THE PARENTS: Rebecca Singleton, 34, and Troy Singleton, 35, of Lansdale
THE KIDS: Nacir Aaron Issachar, 15; Kaela Tonya Star, 12; Laela Esperanza Mae, 3; Bella Simone, born December 9, 2017
THEIR FIRST REAL DATE: A concert by jazz singer/bassist Esperanza Spalding; they borrowed the name, which means "hope," for Laela.
They'd been attending the same North Wales church for a few years, and had even sung in the choir together — Rebecca among the altos, with Troy as tenor or baritone.
But the epiphany didn't come until spring 2012, when Rebecca drove Troy home from choir rehearsal and they talked for three hours in the car: about Rebecca's brief marriage in her 20s, about Troy's previous relationship and his kids, then 6 and 9.
"We talked about goals and dreams, things we wanted out of life, prior pains we'd experienced," Troy remembers. The next day, he called his best friend: "You know what? I'm going to marry her."
Rebecca felt the same certainty. After her marriage imploded, she made a list of "non-negotiables" for any future mate. Troy met all the criteria. "I wanted to share the same faith. I wanted someone who was strong emotionally, who I could raise a family with, somebody who didn't suffer from addiction, somebody with a strong work ethic."
Other people noted their differences: Rebecca was raised middle-class in Cheltenham; Troy grew up on the rougher streets of Newark, N.J. By the time he was 27, he'd lost 30 friends to gang violence. "No one thought we would be compatible," he recalls.
The summer of 2012 was one long date: They lived and worked within walking distance of one another in Center City, so it was easy to meet for lunch breaks or take evening strolls in Rittenhouse Square. Troy proposed that fall — no ring, just an up-front declaration: "I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
A few months later, he proposed again, with ring in hand, and the two were married in February 2013 in a small ceremony at the Abundant Life Family Church where they'd met.
"I'd had the whole walk-down-the-aisle-and-the-cake thing," Rebecca says. "What did all of that accomplish? The ceremony wasn't that important. I thought: I would rather be married and know that this time it was right."
Troy assumed Rebecca didn't want children; in the community where he grew up, people had kids early, and Rebecca was almost 30. But she was waiting for the right person and the opportune time — ideally, after she'd completed her master's degree in public health.
After a one-month hiatus from birth control — she'd gotten laid off and needed to renew her prescription with different insurance — she was pregnant.
"It was not planned, but a pleasant surprise," Troy recalls. "I knew things would be different from [the experience with] my first two children. I was excited about the possibility of starting over."
Rebecca remembers a pregnancy wracked with questions: Was her very occasional nausea morning sickness or food-related? Should she be reading ingredient labels? What were the effects of eating fast food? Was it normal to gain 40 pounds?
"The last six weeks, my stomach was getting huge. People started asking if I was having twins." She'd hoped for a natural delivery, but after being induced — the baby was overdue — at 40 weeks and five days, she found every part of her birth plan thwarted: She couldn't change position or walk because of the IV and the monitor; she wasn't allowed to eat. She needed stitches for a second-degree tear.
And when Laela finally arrived, she was whisked to the NICU because Rebecca had developed an infection during labor. "I felt defeated, like my plans were a failure."
At home, life did not get easier. Before Rebecca figured out how to pump milk efficiently, her breasts swelled and ached; she slumped bags of frozen vegetables on her chest and gulped Motrin for the pain. Laela had a hard time latching, and she spit up frequently.
Troy, who'd missed eight or nine sales calls while Rebecca was in labor — he worked for a company that installed solar panels — felt pressured to return to work. "It was just me in the house," Rebecca recalls. "It was rough. I knew I wanted to have another; I wanted to try for a boy. But I was very skeptical of what the next experience would be like."
By the time Troy and Rebecca were ready to consider another pregnancy, they'd become full-time parents to Troy's son, Nacir, who moved in with them in 2016 (his daughter, Kaela, lives with her mother in New Jersey). "I went from figuring out diaper rash and baby food to algebra and teenage hormones," Rebecca says.
For Troy, living full-time with his son meant starting over: learning to talk to an adolescent about failing grades and falling in love; setting rules about cellphone use and computer time. "It was a very, very big adjustment," he says.
And then, last March, Rebecca was pregnant — a faint line on the bargain test from the Dollar Store, then a more definitive "yes" on the spendy Clearblue stick. This pregnancy was easier: no nausea, no swelling. But Rebecca's abdominal muscles had never knitted back together after Laela was born; she needed a belly-wrap to keep this baby in position.
She had the delivery she'd dreamed of, though: midwife-assisted, without an epidural, at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery. For Troy, who was present at the births of all four of his children, it was the first time he'd watched a woman labor without medication.
"It was scary to see her go through the pain of pushing," he recalls. "I almost passed out. When Bella came out, I was so relieved."
It was a winter of warding off germs: colds and flu and pinkeye ravaged the family. Someone was always coughing. They went through bottles of Robitussin. "I was trying not to be this crazy mom: 'Cover your mouth! Wash your hands! Don't touch the refrigerator!' "