THE PARENTS: Sherilyn Lau, 37, and Kevin Lau, 43, of Elkins Park

THE CHILD: Kara, born April 22, 2019

A MEMORABLE WEDDING MOMENT: They were married in a park, which put everyone in a playful mood: Kevin’s father hit some balls on the tennis courts, and the couple had pictures taken on the playground.

Kevin didn’t propose in the manicured, majestic gardens of Versailles. He didn’t pop the question at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, or after the French Open — the reason they went to Paris in the first place.

They were back home in their Elkins Park kitchen when he asked Sherilyn if she’d like some cereal. No, thanks, she said. “But don’t you like cereal?” She did, she answered. She just didn’t want any right then.

“Just look in the box,” he urged. There, nestled amidst the Cheerios, was a ring.

That was July 2014. They were married a few months later, a low-key wedding in Thomas Williams Park; they exchanged vows under a cedar tree and took photos on the tennis courts. The date: 10/10, chosen deliberately because, in tennis, a score of 1-0 is called “one-love.”

It was tennis that brought them together: Sherilyn was co-organizer of an informal tennis meet-up, and she called an event for an afternoon in the summer of 2012. Kevin was the sole player who showed up.

Kevin, Sherilyn and baby Kara.
Kevin Lau
Kevin, Sherilyn and baby Kara.

She thought he was funny and smart — as well as skilled at the game. “I thought: He’s really good at tennis. He’s probably never going to talk to me again.”

Kevin, meanwhile, thought Sherilyn was beautiful and strong-willed. “I figured: Let’s see where this goes.” So he texted a few days later and offered to give her lessons.

When she snagged free tickets to a comedy club, she invited him. “You can bring your girlfriend, if you want,” she said. “I don’t have one,” was his answer. That night, both agree, was their official first date.

More milestones followed: Kevin left his bicycle at Sherilyn’s house after one of their frequent rides on Forbidden Drive. She moved to his place in the Northeast, even though that meant cohabiting with the four stray cats he’d adopted. The Paris trip. The wedding. A honeymoon in Australia that included seeing koalas in the forest and penguins off the coast of Phillip Island.

“We were pretty ambivalent about children,” Sherilyn says. Her work in coastal management for the Environmental Protection Agency meant a lot of travel. “I thought: Let’s hold off. Maybe we’d adopt or have children later in life.”

As she neared 35, she began to change her mind. First, though, was one more destination on her pre-kid bucket list. “I wanted to go to Africa. My ancestors came through the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and Ghana was considered the gateway.” They toured the “castles” — “dungeons, really,” Sherilyn says — where enslaved people were held before the voyage. The trip was “bittersweet. Familiar and unfamiliar. It was about reconnecting: eating the food, being around the people, listening to the music.”

After Africa was the reckoning moment in terms of children. “Either you do it or you don’t,” Sherilyn says. So they did. After a fistful of negative pregnancy tests, Sherilyn wept when she saw a positive one in August 2018. When she showed Kevin, he said, “It just got real.”

They kept the news undercover until after the first trimester and announced it with Facebook photos: the two at a yoga retreat in Massachusetts, holding a pair of baby shoes in the snow.

Sherilyn loved being pregnant and assuaged her anxieties about birth by devouring information: books, classes, the counsel of a doula. The only birth she’d ever witnessed was that of a childhood friend; Sherilyn was 17 at the time and had never even heard of a placenta.

This time, “I needed to know everything. More information made me feel better.” She was relieved to learn, through a blood test at 10 weeks, that she was carrying a girl. “You look at the news: it’s scary. A child of color, period. With a boy, it’s even tougher. People see him as an instant criminal.”

She felt excited as her due date neared, eager to have her water break dramatically as it does with pregnant women on TV. But that’s not what happened: Instead, Sherilyn was induced two weeks early because she’d developed cholestasis, a liver condition that causes severe itching and can be dangerous, even fatal, to a fetus.

Labor, at Abington Hospital, took all weekend: a Saturday morning induction followed by two days of waiting and contractions, so much pain that doctors eventually gave Sherilyn Benadryl so she could sleep. “Monday morning around 8, they told me I needed to wake up and push. I said, ‘What are you talking about?’”

Still drowsy, she rallied for the final 90 minutes. “I used different positions, did breath work. I felt like I was in control. They said, ‘Do you want to feel her head?’ I said, ‘No, let’s just keep going!’”

Finally, she was there — Kara, who shares an initial with her father (and, they learned later, has the same name as the comic hero Supergirl). “Something we created came out and is now a fully functional person,” Kevin says. “It’s pretty amazing.”

They want their daughter, hybrid of two cultures, to know Juneteenth as well as Christmas, Chinese New Year along with Dec. 31. They hope to cultivate small rituals: a kiss before leaving the house or ice cream on a birthday.

Meantime, life has changed irrevocably: sleep is a privilege, feeding a metronome. When Kara was 3 months old, a cousin invited the family to come over. “They said, ‘You want to come to the pool? You can relax.’ I thought, ‘I’m never going to relax, ever again,’” Sherilyn says. “I’m constantly thinking of her. I’m never by myself. It is a constant, the mental work of being a parent.”

Kevin feels altered, too. He’s become one of those people with a batch of baby photos to show off. He scrolls through those pictures himself when drowsiness threatens to derail his work as a toxicologist pulling early-morning shifts. “I have pictures of her smiling…they keep me motivated: I have to take care of this kid now.”