It wasn't your usual pickup line: "Would you like to see those pictures of me dressed as a toilet?"
But it was all Amanda could scramble to say in that moment when she feared she might never see Nick again. They'd met by chance on a flight from Philadelphia to Phoenix and spent four hours talking around the quiet woman in the middle seat.
Amanda had mentioned her Halloween costume from the previous year; as Nick started to leave, she asked for his e-mail so she could send him some photos.
Friendship soon elided into dating. On one of their first outings, Nick, a flight instructor, flew Amanda to Sedona, Ariz., in a four-seater Cessna. He noted her zest for adventure; she admired his skill as a pilot.
By 2007, both had moved from Arizona to Philadelphia - Nick to pilot for Continental Airlines (now United), and Amanda to work at Vanguard. They married in a small ceremony in a King of Prussia restaurant, surrounded by immediate family.
But they'd already weathered their first storm: a pregnancy that ended in miscarriage a few months before their wedding. "That's when having a baby became really important to me," Amanda recalls.
She became pregnant again, with a little help from medical technology - fertility drugs and intrauterine inseminations (IUI). Always an optimist, Amanda figured the cramps she was having one morning, at 36 weeks, were just Braxton-Hicks contractions. But when Nick found her barefoot in the driveway, doubled over in pain, he knew this was no rehearsal.
At Bryn Mawr Hospital, Amanda was still ticking off a mental list of tasks she had to do at work when a nurse said, "There's the head."
"The head of what?" Amanda asked. Owen was born less than 45 minutes later.
Nick remembers his first glimpse of the baby: Tiny. Bald. Beautiful. He thought about the gamble he took each time he stepped into a cockpit, the relief that he'd survived to meet his son. And then he teared up when he realized the Brahms lullaby playing over the hospital's public address system - the signal that someone has just given birth - was for them.
Soon there was another obstacle in the couple's path. In her third trimester, Amanda's left hand had started tingling. Carpal tunnel, she figured. Doctors said the sensation would stop after she gave birth. But it didn't and, after a battery of tests that included a spinal tap, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
They wanted another child. But they were older - Amanda was nearly 39 when Owen was born - and they'd already endured a miscarriage and fertility treatments. Now Amanda's health cast a new shadow.
The analyst and the optimist decided to plunge ahead. They tried more IUIs - six in all - and a round of in-vitro fertilization without success. They considered adoption but worried that their ages and Amanda's MS would hurt their chances. Each month was a turbulent ride: injections and blood tests, swelling hopes and dashed expectations.
Finally their fertility specialist suggested donor eggs. And although it was expensive - $2,000 for each frozen oocyte - they wanted a baby that badly. "Every pore in my body wanted to be pregnant," Amanda recalls. "Stopping wasn't an option for me."
They reviewed egg-donor profiles, poring over physical traits - height, hair color, eye color - and wondering how those characteristics would unfurl in their future offspring.
Both knew when they'd found the one: a 26-year-old donor whose blue-gray eyes matched Owen's. The woman played guitar; her favorite class was English. But what really impressed the couple were her priorities. "She wrote about how you can have all the money in the world, but family is the most important thing," Amanda recalls.
They bought four eggs; three survived the thawing process and were fertilized in vitro with Nick's sperm. The plan was to implant two of them. But on the morning of Amanda's appointment - Nick was out of town, phoning from Hamburg - he worried about the risk of having twins. "He said, 'You're alone a lot. We have a 4-year-old. We can't do two. Let's just implant one.'"
They knew it was a gamble. "I was praying to whatever was out there: Please, make this successful," Nick says. Amanda made quiet, desperate bargains: If this works, I'll give more to charities. I'll work out more; I'll be a runner and a good person.
During the two-week wait before a blood test would flag their future, Amanda continued progesterone injections - a twice-daily, self-administered shot in the rear end that unnerved her at first, but had become routine.
Then she got the doctor's call. She swung by a bakery on the way home and bought a small chocolate cake inscribed, "Let's celebrate a new baby!" Nick had to read the icing script a few times before the words sank in.
They waited until Christmas to tell close family members - they gave everyone cards with ultrasound images in them and orders to open them simultaneously - then broadcast their good news on Facebook with a photo of Owen in a shirt that said "Big Brother."
Avery was born via C-section. For her father, the rise and fall of their fertility journey has largely faded; what matters, he says, is the now: Avery's first gummy smile, Owen's shouts to strangers to "look at my cute little sister!"
Amanda's health is stable: no new MS lesions on the last MRI. The numbness in her left hand makes some routine tasks - such as snapping Avery's onesies - a challenge, but she's figured out ways to compensate.
She hasn't forgotten what it cost - financially, emotionally - to reach this moment. But when she looks at Avery, who did inherit her donor's blue-gray eyes, she wouldn't undo a single step. "I thank God I was able to have this baby. When the time is right, I'll talk to her and Owen about where she came from. From love."
Welcome to Parenthood
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