THE PARENTS: MyLisa Flowers-Shipanga, 35, and Landuleni Shipanga, 36, of Germantown
THE KIDS: Benjamin Russell, 5; Russell Andreas, born August 20, 2016
MYLISA'S FIRST THOUGHT WHEN RUSSELL WAS BORN AFTER AN EXCRUCIATING LABOR: "Why are you crying? I just pushed you out!"
For a year, their toddler son had been asking, "Mommy, did God give you a baby in your belly yet?" Then, as December neared, Benjamin changed his tune. "Mommy," he declared, "there's going to be a baby in your belly for Christmas."
MyLisa figured he'd conflated his wish with the story of baby Jesus. "I just blew it off," she recalls. Then she realized her period was late. On Dec. 26, a pregnancy test confirmed Ben's prediction.
MyLisa and Landuleni had been trying for months to conceive this second child; in fact, they were about to start a foster-to-adopt program in order to enlarge their family. "So I was floored: We're pregnant again! It was just great, perfect timing," MyLisa says.
Once upon a time, she hadn't wanted any kids. When Landuleni first mentioned that he hoped to have children, MyLisa, then a middle school teacher, said, "I have 24 kids!" But a few years later, while working as a nanny, MyLisa found herself enthralled by the prospect of pregnancy and birth.
They'd met in 2005 at the backyard luau of a mutual friend. MyLisa arrived late, clutching a bag from McDonald's. "I thought, 'Who brings a burger to a luau?' " Landuleni recalls. He teased her, asking for a bite. When the weekend-long party was over, she said, "You should call me sometime." He did - the very next day.
After six months of long-distance dating - Landuleni lived in Philadelphia; MyLisa was in Maryland - she joined him in his Germantown apartment. A year later, he proposed, a no-frills "Will you marry me?" to which MyLisa said, "Are you for real?" swiftly followed by, "Yes. Sure. I'll marry you."
Their wedding, intentionally timed for 6/7/08, was a DIY affair: MyLisa made the invitations, cut the flowers, and hand-sewed the ring bearer's pillow. Landuleni wowed their guests by doing a handstand on the dance floor. The couple waited a week - "The best decision we made; I was just exhausted," MyLisa says - before heading to Cancun to visit ruins, indulge in spa treatments, and chat with cabbies in fractured high school Spanish.
About two years later, MyLisa was telling a friend about her insatiable hunger during the previous week. The friend nodded knowingly.
"I took the test: Oh, my gosh, we're pregnant! We hugged, kissed, laughed, and cried."
From the start, it was clear this kid was calling the shots. MyLisa craved red foods - ketchup, strawberries - while shunning the ice cream and doughnuts she'd previously loved. The baby (they opted not to know the sex until birth) was an early riser, pummeling MyLisa at 5 a.m. and amping up the punches when Landuleni walked into the room.
That abundant energy was no surprise: MyLisa ran, walked, and gardened throughout her pregnancy. The day before she went into labor, she planted 100 gladiolus bulbs in their backyard. A few hours at Valley Birthplace in Huntingdon Valley - contractions in the Jacuzzi, back massages from Landuleni, two or three vigorous pushes - brought Benjamin into the world.
"He had these bright brown eyes, like: Hi, I'm here! I had [the midwife] lay him on my chest, and he crawled right up to the breast and started to suckle."
Those first days and weeks have melted to an amnesiac blur. MyLisa remembers the startling softness of her postpartum body and the mind-curdling exhaustion. "I remember crying a lot, being overwhelmed with laundry and housework and managing a newborn."
But all that paled in contrast to her experience with No. 2. For most of the pregnancy, MyLisa suffered shooting pains when she walked. Her hip popped out; her sciatic nerve twanged. She developed anemia. This baby seemed to crave stillness; MyLisa, accustomed to moving at warp speed as she juggled a Mary Kay business and home-schooling Benjamin, was most comfortable when marooned on the couch.
During labor at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery - for which MyLisa had insisted "no Pitocin, no epidural, no caesarean" - the midwife realized the baby was "sunny-side up" and unbudging.
"She pulled my cervix over his head while I pushed him out," MyLisa says. "I remember thinking: This. Is. Awful. Can you die because the pain hurts so much?"
When Russell finally emerged and began to wail, "Everyone kept saying, 'You have a beautiful baby,' and I thought, 'What the hell just happened?' " She positioned the infant on her chest and waited for him to inch up and start nursing, as Benjamin had. "But he looked at me like: 'You're going to put me on the breast.' So I just nursed him. They are totally different."
That remained true. A congenital tongue-tie made nursing feel like "someone taking a serrated knife to my nipple," MyLisa says. And Landuleni found himself retrieving the tasks of early parenthood from some vague body-memory. "It's like riding a bike: Oh, this is how it is to hold a baby so small he fits between my arm and fingers. Or changing diapers: This does ring a bell."
It's this second son who's transformed them, who's made their family complete. For Landuleni, it's the side-by-side car seats and the small faces they frame. For MyLisa, it's Russell's insistence on a slower pace that reminds her to savor the present moment.
"What I missed with my first son was enjoying the journey without all the rushing and anxiety of having to have more, to do more, to be busy." She quit the Mary Kay business to focus full-time at home. "This is my season to enjoy my kids," she says: The infant who is teaching her to relax. The boy who shrieks, "Daddy!" when Landuleni walks in the door. Each day's sweet surprises.