THE PARENTS: Stephanie Marblestone, 33, and Jeffrey Marblestone, 36, of Point Breeze
THE KIDS: Zoe Arden, 2 ½; Blake Naava, born June 16, 2017
ONE THING STEPHANIE LOVED ABOUT PREGNANCY: Fashion-simplification. "It was easy to roll out of bed and have five stretchy things to wear."
The neurologist told Stephanie to remain stress-free.
Which is easier said than accomplished when you're raising a toddler, working full time, weathering your 36th week of pregnancy, and listening to a doctor tell you that an unruptured aneurysm is lodged in your brain.
Stephanie never would have learned about the aneurysm — "like a time bomb in my head," she says — if her father hadn't suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm months earlier.
At a hospital support group for survivors and family members, someone advised Stephanie to be tested. It took two months to schedule an MRI and see a neurologist; by then, she was in her third trimester and hoping for a vaginal birth, after the C-section that had delivered the couple's first child.
That appointment changed everything. She would need brain surgery, but not while she was pregnant. "I had to have a controlled C-section where I didn't go through any labor or pushing or anything to increase my blood pressure." Meantime, she couldn't lift 2-year-old Zoe, or anything that weighed more than a couple of pounds.
"I went to work, and we went to Sesame Place, did family things," she recalls. "Because who knew what kind of state I was going to be in [later]?"
She and Jeffrey had always been a seize-the-moment kind of couple, from the time they met while on a young professionals' trip to Israel in 2010. He was a science geek and she was a natural leader; both were intrigued. When they returned to Philadelphia, they began hanging out at Standard Tap and North Third, switch-backing between his place in Northern Liberties and hers near Rittenhouse.
The next milestone was to move in together, but not quite yet: First, Jeffrey had to ask permission from Stephanie's tradition-minded mother. "I was a little hesitant," he remembers. "It was an unusual ask. I said I would like to live with Stephanie and get to know her better before making the engagement commitment. She said she understood, and that Stephanie had her blessing."
About a year later, just before the two headed to Turkey for a work/play trip, Jeffrey proffered a ring, before dessert, on the balcony at XIX Nineteen in the Bellevue. They were married in the same place the following August, an "intimate" ceremony under a chuppah fashioned from Jeffrey's mother's wedding dress.
"I wanted to walk down the aisle and know every person there," Stephanie says. "We had 100 people there, which, for our crazy, large families, was not a lot. I didn't want to have a huge production."
After a five-week honeymoon in Asia, they were ready to think about starting a family. "We weren't ones to dwell on 'when is the right time?' " Stephanie says. "There's never a right time to do something as crazy as have children."
"We're such a strong unit. It was a logical step to raise a child together," Jeffrey says. Still, the prospect filled him with doubts: "It's a scary process: Am I fit to do this? Am I going to be a good parent? It's the unknown that scares me the most."
Stephanie knew she was pregnant the minute she smelled the Keurig coffeemaker at work. Her morning sickness lasted five months; she could barely enter the kitchen, and subsisted on chicken breast and toast.
Determined to learn the baby's sex as soon as possible, the two battled rush-hour traffic to Doylestown at 16 weeks to visit an ultrasound center that promised early gender identification. "I wanted to know what was in my body," Stephanie says. Later, they learned the baby was breech, which led to various attempts — acupuncture, an unsuccessful version — to flip her, which prompted preterm labor, which resulted in a C-section at 37 weeks.
Despite a mellow soundtrack from singer-songwriter Iron & Wine (Jeffrey brought a speaker into the operating room), Zoe pierced the vibe with her screams. It took her 19 months to sleep through the night.
They knew they wanted a second, and this time, it was one sniff of wine that triggered the too-familiar queasiness. Stephanie was just a few weeks pregnant when her father, disoriented during a breakfast with Stephanie's uncle, was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with the ruptured aneurysm.
Top priority was to deliver the baby safely, which meant waiting until 39 weeks for a scheduled C-section. Two months later, enough time to recover from the birth, have an angiogram, and breastfeed Blake for a bit, Stephanie underwent brain surgery: doctors inserted a stent to redirect blood flow and — if successful — clear the aneurysm.
They told Zoe that mommy had a "boo-boo" and was going to the hospital so the doctor could fix it. When Stephanie woke up after the two-hour operation, her mother, mother-in-law, and husband stood anxiously around the bed. Her first thought: Am I alive?
"I cried," she says. "I still cry now when I think of it."
For weeks, she couldn't carry the car seat with Blake in it; she continues to take blood thinners and suffers occasional headaches. The ordeal — even more than buying their house or having their first child — clarified their adulthood, a sense that "we're building our young family, our values, and our strength, rather than being 'the kids' with our parents."
The tricky part, Stephanie says, is to find steadiness amid the tumult of work and doctors' visits, preschool drama, and baby care. In September, the whole family spent five nights in Riviera Maya, just before Hurricane Nate whooshed through the Gulf of Mexico: the calm before life's next storm.
Zoe and Blake won't remember the trip, but their parents will tell them about that gentle oasis of family time, away from phones and television and schedules, a moment to step back and reflect on the last few harrowing months.