THE PARENTS: Kirsten Sebright, 33, and Michael Sebright, 38, of Blue Bell
THE KIDS: Liam Michael, 2½; James Remington, born February 17, 2017
KIRSTEN'S TAKE-HOME FROM TWO VERY DIFFERENT BIRTHS: "You can't plan your birth, but you can educate yourself; you do have a voice, and a choice."
Their first meeting lasted 10 intriguing minutes: Who was this guy sketching in a blank book while perusing a copy of Scripture at the Starbucks on City Avenue? Who was this woman bold enough to peer at his page and ask whether he was a student?
Michael wasn't in school, but he'd trained in architecture, and that day, he was writing copy to accompany a bass wood sculpture he'd carved of Eve in the Garden of Eden for a church fund-raising auction.
By the end of their brief coffee encounter, they'd exchanged phone numbers. Michael invited Kirsten for lunch the following day; the meal lasted three hours.
"We quickly realized we were both creative," Kirsten says. "We had a lot of little random connections," including the fact that both had studied in Italy during college. Their conversation also revealed differences that neatly dovetailed: his reserve and her ebullience; his pragmatism and her emotional approach to decision-making. "We balance each other," she says.
Kirsten had just moved from New York to live with her parents in Schwenksville; she was considering relocating to Boston. But within a month, she'd changed her plan, moving instead to Conshohocken so she could be closer to Michael's place in Chestnut Hill.
He proposed late one night on the steps of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill — she had to remind him to get down on one knee — and they celebrated the milestone at a 24-hour diner, lingering until 2 a.m., far too late to share the news with family or friends.
But those key people gathered a year later for their wedding, at that same church, with a reception at the Morris Arboretum, the gardens bordered by tiny lights.
"We talked a lot about children," Michael recalls, including their hope that Kirsten might be able to stay home and raise them. Before becoming parents, though, they wanted to fulfill a dream trip to Italy. A few weeks after their return, when Kirsten couldn't shake off the fatigue she blamed on jet lag, she took a pregnancy test on a Monday morning and blurted the result to Michael as he stepped out of the shower.
For 40 weeks, Michael photographed Kirsten every Friday — first with the instant Polaroid, then backups with her phone and his phone. They savored the project of transforming an office/studio into a travel-themed nursery, with a world map on one wall and a model plane, a 1920s-era single-prop, a gift from Kirsten's grandfather, hanging over the nursing chair.
She hoped for a natural delivery but worked with an OB who recommended induction when her pregnancy dragged into its 41st week. That launched two days of fierce, Pitocin-fueled contractions, with little progress.
Exhausted from labor and dry heaves, Kirsten begged for an epidural, and Liam finally emerged into Michael's hands. The infant, born on his great-grandfather William's birthday, has Irish ancestry on both sides; Liam is the Irish version of "William."
After the trauma of labor, the early days of cuddling and napping were so sweet that, within two weeks, Kirsten began talking about having another baby. First, the couple needed to make a decision: Would Kirsten return to her job as an event planner or stay home with Liam? She and Michael knew what they wanted … but could they afford it? They visited six daycare centers, looked at their finances, considered the risks and rewards — and, finally, relied on their instincts.
"It was an expression of faith," Kirsten recalls. "But what would we regret more? Not having me stay home, or not saving more money?"
Liam was a little more than a year old when the family visited a lavender farm and Kirsten concocted an excuse for Michael to go inside while she quickly slipped a "Big Brother" T-shirt over the toddler's head. "Michael was holding him up in the air, playing with him. Finally I said, 'Did you see his shirt?' "
Even at 15 months, Liam understood. At Kirsten's prenatal appointments, he crowed, "Hear baby heartbeat! Baby boom-boom!" Meanwhile, the couple approached this birth with different intentions: they hired a doula, found a midwife, and learned all they could about medical interventions and their risks.
This time, Kirsten's water broke at home; by the time they arrived at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, she couldn't walk. Michael left the truck running and raced into the hospital beside her wheelchair. James was born 15 minutes later.
"I remember my midwife saying, 'Your baby's head is right there. Get in whatever position you want and push.' I actually caught James. I reached down and pulled him up to me. It was crazy."
The name James resonated; it is Kirsten's father's middle name, as well as the name of her father's favorite uncle. And Remington? A name Michael loved, plus a nod to the old-school typewriter on which Kirsten makes cards for friends.
In contrast to his brother, who refused to sleep unless nestled in his parents' bed, James is an easy infant who sleeps and smiles readily. Still, adding another person to the family tripod calls for all kinds of tipsy adjustments. "With just one kid, you could relax while hanging out with the baby at night," Kirsten says. Now, it's a duo juggling act: she nurses while Michael handles Liam's bath and bedtime routine.
Parenthood, says Michael, has forced him to see himself mirrored, for better and for worse — for instance, in his older son's temper or his fascination with Legos. "It allows me … to be a little more self-aware," he says.
While Kirsten struggles with the unpredictability of two kids and at-home work — she's a sales consultant for a company that makes toxin-free beauty products — there are moments that shine through each day's tumult: when Liam's tickling make James convulse with belly laughs, or when Liam praises some routine task by saying, "Good job, Mama!"