THE PARENTS: Hillary Lebowitz Linehan, 42, and Seth Linehan, 41, of Huntingdon Valley
THE KIDS: Raphael Michael, 3; Eva Shai, 2; Yakira (Kira) Bat-Shir, born Feb. 15, 2019
THEIR IN UTERO NICKNAMES: Based on how they behaved in the womb, Raphael was “SuperBabe,” Eva was “SugarBabe” and Kira was “SnuggleBabe.”
People said that Hillary and Seth were too old to be having babies. They cautioned that conception could take months, if not years, that it probably wouldn’t happen at all without a boost from reproductive technology. Doctors warned that Hillary’s hip injury — she’d hurt the hip while running and had undergone four surgeries — might complicate delivery.
But no one forecast three quick conceptions, three unmedicated births, three babies in a mind-glazing, 38-month sprint.
Back in July 2014, when they met at the Barnes & Noble in Rittenhouse Square, Hillary couldn’t stop moving. Each time the pair sat down, she’d pop up after a few minutes to ask, “Do you want to walk somewhere else?”
Seth thought she was bored by the date. Actually, she liked him — even the beard he’d grown for a part in a local theater production — but felt embarrassed to explain that her hip hurt when she sat for too long. It was less painful to just keep walking.
Within a month, they were dating exclusively; by Thanksgiving, they were talking about marriage. They got engaged on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2015 — Seth proposed just outside the kitchen of their South Philly home — and were married the following month.
“I wasn’t somebody who ever wanted to put a whole lot of time or money into a wedding,” Hillary says. So they summoned guests with an Evite, she borrowed a dress, and her rabbi agreed to officiate on short notice.
Both wanted children, and neither wanted to wait. In fact, before meeting Seth, Hillary had gone to a seminar about egg-freezing, and the two had talked about parenthood on their second date.
“The message I received from every angle was that it would be very rare if we had a child unassisted" by reproductive technology, Hillary says. That’s why they were stunned by the positive pregnancy test — actually, by all three of the tests Hillary used, just to be sure — about a month after their wedding.
“I felt like there was some divine intervention,” Hillary says. “Like the universe had given us a gift.”
That gift came with strings attached — chiefly, persistent nausea, along with heartburn and leg cramps. Hillary had to quit the pain medication she took for her hip because it wasn’t safe to use during pregnancy; instead, she applied ice packs and tried to reduce the amount of time she spent sitting or driving her car.
Before and during the birth, more counsel streamed their way: This will be complicated, medical staff and friends warned. You need to deliver in a hospital. You don’t know what to expect. But Hillary and Seth were confident in the research they’d done, and in their shared mindfulness meditation practice.
She labored for 24 hours at Pennsylvania Hospital. When she heard doctors murmur something about a caesarean, she responded, “I do not consent!” She pushed for 2½ hours. “Seth was able to help me with my breathing or diverting my attention,” she says.
They’d chosen names for both sexes; when the baby emerged, Seth stared, then looked at Hillary and said, “It’s Raphael.” He was a solid baby, 8 pounds, 12 ounces, but spent five days in the NICU because he was diagnosed with low potassium.
“That was the worst week of my life,” Hillary says — nursing the baby while seated, which made her hip flame; yearning to take him home. It was the middle of Hanukkah when Raphael was finally discharged. The family lit candles together that night.
Raphael was about eight months old when Hillary burst into their bedroom to tell a still-sleepy Seth, “I’m pregnant.” Both were surprised — was that even possible when a woman was still nursing? — and elated. “I remember thinking: This is meant to be,” Hillary says.
Pregnancy No. 2 brought more nausea, enough that Hillary had to take high doses of Zofran. They opted for a midwife practice this time, and delivery at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, where Hillary labored on all fours and was able to hold Eva skin-to-skin immediately.
And then — despite their ages, despite all the cautionary tales — they were pregnant again when Raphael had just turned 2½ and Eva was barely 1. How would two toddlers react to a third sibling, Hillary wondered. How would she and Seth, already stretched to their limit, manage another baby?
For this pregnancy, Hillary vowed to change her diet and activity — no meat, no dairy, more walking, less sitting (unless it was on an exercise ball) — to manage her hip pain and reduce the chance of going past her due date, Valentine’s Day.
She went into labor that evening, got to Einstein at midnight — “I can’t remember the last time I’ve driven that fast,” Seth says — and delivered their third child at 3:09 a.m. “Kira came out and I caught her; I turned over, I put her on my chest. It was the most beautiful thing.”
Now life edges on untenable. There are nights when both Raphael and Eva are sick — two toddlers vomiting in their beds — and the noise wakes Kira; they need to change sheets, soothe three children, and somehow cadge sleep before morning. Eva has a habit of yelling when frustrated, so Hillary sometimes walks around the house with earplugs, thinking, “Make it stop. Make it stop.
“Someone is always up. Someone always wants to lie down with us. I have not had two consecutive hours of sleep in a very long time,” Hillary says.
Friends and acquaintances offer new advice: Enjoy them while they’re young, they urge. And Seth just wants to groan. He fantasizes about the kids being older — big enough to do jujitsu with him or paint with Hillary. Big enough to wipe their own bottoms.