the Lucky Well in Ambler, Jeff felt sleep-deprived and skeptical. “I thought, ‘Should I even go? This whole dating thing is kind of stupid.’ I parked, I’m walking toward the restaurant, and I see this young woman waving at me.” Then the stranger called to him: “It’s me! We’re going out!’”
The talking was easy: both liked Phish and the Grateful Dead and hiking and travel. Andrea’s unpretentious style — the hand-knitted mittens, the green corduroy jacket — appealed to Jeff as “cool and down-to-earth and artsy and not superficial.” By the end of the evening, he was thinking, “This is why people go on dates.”
That was December 2016. They spent New Year’s Eve at the Electric Factory, people-watching and listening to the Dark Star Orchestra. Gradually, Jeff migrated to Andrea’s place in Fort Washington, an old house with no closets, a dubious basement, and an unreliable furnace. Which is why, once they learned they were pregnant, a move seemed inevitable.
It was a rough summer: house-hunting while Andrea was alternately nauseated and ferociously hungry. The medicine she usually took for rheumatoid arthritis was off-limits while pregnant. She snapped at Jeff when he didn’t share her enthusiasm about a house they toured.
“I was concerned about how [a baby] would affect Andrea’s and my relationship,” Jeff says, “particularly because there were a number of weeks during the pregnancy when she was stressed and not feeling well, which would affect me, which would affect us. I thought: This is taking its toll before the kid’s even here.”
It helped to take part in DadLab, a frank-talking support group of new fathers and fathers-to-be sponsored by Abington Hospital. Even though a number of Jeff’s friends were also new parents, their hangouts typically didn’t include in-depth discussion of breastfeeding or hormone-fueled conflict.
“The DadLab group was much more nitty-gritty,” Jeff says. “Everyone could learn from each other.”
Andrea worried about how she’d fare with little sleep, and she felt anxious about the delivery. At the same time, “I was excited to meet her, this baby who’d been growing inside of me for nine months.”
The ultrasound appointments grew more thrilling: “We could see her in there, kicking and squirming,” Jeff says. But at Andrea’s 39-week check-up, a doctor ordered them over to triage. The baby hadn’t grown in the previous three weeks. “She needs to come out,” the OB said.
Twelve hours later — after an induction, an epidural, and Andrea’s repeated reminders to herself that “you can’t be in labor forever” — Elanah emerged with eyes wide open. “They put her right on my chest. She was picking her head up. She looked right at me,” Andrea says.
Then they went home, to all that is sublime and harrowing and strange about new parenthood. Andrea contracted a croupy cough and was advised not to breathe near the baby. Jeff picked up the slack and wondered how single parents even survive.
“It was alienating,” he says, “just being at home all the time, knowing other people are out in the world, going to dinner, working, doing their lives.” There were moments when he floated on the high of being a dad or savored a stream of congratulatory texts. Then he’d have to snap back to functionality and fax something to the insurance company.
“You have the baby, she’s amazing, but you still have to be an adult,” he says. “You just have to keep going.”
Andrea, meantime, was jubilant over the end of a lonely and physically taxing nine months. “The pregnancy was awful, awful,” she says. “I spent the last four weeks before the birth at home, on the couch. It was like dragging my body through water all day, every day. For the first time now, I don’t feel alienated. I feel included.”