THE PARENTS: Shera Morris, 42, and Andrew Morris, 41, of Elkins Park
THE BABY: Amélie LaVerne, born May 15, 2019
HER NAME: For Andrew’s sister, Emily, who also loved the 2001 French film, Amélie, about a naive young woman with a fierce sense of justice.
Their trip down the Delaware River, in two inner tubes lashed together like conjoined twins, was both an adventure and a metaphor. Because — as Shera and Andrew discovered on one of their early dates — if you don’t paddle in synchrony, you end up spinning in circles.
“It was the ultimate test of a relationship,” Andrew says now.
They met the “old-fashioned way—on the Internet,” Shera says with a laugh, a quick segue from clicking each other’s profiles to messages, texts, phone calls, and a meal at a now-defunct diner in Northern Liberties.
As soon as Andrew showed up, Shera made him pose for a snapshot, “so I could send it to my friends in case I showed up missing.” But the conversation was intimate and easy, and that date led to more: fishing trips, hikes in the Wissahickon.
“I had been in the habit of dating around,” Andrew says, “so it was an interesting thing to be caring about somebody so much. I started to realize … how much better it was than the superficial, kind of disposable thing I’d had earlier.”
As for Shera, certainty came during their first arguments. “I figured out that Andrew fought fair. He could cool off and see things objectively. I thought: OK, I can really make a life with this person.”
Those falling-in-love years were also veined with loss: Shera’s father died in 2010, about six months before they started dating; the following year, Andrew’s sister was killed in an accident. Shera’s mother died of breast cancer in 2015.
“Some of the support we gave each other in those times made it solid: This is a reliable person; this person will be there when the worst occurs,” Andrew says.
He proposed with a fake macaron — a rose-colored look-alike of the French cookies Shera loves, tucked in a box with real macarons in vanilla, coffee and mocha flavors. He counted on her to choose the pink one; she did, and quickly discovered the ring tucked inside.
Then — it was Christmas morning 2015, at the breakfast table with Andrew’s parents — he was on one knee, asking her to marry him. “OK, but just this once,” she said.
The morning of their October 2016 wedding in Valley Green, Shera woke to stormy skies. But the song “Walking on Sunshine” was blasting in her head. “I sang it most of the morning, to my bridal party’s chagrin,” she laughs. “My cheeks were hurting, I was smiling so much.”
The losses of family members — in the absence of her parents, Shera’s younger brother walked her down the aisle — underscored a yearning to have children. “The idea started to take on a lot of redemptive qualities,” Andrew says. “We’ve had a lot of loss; now we have a situation where we can move the needle in the other direction. One person can light up people’s lives. A new person, a new spirit.”
Shera was 39. They started trying immediately — six months on their own, 18 more with help from a fertility clinic. Two IVF cycles, with injections so painful that Andrew had to apply ice before and after administering the shot.
Finally, the clinic called: “It worked. You’re pregnant.”
“I said, ‘Are you sure? Are you looking at my name?’” Shera recalls. “I was in constant fear of it not being real.”
The two were cautious: no Facebook announcements, no gender reveal party. Only family members and a handful of friends knew about the pregnancy. “We didn’t want the outside pressure if something were to go wrong,” Andrew says.
They took childbirth classes and talked with a friend who is a doula. Andrew joined DadLab, a peer support group that met at Abington Hospital. Meanwhile, Shera struggled with heartburn, swelling and disrupted sleep; at one point, she abandoned their bed to sleep sitting up in a recliner downstairs. Andrew tried to understand the concept of nesting; why, he wondered, did they have to empty a closet in the baby’s future room when the baby was just going to be in a crib?
As the due date drew closer, curiosity upstaged worry. “You have this connection to this being who’s moving around in you,” says Shera. “You’re making up all these stories about them, but you don’t know what they’re going to look like, or how they’re going to sound.”
She hoped for an unmedicated birth. But after hours of Pitocin-pumped contractions, Shera demanded some kind of pain relief. The remainder of her labor, even the pushing, passed in a fog. “The baby’s crowning woke me up,” she says. “That’s when I told everybody, ‘I’m done. We’re not doing this.’” The witnesses, who at that point included nurses, their doula, an OB and one zealous medical student who counted loudly through each push, chorused “Yes. You. Can!”
One more push, and there was Amélie. “She was so wide-eyed,” Shera recalls. “I immediately saw my grandmother: How did you reach back and get those eyes?”
The first days felt tenuous. “Every decision feels like a life-and-death decision,” Shera says, and everything was new. It helped to get breastfeeding counsel, to learn infant massage, to cobble a new routine.
They’re learning from their daughter: how a parent can smile even when she’s slammed with exhaustion; how fiercely someone can miss a baby during the course of a single day at work.
Most of their friends already had children, so the pair were inundated with clothes — enough for Amélie’s first year — and equipment: three nursing pillows, a high chair, several swings. For Andrew, those items aren’t just practical. They’re connections. They’re stories.