THE PARENTS: Amy Baker, 37 and Josh Baker, 39, of Lafayette Hill
THE KIDS: Elliott Kristoff, 9; Lorelei Juliet, 5; Preston Alexander, born December 31, 2017
THEIR PRE-PARENTHOOD VOW: "One of the things we always told ourselves was that we knew kids would change our lives, but we didn't want them to change us," Josh says.
During Amy's first pregnancy, there were days when all she could do was lie on the couch and gestate. Josh, who had just started a business in web design and branding, would come home a little hyped, a little ragged, only to find his queasy wife supine in the living room.
"What did you do all day?" he'd ask, and she'd snark back, "I made a pancreas. What did you do?"
It was the same spunk that attracted him when the two were high school students near Gettysburg. On their first date — a cacophonous ride to a waterfall in Josh's Suzuki Samurai, which had a bad muffler — they talked like the awkward teens they were, and then Amy splashed him with water.
"I wasn't even looking for a girlfriend," Josh says. "I needed a prom date. But I realized she was smart and had ambitions and was mature, and I liked talking to her."
Beneath the teasing posture, Amy says, she was actually shy — a sophomore drawn to Josh's status as a senior. "He was funny and smart, and he didn't ditch me after prom."
After graduation, Josh bounced from the University of Pittsburgh to Philadelphia University (now called Jefferson), where he could play volleyball, study industrial design, and be a bit closer to Amy. But when she enrolled in the physician assistant program on the same campus, they needed to recalibrate: Would Amy make new friends or cleave to Josh's crowd? How much time would they spend together?
"We almost broke up, then decided we had something worth sticking out," Amy says. "I think some of the communication skills we learned then have helped us over the last couple of years."
After Josh proposed — on a winter hike to the same Gettysburg waterfall where they'd had their first date — they planned to marry the following Christmas. Then Amy remembered she hates winter; how about a July wedding, instead? Just one glitch: she'd already planned a monthlong road trip with college friends from mid-May to mid-June.
She mailed the invitations, left Josh with a to-do list, and drove a Volkswagen Jetta with her pals from Tennessee to Texas to Arizona and back. They married in Gettysburg, on National Park property; both remember Josh sobbing through the entire ceremony.
Then they flew to Fort Myers, Fla. As soon as they were off the plane, both their phones blazed with messages from friends and family; one of their groomsmen had been killed in a car accident.
Suddenly, their vows —"for better, for worse" — were achingly relevant. "It was something that really forced us to lean on one another immediately," Josh says.
Amy had always fantasized about having three kids; she'd even held on to three of the savings bonds that were gifts from her grandparents, imagining she would pass them on to her offspring.
But it took seven years — graduate school, new jobs, an East Falls house with a basement that needed patching — until they felt ready. Amy was driving to work at a family practice in Collegeville when she realized the smell of paving tar was making her nauseated. The pregnancy test she swiped from the office lit up like Christmas.
Because Amy's father has twin sisters, she worried about a multiple birth. Her first words at the ultrasound appointment were, "Is everything OK?" followed quickly by, "Is there only one?"
There was only one — a boy, it turned out, who was still cozily in utero as Amy neared her 42nd week. After an induction, 15 hours of labor, and a brief panic because the cord was wrapped around the baby's neck, the two were gaping at their son.
"They handed him to me. I probably said hi. He stopped crying for a few seconds; it was like he recognized my voice. There was that moment of: I'm holding him for the first time. He's real," Josh says.
Though Elliott's personality was tranquil, his digestive system was not. The couple spent nearly two years consulting GI doctors, nutritionists, and allergists, trying to sleuth out the cause (a milk protein allergy, it turned out) of their son's vomiting and weight loss. They whipped up high-protein smoothies; they fed him, for distraction, in front of the TV.
"I wanted another, but I wasn't sure I could do it again," Amy says. "It took us a long time to commit to having another kid."
With Lorelei, Amy opted to work with a midwife. "It was a much different delivery, way more hands-on," Josh says. "I felt very helpless, like she was in pain and hurting and there was nothing I could do."
At first, having two kids four years apart was a clumsy juggle — trying to give equitable, quality attention to both a baby and a preschooler. But life grew easier. Lorelei could put on her own coat; Elliott was able to pack his lunch. Maybe, despite that third tucked-away savings bond, they were done.
"But sometimes life doesn't work out exactly the way you thought," says Amy.
This pregnancy was a jolt: they would need a new car, an addition to their three-bedroom house. Mostly, it meant a shift in expectations. "It took me a long time to come to grips with it," Josh says.
Preston's birth was the quickest: eight minutes of pushing at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery. Now, it's the nuances of parenthood that preoccupy them: Should the older kids have to earn screen-time? How much say should they have over what they eat or what they wear? What happens if Amy and Josh disagree?
When the two have conflict, Josh apologizes in front of the kids. Amy models flexibility; what works for one child may not be ideal for the others. Each tries not to contradict the other's parenting.