THE PARENTS: Anne Grace Glenn, 32, and Coleman Glenn, 35, of Huntingdon Valley
THE KIDS: Samuel Robert, 6
Eleanor Ruth, 4
Miriam Elizabeth, born Aug. 6, 2019
THE NAMES: Each child has a Biblical name and a family name: Robert for Coleman’s grandfather, Eleanor for Anne Grace’s grandmother, and Elizabeth for her great-grandmother.
The fertility specialist was frank. Anne Grace’s endometriosis and Coleman’s bout with Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a young adult, treated with six months of chemotherapy, meant the couple would probably require medical intervention if they wanted to conceive. “Not impossible, but not likely,” was the phrase the doctor used.
They let him talk. Then they smiled — and told him about the pregnancy test Anne Grace had taken the night before.
“I’d been throwing up for a week and thought I had a really terrible tummy bug,” she remembers. “Then I thought: Wait a second, maybe … The test was positive almost right away.”
For both, having children was more than a yearning; it felt like a calling. Anne Grace, raised Presbyterian, had explored Catholicism and, at one point, considered becoming a nun. “But if I was called to marriage, then marriage and children were a package deal,” she says. Coleman felt a similar spiritual tug, along with an affinity for large families; he has six siblings, and his father comes from a family of 11.
They met at Anne Grace’s brother’s wedding, where both had been asked to teach swing dancing to guests at the reception. Anne Grace had danced professionally with a contemporary company while Coleman had learned swing while serving as assistant pastor of a Swedenborgian church in Toronto.
They conferred in a hotel hallway to figure out a lesson plan. “I remember very distinctly the feeling of putting my hand in his for the first time,” Anne Grace recalls. “I discovered he could dance.”
They also discovered a shared thirst for theological discussion. Even after Coleman returned to the church he then led in western Canada, and Anne Grace left for a church mission in Singapore, the two traded Facebook messages, then Skype calls, talking about their spiritual paths, their hopes for the future, their “non-negotiables” in a partner.
For their first date, Coleman arranged for a pizza to be delivered to Anne Grace’s Singapore apartment; both cued up a Bollywood movie and watched “together” — never mind that it was lunchtime in Singapore and dinner the night before in Dawson Creek.
She’d been abroad for nearly eight months when Coleman flew to Singapore, invited her to the botanic gardens, and proposed. They were married Dec. 30, 2012, a year to the day since they’d met.
Given their health concerns, that first pregnancy was shocking and joyful … and physically harrowing, with hyperemesis gravidarum so severe that Anne Grace needed IV fluids. “Despite that, I loved being pregnant,” she says. “I loved feeling the changes in my body.”
They hoped for a natural, unmedicated birth, but options in Dawson Creek were limited: no midwives, just one small hospital where Anne Grace labored under the care of nurses who didn’t know her; she suffered significant tearing and bleeding during the birth.
Coleman recalls being stunned by the “always-thereness” of a baby; Anne Grace remembers the jolt to her sense of self. “Parenthood shines the light on your own selfishness,” she says. “There was someone whose needs constantly trump my wants.” Still, she says, “I was ready for the next run.”
Samuel was five months old when Anne Grace knew — “I could feel it” — that she was pregnant again. But this time, the family was about to move to South Africa, where Coleman would become associate pastor at another Swedenborgian church. Again, she suffered hyperemesis; this time, though, she had the experience she’d wanted: a hospital, yes, but attended by a midwife, and a water birth with no tearing.
Eleanor was born in January 2015. Toward the end of that year, Anne Grace was struggling with a raft of health problems: fatigue, indigestion, weight loss. A surgeon removed an inflamed appendix, along with another growth on her pelvic wall. A week later, he handed them a medical report. The words “malignant” and “metastatic” loomed out. “I said, ‘This is cancer.’ He said, ‘yes,’ with tears in his eyes. It was pretty brutal,” Anne Grace says. They would have to leave South Africa and seek specialty care in the United States — in Philadelphia, it turned out, not far from Coleman’s family.
“For the first couple of months, we didn’t know if I was going to see my next birthday,” Anne Grace says. Samuel was 2½ when they returned, and Eleanor just over a year. They were frank with the children.
“We gave them a definition of what cancer was, and said the doctors would try to stop it, but if they couldn’t, I would die and go to heaven and that would be really sad,” she says. “There was a lot that I just savored in that time, soaking up whatever I had with them. Then, I didn’t die, and that was really good.”
There was surgery — a major bowel resection — followed by long-term treatment with hormone therapy. “The message we got from all the doctors was: Live your life,” Coleman says. “We asked specifically: Does that include having more kids? We decided we wanted to be open to it. We’d leave it up to God.”
Last November, Anne Grace found herself in the bathroom, gripping a pregnancy test and laughing so hard she couldn’t speak. That pregnancy brought a third round of hyperemesis gravidarum, but also a surge of health; the natural hormones of pregnancy seemed to ease her symptoms. Miriam was born at home, cloaked in her amniotic sac, a slight birthmark on her lip.
For a while after her diagnosis, Anne Grace says, every moment felt charged with love and longing and potential loss. Now there is just the everydayness of life with three kids. Trips to the farmers market. Cuddles on the couch. They named Miriam for the Old Testament prophet, the sister of Moses, the one who leads the triumphant Israelites in dance and song on the far side of the roiling sea.