Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

The Parent Trip: Kate DeRosa Howell and Ted Howell of South Philadelphia

They met in the middle. In the Green Street Friends Meeting House, Kate and Ted walked toward each other while a friend sang Nina Simone's "Feeling Good" with a hymnlike cadence. And then there was silence.

Kate and Ted Howell, with baby Cleo and her big brother, Silas.
Kate and Ted Howell, with baby Cleo and her big brother, Silas.Read moreDAVID SWEENY

They met in the middle.

In the Green Street Friends Meeting House, Kate and Ted walked toward each other while a friend sang Nina Simone's "Feeling Good" with a hymnlike cadence. And then there was silence.

It was a Quaker wedding, after all - a spiritual third rail between Ted's evangelical Christian upbringing and the Catholicism of Kate's youth. They planned everything themselves, from the self-written vows to the reception playlist. At the party, the floor pulsed with friends and relatives, including Ted's legion of dance-loving cousins.

Early in their relationship, Kate learned a few things about her future husband: His reactions to live theater were so effusive it embarrassed her to sit in the first few rows, where his grimaces and sighs must surely be palpable to the actors. He'd been homeschooled from second grade onward.

And he was crazy about kids. The oldest of seven, Ted had grown up toting younger siblings in backpacks and helping toddlers into the car. "I just knew that I would be a parent," he says.

For Kate, having kids was one item on a list that included a possible return to school - her undergraduate major was theater, but acting was a shaky long-term prospect - and a commitment to support Ted while he pursued a Ph.D. in literature.

Their other plans were mutable. But fertility had an expiration date. "We were looking ahead at the next five years and thinking: There is no better time," Ted says.

He was in Pasadena, Calif., attending a conference on James Joyce, when Kate texted him a photo of a drugstore test stick. "I knew I was pregnant," she says, "but I was so nervous, I wanted to do the test all by myself when no one was home."

Kate, a yoga enthusiast who taught several classes a week, figured she'd be one of those fit, petite women with "a little basketball bump . . . but my belly was huge. I'd go to an expectant-moms group, and they'd say, 'You're only 16 weeks?' "

She pored over books on natural childbirth and drew on her yoga practice - "the meditative aspects, the breathing, how to be calm and responsive" - to prepare for labor.

At the start of Kate's 39th week of pregnancy, the midwife noted she was two centimeters dilated and advised she go home to rest. Instead, Kate joined friends for lunch. "I was so distracted. I felt dreamy, like the baby was going to come."

That evening, after an intense contraction, she phoned Ted. He was en route to the subway. But while the train whisked him beneath Broad Street, Kate's labor took a sudden turn for the fierce; in the shower, she leaned against the tile, unable to rinse the shampoo from her hair.

The night hurtled ahead: a drive to Montgomery Hospital, nine hours of labor, 90 minutes of pushing, and there was Silas - black hair and intense, open eyes.

"He's real," Kate kept whispering. "That moment is so hard to articulate: all those months and years of dreaming that you'll be a mother someday. In the end, it's a split second. That last push is so exhilarating, a huge whoosh, and the baby comes out, and he's a real person."

In this case, a very irritable person - an infant whose "witching hour" lasted from 6 to 11 each night, who could be soothed only by constant, vigorous bouncing on an exercise ball. "We thought, 'Oh, it's going to be so fun and cozy with a newborn, to wrap him up and sit on the couch and watch a movie,' " Kate recalls. "That never happened."

Still, they wanted another - a sibling for Silas, who didn't enjoy playing alone, another cousin to add to the brood on Ted's side. Once again, they did the calculus, weighing the work of another child against Ted's still-unfinished doctoral degree, Kate's ambition to become a doula and a midwife.

Once again, the baby won out. "I thought: Five years from now, it'll be harder for me to have a baby," Kate says. "But I can be taking classes until I'm 70 years old. There's no time limit on that."

Last fall, she thought her belly looked different - pouchier, in a way that couldn't be blamed on the potato chips she'd eaten while on vacation. She downed the sole pumpkin beer in the fridge, figuring it would be her last for a while.

This pregnancy felt both more painful - with joint spasms that prompted acupuncture and chiropractic treatments - and more quotidian. "I wasn't rubbing my belly all the time. I wasn't dreaming about babies, because I had a toddler who wanted to be carried up and down the stairs."

Cleo - a name they'd had in mind since Silas was in utero - emerged in a birthing tub after a "wild whirlwind" of a two-hour labor. The midwife flipped the baby onto her back and floated her toward Kate in the warm water.

Now, Ted is halfway through his dissertation on the philosophy of nature in modernist novels. Kate teaches four yoga classes a week and studies anatomy and physiology at Gloucester Community College. Silas goes to preschool. Cleo giggles on her activity mat.

But every Tuesday, they do it all: In the family's one car, they drive Ted to Rowan University, then head for his mother's house in South Jersey so she can watch the kids while Kate races through homework before her afternoon classes. She feeds and bathes the kids at her mother-in-law's, then picks up Ted from Rowan. They get home a little before 9.

It's an "epic" day, Kate says. It's also the sweetest: children bathed, pajama-clad, asleep in the backseat. Sometimes Kate and Ted swing by a Wawa for some hot chocolate. They linger in the car. They talk. "And it feels very rewarding," Kate says. "This is hard. But we're doing the things we want to do. We're making it work."

The Parent Trip


If you've become a parent - for the first, second or fifth time - within the last six months, e-mail us why we should feature your story:

Giving birth, adopting, or becoming a stepparent or guardian all count.

Unfortunately, we can't respond individually to all submissions. If your story is chosen, you will be contacted. EndText