THE PARENTS: Lisa Feingold, 34, and Ron Feingold, 33, of Bella Vista
THE KIDS: Lev Elan, 3; Eli Phillip, born March 1, 2018
LISA AND RON'S INSIDE JOKE ABOUT PEOPLE WHO CONCEIVE WITHOUT ASSISTED REPRODUCTIVE TECHNOLOGIES: "Can you believe they got pregnant for free?"
It wasn't the movie, with its dark psychological twists, that sent Lisa running from her seat at the AMC Marlton 8. She'd read Gone Girl before seeing the film. She knew what was coming.
No, it was the phone, buzzing and buzzing in her pocket. A slew of missed calls from the fertility doctor's office. More calls and texts from Ron. She scrolled down. "We're pregnant," the message said.
"I stood up and walked myself out of the movie theater," Lisa says. "I was screaming, hysterically crying. The attendant came over and said, 'Ma'am, are you all right?' "
By the time she got home — to the house that had come to resemble a small-scale fertility factory, with a red sharps container in the bathroom and medications crowding the shelves — Ron had bought flowers and sparkling grape juice.
"We were over the moon," Lisa says, "shocked and nervous and excited."
They'd been trying for two frustrating years: Clomid, intrauterine inseminations, diagnoses of low egg reserve, poor egg quality, and endometriosis. All their friends were having babies. One of Lisa's sisters had four kids; another had three. She loved being an aunt. But she desperately wanted to be a mom.
"It was shocking and difficult," she recalls. "A lot of medication, a lot of doctors' visits, a lot of stress. Time off work. I was always just … sad. You lose hope at some points. I wondered if this would ever happen for me."
It was a round of IVF — five eggs retrieved, two implanted — that finally worked. "First, we found out we were having twins. Then we lost one of the twins. That was upsetting and hard, but we kept focusing on the one good heartbeat."
Ron remained cautious; he'd heard too many stories of miscarriages, complications, even stillbirths. "I thought: All right, this is phase one. I never wanted to get too excited. I was still nervous until the baby came out."
By the time of that pregnancy, Lisa and Ron had known each other for more than two decades; she was 10 and he was 9 when they met at Camp Ramah in the Poconos. The camp had a photography program, so they darted around as a duo, snapping black-and-white candids and developing them in the darkroom.
After high school (together, at Akiba, now Barrack Hebrew Academy) and college (separately — she was at Binghamton and he was at Penn State), they reconnected through a mutual friend. Lisa texted her friends: "Ronnie Feingold is making me dinner!" The meal was eggplant Parmesan, an Israeli salad and garlic bread. The spark was still there.
"Then we got hit with a curveball early in our relationship," Ron says. "I was working for a start-up, and I got a job offer in St. Louis. That was a tough conversation to have." He took the job, and Lisa followed him — a year both recall as an important incubator for their partnership.
When they came home that first Thanksgiving, Ron conspired with her nieces and nephews; at a Sunday brunch just before the two headed back to the airport, the kids held up signs, one word on each placard: "Lisa. Will. You. Marry. Me?"
Their wedding, on New Year's Eve 2012, included 16 bridesmaids, 14 groomsmen, 300 guests, nearly 100 rooms at the Westin in Mt. Laurel, and a raucous 40-minute hora. They sipped ceremonial wine from Lisa's grandfather's kiddush cup, an item her great-uncle had grabbed before fleeing Poland during the Holocaust. Ron wore his grandfather's prayer shawl.
"I couldn't wait to be a mom," Lisa says. "I just knew, as far back as I remember." Once the pregnancy was confirmed, she and Ron tried to play it cool — no nursery setup, no obsessive reading on childbirth websites. "We felt: We'll get stuff when there's a healthy baby here."
The healthy baby arrived, after a medically induced nudge and a 24-hour labor. And they brought Lev home, on the eve of the Sabbath, to a houseful of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and enthusiastic cousins.
Lisa recalls that summer as a magical interlude, with evening walks and an infant content to doze while his parents ate dinner al fresco. They wanted to give Lev a sibling. But after more attempts at conception, two miscarriages, and two failed IVF cycles, Lisa began to lose hope. "I was defeated, devastated. Nothing was working. I was absolutely terrified that this wasn't going to happen again."
After the second failed IVF, her doctor suggested trying one more IUI in that cycle. "And shock of all shocks, it worked," Lisa says.
Once again, the baby curled contentedly in utero; labor included a 12-hour induction and a brisk delivery that resulted in a serious tear. "I couldn't pick up my child, drive, stand, do laundry, or cook for about six weeks," Lisa says. "But Eli was my saving grace through it all. He knew I needed him to just hang out with me."
She recalls one legendarily difficult night. Eli was about 6 weeks old, and Lisa had encouraged Ron to go to a concert with friends. "Lev did not want to go to bed. He got a million books and was negotiating with me. Eli was crying. Lev wanted more books. I was walking around the house, nursing Eli. At one point, I was nursing, with both kids crying on my lap. It was just madness."
But such lows are tempered by moments of sweetness: when Lev comes home from preschool and tells his baby brother all about his day, or when he wakes up and asks Ron, "Eli's still here, right?"
For Lisa and Ron, the despairing stretches of their parenthood journey have faded. But they haven't vanished. Annoyances like middle-of-the-night wake-ups pale next to their gratitude for having kids.