THE PARENTS: Meridian Lowe, 23, and John Lang, 27, of Yeadon.
THE CHILD: Nova Rogue, born Feb. 20, 2019.
THE STORY OF HER NAME: They wanted a gender-neutral moniker; this one nods to the comic books they both love. They also appreciate that Nova means “star.”
It was after his relapse and before their pregnancy, after the recovery house and before the dog. Meridian had welcomed John home from detox with cigarettes and new flannel shirts; their 500-square-foot apartment held a mattress, a broken fridge, and a laptop so they could watch Netflix. They ate with plastic forks and cups from Wawa.
But that stressful, strung-out, chaotic time, Meridian and John say, was the period that sealed their relationship.
They met in a 12-step program. Meridian, who uses the pronouns they/them, had nine months of sobriety and was camping in their parents’ basement, not far from the South Philly recovery house where John lived.
“He was exuberant and fun and kind of off his rocker,” Meridian recalls. “He had pierced his own lip with a thumbtack. He was someone I could be my whole self with in a way I had never experienced before.”
They walked home together from 12-step meetings; they sat on Meridian’s parents’ front steps until 2 a.m., talking about recovery. Their first official date was on Veterans’ Day 2016: a trip to Wawa for free coffee (John has veterans in his family), then to Walmart, where they bought a Star Wars sweatshirt for Meridian and one featuring Marvel characters for John.
They’d just put a deposit on the tiny, decrepit apartment when John’s recovery faltered. “I was working in a bar; it became a lot of stress and I ended up relapsing,” he says. The day after he got out of detox, the couple moved in, living on money they borrowed from Meridian’s family, and sometimes from friends.
Then they realized Meridian was pregnant. They’d talked about having a baby, but this wasn’t the time. “John said, ‘I will support you in whatever decision you make,’ and I had an abortion at seven weeks,” Meridian says. “It was the Thursday after Father’s Day.”
In the aftermath, unable to talk about the lingering grief, Meridian, too, relapsed. “I just wasn’t ready to get clean. I used for a week. Then I was finally like, ‘Yeah, I’ve got to do this thing.’”
The couple decided to put their caregiving and communication skills to a test: four months after the abortion, they adopted a pit terrier named Cakes. “We figured out we could do it,” Meridian says. “We kept her alive. When she had an ear infection, we were vigilant with her meds.” They also discovered the resilience of their support network: relatives and friends who offered moral ballast along with money for vet bills.
In April 2018, as they were walking home from a 12-step meeting they’d attended in their pajamas, John proposed, proffering the resized engagement ring his mother had given him. Two months later marked the anniversary of Meridian’s abortion. But things were different now: John had a steady job doing home repair and maintenance. Both were clean and sober. John, who had cut off communication with his family during his addiction, was once again in touch with his mother, aunts and cousins.
June brought a residue of sorrow, but also a glimmer of resolve and hope. “We were in a much better place in our lives,” John recalls. A couple of times the conversation came up that we both really wanted a kid. We said, ‘OK, let’s just try it.’”
An inexpensive pregnancy test from the corner store gave them the news. “It was a little scary for me,” Meridian says. “I hadn’t told my parents we were trying, and I was scared of judgment. But when I told them I was pregnant, the first thing my dad said was, ‘Is it too early to suggest baby names?’” He offered a litany of possibilities: Irish names and Norwegian names and even “Jupiter,” which struck Meridian as a great moniker for a pet, but not their child.
The pregnancy was no picnic: exhaustion during the first trimester, acid reflux in the second, and vomiting throughout. Meridian felt a constant mental blurriness that meant forgotten words and misplaced possessions, and an eventual withdraw from courses in digital video production at the Community College of Philadelphia.
Labor began Feb. 18, nearly three weeks early. Nothing was ready: gifts from the baby shower still in boxes, laundry in heaps, house disheveled. At the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Meridian at first resisted getting an epidural, then relented. Two hours after the injection, it was time to push, and 20 minutes later, Nova was born.
“It was, for the most part, pain I could ride out,” Meridian says. As for John, his main drive during the 41-hour labor was to listen to the nurses and the doula, remain present and be attentive to Meridian’s needs. “I thought, ‘What does Meridian need to be comfortable right now, and how can I make that happen?’”
Meridian remembers what made them want to be a parent: the delight of showing the world to someone for whom everything — Star Wars and flowers and ice cream — was new. For John, parenthood meant extending the bond he’d always felt with his family by adding a fourth great-grandchild to the clan.
And both, in the moments after Nova emerged, felt new flashes of certainty.
“When I first saw her, she was gray,” Meridian recalls. “I thought, ‘Why isn’t she crying?’ Then she let out this three-second wail. They put her in my arms. I thought, ‘Wow, I am home when I hold you,’ in a way I’d never really felt before.”