THE PARENTS: Emily Overbaugh, 32, and Erik Overbaugh, 34, of Conshohocken
THE CHILD: Lennon Ruth, born March 23, 2019
WHY LENNON?: Emily was raised on classic rock, including the Beatles. Erik wasn’t sure about the name at first, but “over time, it grew on me. Now I love it.”
Erik had never been politically engaged, but in October 2013, he became obsessed with the federal government shutdown. When would the national parks reopen? When would business-as-usual resume?
His sudden interest baffled Emily, who had no idea that Erik was planning to propose — he’d already summoned her family to join the surprise — at a particular spot near a stream in Gettysburg National Military Park, which was shuttered for the duration.
In the end, he coaxed her to an alternate location, a lake near their home in Hanover, and popped the question there.
It had been about 18 months since their first date, a scheduled group outing to a Philadelphia Flyers game in Washington, D.C., from which everyone else backed out, leaving Emily and Erik to spend 12 hours together. For a little while, they kept their relationship quiet and slow, since both worked at a small community hospital: she as a speech pathologist, he as a physical therapy assistant.
But in July, their first kiss coincided with a conversation: “Let’s just be together and not see anybody else.” They moved in together, which meant not only adjusting to each other, but — for Emily, who hadn’t grown up with pets — getting used to Erik’s 85-pound black Lab, who shed all over her belongings.
They married in northeastern Maryland — at a winery on the river — in 2015. “I felt so peaceful all day,” Emily recalls. “I had this feeling that we were in the right place, doing the right thing.”
Children would be the next “right thing.”
“I always had a maternal calling or instinct,” Emily says, and Erik, whose father died at 27, when Erik was 5, was vocal about his yen for parenthood. “I just wanted to be able to give somebody something that I never had.”
They were pregnant by Christmas, but at the 12-week ultrasound, they learned that the fetus hadn’t developed, a condition called “blighted ovum.” A few months later, it happened again: another pregnancy, another early miscarriage. “We were still mentally recovering from the first one,” Emily says. “After that, I went a really long time without being able to get pregnant again.”
Those months meant leapfrogging from hope to sorrow to guilt. “You want to feel grateful for all the things you do have — a great marriage, a great family,” Emily says. “But there was this unfulfilled hole in our hearts. One of us would give up hope, and the other would say, ‘No, we’re going to see this thing through.’”
They kept trying on their own, then with the help of a fertility specialist: five intra-uterine inseminations, followed by preparations for a round of IVF. That’s when a pregnancy test Emily took early one morning flashed “positive.”
“We were totally prepared to start IVF; we had all the medications in the fridge. And we never had to use them,” Emily says. Still, both were anxious, their minds skittering ahead to devastating scenarios. “Every stage we got to, I couldn’t imagine making it to the next: the first ultrasound, the 20-week ultrasound, hearing the heartbeat,” Emily says.
At the same time, each milestone built a small foundation of confidence: There’s the heartbeat flicker; there’s the baby, sucking its thumb. A class in mindful birth techniques helped both of them stay anchored, and the first trimester’s constant nausea ceded to a robust and healthy second term.
In one of the mindful birthing classes, Emily had to put her hands in ice for a full minute — a way to practice various strategies for combating pain with visualizations, sounds, or breathing. “The one that always worked for me was to imagine yourself holding your baby,” she says.
Emily needed a round of blood work for insurance purposes, and she’d been procrastinating on making the lab appointment. Finally, one day before her due date, she crossed that item off her list, only to have her primary doctor call with a worried tone in her voice: “Your liver function tests are all abnormal.”
Doctors at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania diagnosed “hidden pre-eclampsia” — hidden because Emily had none of the usual indicators: no swelling, no dizziness, no elevated blood pressure, no protein in her urine. She was induced that day — a labor made woozy from the magnesium drip she needed for the pre-eclampsia.
Erik was so stunned and ecstatic to see Lennon arrive that it took him a full 15 seconds to announce that the baby was a girl. “All I wanted was to hear her cry,” Emily recalls. “She cried. Then she screamed. I remember instantly feeling this intense love for her, but I was still so overwhelmed by the whole experience. I couldn’t believe I had just done that.”
After two shredded days at home, Emily and Erik had fallen into a deep sleep when a shrieking alarm roused them. What the — ? Where was the baby? Why wasn’t she crying? “We got Lennon from her bassinet, but she really wasn’t responding to us. We rushed her to Children’s Hospital. Her temperature had dropped,” a result of extreme jaundice that doctors treated with two days of light therapy.
Like the eleventh-hour, life-saving blood work, Emily and Erik saw the fluke alarm blast — it was a power outage in their building — as a miraculous coincidence. “I often think about that: What if the alarm hadn’t gone off?” Erik says. “We would have been asleep. If she’d never cried or woken …”
“It took me a long time to let that go, to not picture that, to not constantly be on edge,” Emily says. “I still check her breathing when she’s sleeping.” The mindful birth mantra helps: staying focused on this moment, not racing ahead to future what-ifs or ruminating over what’s already passed.
“Parenthood has taught me to trust my instincts,” Emily says. “I’m not a perfect person, but I’m perfect for her. We’re what she needs.”