THE PARENTS: Ashley Lachman, 33, and Mike Lachman, 32, of Allentown

THE CHILD: Emory Elizabeth (Emma), born September 8, 2017

THEIR FIRST ONLINE ENCOUNTER: Ashley "winked" at his profile; he responded with a cautious, "Hi, I'm Mike."

They left their fertility specialist's office with three words of counsel: Rest. Hydrate. Pray.

They'd been cautiously optimistic about this third pregnancy after two earlier conceptions ended in miscarriage. But when Ashley started bleeding at week six, she sent her class of first graders to sit in the hallway and told her principal  she needed to leave right away. She feared the same scenario was happening again.

"I'm having a really hard time finding the heartbeat," the doctor said. "You're probably going to miscarry this pregnancy."

The couple drove home. "We literally did nothing for two days but cry and pray and drink water." The next appointment was at Abington Hospital — "the longest car ride of my life," Ashley says. And then they heard the small, percussive sound: 157 healthy beats per minute.

"The nurses were [saying], 'This is a miracle. There's no medical explanation for this.' " Her doctor advised bed rest for two months. But even after Ashley returned to work, her anxiety continued to percolate. "You watch everybody else have their babies, no problem — that's the way it seems on Facebook. But anything can happen. Life is fragile."

Ashley and Mike learned that early — and the hard way. They'd met on, then arranged a first date for wings and beer at an Allentown bar. They talked about football and college and how the wings weren't that great. And though Ashley had been wary on the drive, blasting the air conditioning to counteract her nervous perspiration, Mike "felt like a friend from high school you haven't seen in years."

For him, it was the same: "It didn't feel like there was any lull in the conversation or any awkward silence." That is until Ashley announced she had to go feed her cats. "I thought, 'Uh-oh, she's a cat lady. Maybe that's the deal-killer.'" But there were just two cats at Ashley's place, and the apartment didn't smell like a pet store. Over the next two weeks, the couple saw each other 12 times.

That was October 2013. A few months later, Mike moved in. It was March when Ashley realized she'd forgotten to take her birth control pills. A drugstore test came up emphatically positive. "Mike was cooking dinner. I said, 'Can I tell you a secret?'

"I was a Catholic schoolteacher, unwed. I was thrilled, of course. It's a miracle. But terrified of everybody else's reaction."

They FaceTimed Ashley's parents, who were delighted, laughing and crying simultaneously, and told Mike's family on St. Patrick's Day. But the following Tuesday, at a routine appointment, the tech couldn't find a heartbeat.

It was crushing, Mike recalls, and the only consolation was hearing so many stories from people who'd been through the same experience. "There's a commonality that ends up coming out of things like this," he says.

They were engaged that fall; Mike proposed at what was billed as a surprise birthday party for Ashley, with a box that held both their childhood stuffed animals — her teddy bear, his bunny rabbit — and an oval-cut, rose-gold diamond ring.

They married the following June; by September, they were pregnant again. "I woke up one day and said, 'I need to take a test,' " Ashley recalls. "I just felt it." The drugstore test was positive, but at her 10-week appointment, the ultrasound revealed an empty amniotic sac.

"The medical world and your family is telling you, 'Just try again.' But you know how bad it hurts, and you don't want to go through it again," she says. They opted for genetic testing and discovered that Ashley was a carrier of fragile X syndrome, a genetic condition that causes a host of developmental problems, usually more severe for boys.

Her doctor suggested IVF so future embryos could be tested for the syndrome. "It was a blessing in disguise to have those miscarriages," Ashley says. "It was God's way of protecting us."

She took medication to stimulate egg production — three rounds on a high dose that caused migraines, nausea, and vomiting — and ended with seven embryos. Three were genetically perfect. One was transferred to Ashley's womb 10 days before Christmas. The doctor was crying when she called.

Ashley was lounging by her parents' pool on a winter break visit to Florida. "I was jumping, screaming, laughing," she recalls. "It's such a victory."

And then came the day, six weeks later, when they thought it was all over. After the scare and the bed rest, Ashley went back to her classroom. "You just put one foot in front of the other; each week we got further along, I was getting more and more confident."

But birth brought more drama: a blood pressure spike, an abrupt hospital admittance, contractions that caused the baby's heart rate to plummet, and, finally, a C-section. "Talk to me," Ashley begged while Mike sat near her in the operating room. It was 1:30 in the morning; he scoured his mind for something to say.

Then he heard the doctor: " 'Oh, my God, she has such a long neck!' I was thinking: I hope that's normal." Suddenly, she was there, and Ashley was too looped from medication and pain to hold the baby. Nurses helped Mike settle into a rocker with his infant daughter swaddled in blankets. "I thought: OK, I can do this."

Emory Elizabeth (Emma) Lachman.
Emory Elizabeth (Emma) Lachman.

What strikes him now is how parenthood changes everyone: his rough-and-tumble uncle, father of three hockey-fanatic boys, who melted over his grandniece; his parents, marveling at their first grandchild; all the people who bravely shared their stories of hope and loss.

"After the second miscarriage, I was angry with God," Ashley says. "But the second we thought we were going to lose Emma, my faith came flying back." On a recent night, she put the baby in her crib, then caved into bed with a prayer: that Emma would be all right for those few hours, until she came to scoop her up again.