THE PARENTS: Lisa Browne, 27, and Christopher Browne, 31, of West Mount Airy
THE CHILD: Jude Mambo, born November 28, 2017
HOW THEY DECORATED THE NURSERY: Ash-gray to complement their light-brown upstairs walls, with scripted panels that include a verse from "Jude," Chapter 1: "Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling …"
Yes, they'd taken the five-hour birth class and the moving-through-labor class from Blossoming Bellies. Lisa had practically memorized the affirmations from Spotify and YouTube: "This is like a wave moving through your body," she murmured when her contractions got fierce. "Two hundred and fifty-five women around the world are giving birth right this minute," she told herself.
But she hadn't prepared for the moment when push came to shove.
"OK, here's how you're going to do it," the midwife coached. "Take a giant breath. When you're pushing, don't let out your breath."
Lisa's first effort didn't budge the baby. But when she bore down harder, he began to crown. "My baby! His head!" Chris yelped. Less than 30 minutes later, the midwife moved aside, and Chris caught his son bare-handed.
The baby's sex wasn't a surprise; they'd held a gender reveal party in July at Allens Lane Park, with chalk-filled footballs stealthily ordered by the grandparents. "We kicked the footballs, they exploded, and they were blue," Chris says. "I got chalk all over myself."
No one had been shocked, either, when the couple announced their pregnancy — FaceTiming with Lisa's sister and mother in England; sharing the news with Chris' family on Easter Sunday.
Chris asked his relatives to gather on the steps for a group picture. Without telling them, he hit the "record video" button on his phone. "One … two … three … Now say, 'Lisa's going to have a baby!' " The camera caught their looks of startled joy.
It was no secret that Lisa was baby-crazy. After all, she was the woman who invariably made eye contact with infants on the street, the one who came to the United States from South Africa as an au pair, then went on to study early-childhood education in college.
"I was used to returning babies to their parents at the end of babysitting or having them for a weekend," she says. "I thought it would be nice to have our own little human who didn't have to go back."
Chris wanted kids, too, though he felt wary of parenting with an in-house "expert" who had studied infant development and early-childhood education. "Being in a marriage with somebody like that was a little intimidating," he says.
Their first meeting, in 2010, was also a bit jarring; both showed up late for a cleanup day at their church, only to find that prompt parishioners had already done the work and left the building.
"Would you like a ride home?" Chris asked Lisa.
"No," she said, then turned and left.
"I had been [in the U.S.] about four months," Lisa explains. "This was a whole new world for me, and I was very skeptical." But she continued to see Chris — in the choir, at Wednesday night Bible study classes — and gradually developed a crush.
"He was smart. He seemed very spiritually mature," she says.
After a group date, the two stopped at a 7-Eleven on City Avenue for snacks; they stayed in the car, in the parking lot, and talked for five hours: about her childhood in South Africa and his in Cheltenham, about music and family and friends. "We were basically going steady after that," Chris says.
They celebrated New Year's Eve 2012 in Johannesburg — the first time Lisa had brought a boyfriend to meet her family, including her Tanzanian-born grandfather, who is a fisherman and animated storyteller.
"I didn't come all the way to South Africa just to say hi," Chris confided to Lisa's mom during that trip. "I really love your daughter." Six months later, he proposed, scattering flower petals across the floor of Lisa's sister's house, dropping to one knee and singing John Legend's "Stay with You."
He sang again — a surprise to his control-freak bride — during their wedding ceremony in June 2014; this time, the tune was "You Are My Dream." They thought about waiting five years or so to have kids. "But the baby bug bit us," Lisa says, and by March 2017, they were staring at a drugstore test — the digital, unambiguous kind — that said, "Pregnant."
The first three months brought exhaustion and nausea; even the smell of Chris' shower gel made Lisa queasy. By summertime, she craved daily infusions of ice cream, and she even started eating the oxtail that her mother made when she came to help the couple through the final months of pregnancy.
"We really dived into learning about pregnancy, about birth, about all of our options," Lisa says. "I was going to be giving birth in a different country than what I had imagined all my life. What would this experience be like in America? I know that the maternal treatment and care of women of color can sometimes be very unpleasant. I wanted to be sure I could advocate for myself."
For 40 hours, she labored at home; her contractions jumped all over the map, sometimes three minutes apart and sometimes 15 minutes apart, never really forming a pattern. After two sleepless nights — and a final midwife appointment that determined Lisa was already 4 centimeters dilated — they headed for Einstein Medical Center Montgomery.
They played contemporary worship music in the delivery room. Chris poured water over Lisa's belly and pressed a sock filled with warm rice on her sacrum. Sometimes she shunned all touch, or grabbed the bedside table so hard it rattled, or kicked the bed in the throes of a painful contraction. "I keep telling my mom I need to buy her a shirt that says, 'I'm sorry about all the things I said during labor.' "