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The Parent Trip: Grace and Tom Savage of Ambler

It wasn't a date. It was just An Inconvenient Truth, playing at a nearby movie theater on a summer night. But by the end of the outing, Tom thought Grace was hilarious and Grace thought Tom was easygoing, and they'd talked so long it was nearly morning.

THE PARENTS: Grace Savage, 30, and Tom Savage, 29, of Ambler
THE KIDS: Thomas (Tripp) Savage III, 22 months; Mollie Grace Savage, born February 3, 2016
THE CONCERT TOM MISSED BECAUSE GRACE WAS IN LABOR WITH MOLLIE: The Owls, an indie rock band; he'd been a fan since age 13.

It wasn't a date. It was just An Inconvenient Truth, playing at a nearby movie theater on a summer night. But by the end of the outing, Tom thought Grace was hilarious and Grace thought Tom was easygoing, and they'd talked so long it was nearly morning.

They were still undergrads at Millersville University, and Grace was scheduled to spend the next year in Germany. "I told my parents, 'I'm not worried about going away this fall. I know I'm going to marry Tom,' " she remembers.

Skype calls kept them connected; when Tom visited at Thanksgiving, Grace combed Marburg shops for ingredients to make her first apple and pumpkin pies. After her return from Germany, and one brief breakup the following summer, they were a committed pair.

One Monday night, Tom called a pajama-clad Grace to the basement of her parents' Ambler home - they were living there while she was in graduate school - and handed her a black Lab puppy. Then he was on one knee, with a family diamond he'd had set into a ring.

After the wedding - a pig roast at a fire hall, music Tom mixed himself, and a cousin who got ordained online so he could officiate - they talked about kids, but in vague outlines: Sometime. In the future. When we're ready.

By their third anniversary, Grace figured the future was now. But Tom balked; he worried about finances, and about being a less-than-perfect dad. Then Mother's Day came. "I was thinking about . . . how Grace was going to be an amazing mom. That flipped the switch for me," he says.

Within two months, she was pregnant; 10 weeks later, she miscarried. Tom was used to being the more emotional partner - the one who sobbed at the airport when Grace left for Germany, the one who wept through his wedding vows - but this time, it was Grace who unraveled.

She found solace in a group for women who'd experienced miscarriage or pregnancy loss. And she found renewed hope, twinned with anxiety, when she realized she was pregnant again.

She hoped for a natural childbirth. But the pregnancy was complicated: raging heartburn, a persistent cough, high blood pressure that flagged preeclampsia. Then there was the night when Grace suffered a fierce headache and vision problems; she could see only half of people's faces.

The next day, she was admitted to Abington-Jefferson Health; the couple found themselves in a room crammed with nurses and doctors and beeping machines, one of which noted Grace's blood pressure. The top number was 195.

"I freaked out," Tom recalls. "I was standing in a corner, like, 'What do I do?' "

What physicians did was induce labor. Three pushes, and he was out: a 33-week, 21/2-pound infant, skinny and screaming. "It was the scariest thing I've ever seen," Tom recalls. "I couldn't imagine that he was alive."

But he was. Tripp remained in the NICU for a month, until he could take an entire feeding by mouth and go 24 hours without a drop in his heart rate. "I kept saying, 'This is a blip in his life.' But when you're in it, it doesn't feel like that," Grace says. And bringing Tripp home meant a nerve-racking shift from the super-regulated environment of the NICU - monitors to track the baby's heart rate and breathing, a strict feeding schedule - to the DIY world of real-life parenthood.

They wanted another child - again, sometime in the muzzy future - but when Tripp was 10 months old and Grace's period was late, she already knew what the pregnancy stick would say.

Once again, she was plagued with heartburn and a hacking cough. She hoped for a full-term baby and a natural birth - perhaps, despite her risk for preeclampsia, she could deliver at Bryn Mawr's Lifecycle WomanCare - but at 35 weeks, she learned that this baby was breech.

Grace tried everything to make the baby flip: chiropractic and acupuncture treatments, moxibustion (a Chinese herb lit and held over acupuncture points), even reclining on a bench she'd angled against the couch, with her head on the carpet and her feet in the air. The doctor couldn't turn the baby because there wasn't enough amniotic fluid to allow the maneuver.

Reluctantly, Grace and Tom began planning for a "gentle" caesarian: doctors would delay cord-cutting and allow each of them some skin-to-skin contact with the baby. But three days before that scheduled procedure, Grace began to have contractions. It was an echo of her first birth - a hospital room teeming with nurses, doctors, and an anesthesiologist; a fast-moving labor; a transition marked by trembling and vomiting.

Suddenly, the midwife saw something emerging, yelled, "The cord!" then quickly flipped Grace onto all fours while doctors rushed her from the room. The "gentle" C-section became an emergency procedure. And Tom, still wrestling his way into a sterile jumpsuit that seemed to be made of cheesecloth, just stood there, in tears.

Compared to Tripp at birth, Mollie was "huge" - six pounds, three ounces - and gorgeous, despite the clownlike blotches on her cheeks where oxygen tubes had briefly been taped. They brought her home after two days.

Tom and Grace like to name the things no one says about parenthood: That it is strange to stand in a labor room for hours, listening to the amplified heartbeat of a person you have never met. Or that a woman can feel like a rock star no matter how she gives birth.

And no one whispers about a morning when you will sit in the kitchen, nursing your daughter and watching your toddler son work intently to buckle his high-chair latch. You will be reading a short story written by your college pal who's lived all over the world and now has landed in Italy, and you will stop for a moment to wonder whether you'd like to trade lives.

And the answer, Grace says, will be no.

If you've become a parent — for the first, second or fifth time — within the last six months, email 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.