THE PARENTS: Tonya Walker, 30, and Tyler Johnson, 31, of Fishtown
THE CHILD: Oliver Francis, born July 13, 2018
THE BABY’S NAME: After Tonya’s grandmother, named Jonoliver for her uncles John and Oliver (the great-grandparents were expecting a boy); Francis is a common name on Tyler’s side.
“Do you want a beer?” Tyler asked after they boarded an Amtrak train bound for Connecticut, where they were going to spend the weekend with his parents.
“No, I just don’t feel like one,” Tonya kept repeating.
Once they arrived, he switched from proffering alcohol to pushing cough medicine for Tonya’s head cold. She ducked into another room for a quick Google search of the medicine’s contraindications.
She’d planned to save the news until Tuesday, Tyler’s birthday and the occasion of the doctor’s appointment she’d made on the sly. But finally, she couldn’t contain the secret. “I can’t take that cough syrup because I’m pregnant!” she blurted, stage-whispering so Tyler’s family wouldn’t hear.
“I was just standing there in shock,” Tyler remembers. “It was like everything just kind of stopped.”
It’s not that the prospect of children took them by surprise: Tonya had always joked that she wanted between 12 and 20 kids, and Tyler figured on a more conservative two. It was just a quicker timetable than they’d imagined — about 18 months after their wedding and three months after they’d started trying.
They met on the dance floor at Mad River, a now-defunct Old City club. Tyler, a self-declared science nerd, was intrigued by Tonya’s bohemian vibe: the nose ring, the tattoo. Tonya liked his blend of athleticism and intelligence.
There was an Octoberfest party, a first date at Starbucks, and, soon, a weekend routine: either bar-hopping in the city or drinking wine and talking on Tonya’s front porch in Chestnut Hill. His friends were frat guys; hers were artsy types who eschewed television.
“We got to see our different environments, which added to the intrigue,” Tyler says.
After three years of dating, they decided to live together — though, in truth, they spent long hours apart. Tyler, a pharmacist, worked from 3 p.m. to midnight; Tonya, a teacher, kept more regular hours. “It gave each of us our own time during the week but made our weekend time much more special,” Tonya says.
On New Year’s Eve 2015, Tyler coaxed Tonya to see the fireworks at Penn’s Landing — the very site (and the anniversary) of a painful argument between them five years earlier. This time, he had a different conversation in mind. And a ring. “I went back there and proposed to her and hoped that would make up for it,” he says.
Fast-forward — “a crazy crash course in planning a wedding in eight months,” Tyler says — to August 2016, a steamy, rain-splattered day at Awbury Arboretum, with a food truck from Nomad Pizza Co. and wedding dessert from Federal Donuts. The pair barely left the dance floor.
Tonya once had a plan: five years of marriage, then a baby. But they’d already been dating for seven years, and a good friend’s pregnancy made her want to speed things up so their children could be close in age.
Her pregnancy held small surprises: How come no one had told her she might want to eat only clementines for the first few weeks, or that she’d discover what ferocious heartburn felt like? As she neared her due date, she craved ice cream so much she visited Ikea three times in a week just to buy the custard; the couple took regular walks — a mile each way — to Rita’s for mango gelati.
Tonya was determined to give birth without medication, and birth classes helped prepare them both: They learned about the stages of labor and natural pain-relief strategies, like the tennis ball in a tube sock that Tyler could use to massage her back and arms.
Her water broke at home; contractions picked up once they arrived at Lankenau Medical Center. “About 30 minutes later, I got up to use the bathroom and when I came out, I couldn’t even talk anymore.” The look on Tonya’s face, Tyler recalls, semaphored “game on.”
From there, it was fast … and slow. Rapid dilation, then 2½ hours of pushing, with the baby’s hand wedged up near his head, until Tonya was able to reach down and pull him out. “I remember putting him on my chest and thinking how perfect he was,” she says.
Tyler remembers something quite different: the frightening moments when doctors quickly cut the cord, whisked the baby to a separate area, and began to suction his lungs. Despite the frenzy, he says, Oliver stared at him, wide-eyed and seemingly content.
Tonya figured parenting would come intuitively; after all, she’d been a nanny and had taught in a Head Start program. But Oliver cried — a lot — and breastfeeding every two hours exhausted her. “Every time I woke up to feed him, Tyler would sit with me and then change his diaper,” she says. “But it still felt like the responsibility was on me.”
It got better. Oliver stopped crying so much. He gained nearly four pounds in a month. He slept for longer stretches. The friend whose baby was a few months older showed up for company; both sets of grandparents cooked meals and tended Oliver while Tonya napped.
Their lives run on a different rhythm now: gone are extemporaneous weekend strolls around the city, lunch leading to happy hour to a movie or a play. They did take Oliver to the XPoNential music festival when he was three weeks old, his tiny ears protected with sound-reducing earmuffs, and they discovered some outdoor bars where it was no problem to park an infant seat on the table.
Family dinner remains a ritual. And there are new routines: evenings of reading Winnie the Pooh aloud; mornings of hearing Oliver snuffle awake in his bassinet.