THE PARENTS: Lisa Honan, 36, and Patrick Honan, 38, of Bridgeport
THE KIDS: Alice Elizabeth, 4; Seamus Patrick, born July 31, 2017
TALKING POINTS ON THEIR FIRST DATE: His sciatica, her torn rotator cuff surgery. "It was an unconventional conversation," Patrick says.
Lisa knew it must be love when Patrick pushed her wheelchair up and down a hilly, five-mile trail in Valley Forge National Park in suffocating summer heat. She'd broken her leg—an unfortunate combination of nine-inch heels and a few too many Jack-and-Cokes—in July 2010, when the two went out to celebrate Patrick's recovery from a back injury that had grounded him in the house for four weeks.
"By the time we hit the six-month point in our relationship, we'd been through a lot already," Lisa says. "We saw each other get upset, get angry, get frustrated. We'd seen each other at our absolute worst."
They'd met on Match.com—"Go find somebody nice," Lisa's brother had counseled when she called him in tears about one more unrequited love. On their first date, a meet-up for coffee that segued into a sushi dinner and ended at a bar where they just kept talking, Patrick charmed her with his smile and his kindness.
Still, Lisa felt hesitant. "I was afraid of getting close to someone and then having it fall apart." And Patrick noted the ambivalent vibe. The first time he spent the night, he climbed into Lisa's bed fully clothed and remained on top of the blanket until morning. "I didn't think she was interested in me, and I didn't want to make her uncomfortable," he recalls.
When he proposed, Lisa said, "If we're still together in six months, ask me again and I'll say yes." Patrick kept track—and in February 2011, at a friend's Mardi Gras party, he repeated the question. "I looked at Patrick and said, 'Yes, sure, I'll do it.' " A friend turned to us and said, "Did you just propose to her?"
They married in 2012 in Valley Forge National Historical Park, a wedding that bore their idiosyncratic stamp: Lisa in a red dress, some guests in Revolutionary War-era uniforms (the pair are history buffs), a friend ordained for the occasion, an exchange of self-written vows.
Even though the sky was gray until the moment Lisa's father walked her down the aisle, and the wind kept snuffing out their unity candle, Lisa was able to take a friend's advice: Take a snapshot in your mind; just drink in the moment.
Lisa didn't want kids — she was one of those people who sneered when a baby wailed on an airplane — but Patrick made a persuasive case for parenthood: a ticket to a second childhood, a kind of immortality. "Within a short period of time, I said, 'I'll do it,' " Lisa remembers.
Vivid, colorful dreams semaphored her pregnancy even before the morning in December 2013 when she emerged from the bathroom in tears, positive test stick in hand. "I was pretty excited, but then the reality of it hits you," Patrick says.
Along with Lisa's rapidly ballooning belly, achy feet, and craving for peanut-butter-filled pretzels came surges of anxiety: What if she went into labor on the Norristown-bound train? (She didn't.) What if she needed a C-section? (She did, after 24 hours of labor and two hours of pushing.)
"We had this elaborate birth plan. It made a great piece of scrap paper," Patrick says. In the operating room, "I was the first person Alice saw. I remember being half-delirious, but also euphoric. I remember her tiny little hands, her eyes looking up at me."
Through her medicated haze, Lisa kissed the baby on her forehead and murmured, "Welcome to the world, Alice."
But in the post-partum weeks, that world seemed to thrum with danger. "She was in a co-sleeper in our room. I was lying in bed with this pins-and-needles feeling, just waiting for her to cry. I was in pain a lot. I was upset about the birth experience. I thought [my anxiety] was normal. I thought it was hormones. But in my head, I was just a mess."
Conception took longer the second time around. Lisa tried clocking her ovulation with predictor kits. She tried to cadge enough sleep and reduce stress. And then, in November 2016, in a post-election gloom — "I didn't eat for a day; I was completely on edge" — she became pregnant. She knew even before the blood work came back that this one was a boy. "I just felt a little different. I wasn't craving the same foods. I had a strong gut feeling."
Once again, Lisa started labor at midnight. Once again, she tried for a vaginal delivery. At Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, "I was pushing and pushing, and his heart rate kept going down," enough to warrant a quick C-section. The doctors sang "Happy Birthday" when they pulled the baby out.
That first night in the hospital, Lisa felt ripples of a too-familiar anxiety, which only spiked once she got home. "I was terrified to go to sleep. If Alice was in a car with anybody, I was terrified that they would get in a car accident. I was afraid Patrick was going to leave me." Obsessive thoughts chased through her mind, visions of Seamus falling from a window or down a flight of stairs.
She sought help in a post-partum support group, in a low dose of anti-depressants, and in sessions with a therapist who pointed out that her anxiety spun around events that weren't actually happening.
"We developed more techniques about how to live in the moment," Lisa says. She tries to heed that counsel. So does Patrick, because even with a 4-year-old, they know how quickly childhood shrinks away. Patrick tries to memorize images: Seamus' goofy grin, Alice's "conquer-the-world" expression as she stands with palms on hips.
Sometimes Lisa will put on her favorite music — Alice Cooper or Iron Maiden — and dance with Alice while Seamus smiles from his pack-and-play. Mother and daughter grab hands and spin in circles, faster and faster, until they are dizzy and laughing and breathless, until the music and motion fill Lisa's mind and worry doesn't stand a chance.