THE PARENTS: TajMarie Thornton, 35, and Garry Jones, 38, of Bala Cynwyd
THE KIDS: Nazir, 14; Luke Lee’Adam, born July 2, 2021
THE BABY’S NAME: Luke is Garry’s favorite apostle, and his middle name combines Garry’s middle name (Lee) and the middle name of TajMarie’s father (Adam).
Fifteen years ago, Garry and TajMarie were classmates at Community College of Philadelphia — a business management class in which they said a quick “hi” or “bye.”
“Taj was my first Facebook friend,” Garry remembers. “I thought she was cute. But I didn’t do anything.”
That’s how it remained, for 13 years. Life rolled on: TajMarie had a baby — a son born at just 26 weeks, a 1-pound, 15-ounce infant who spent more than two months in the NICU. Her relationship with the baby’s father ended. She began working as an interior decorator.
Garry, meanwhile, earned a degree from La Salle and went into finance. He married, then divorced three years later.
Two years ago, TajMarie’s photo popped up on his Facebook feed. “I thought: Oh, she still looks the same. And she’s single.” He reached out; TajMarie responded. And because it was spring 2020, the dawn of the coronavirus pandemic, the options for date activities were limited.
Their first outing was a walk on Kelly Drive. The next: take-out pizza. “We had each other’s houses, Kelly Drive, or the park,” TajMarie says. “We got creative. We had picnics. It was kind of refreshing.”
Garry agrees. “It made us hyper-focus on the relationship.”
Both knew it was serious when Garry brought TajMarie to meet his family. “The thing is: I wasn’t even nervous. That’s when I thought: Yes, this is a long-term thing.”
Meeting Nazir, TajMarie’s son, was a bit more fraught. A year earlier, he’d told TajMarie that he didn’t want her to have a boyfriend. “He was at the age where he was protective of Mom,” she says. “I was hesitant for them to meet, but I thought: It has to be done. It took him a little while to warm up.”
Meantime, they talked about the prospect of more children. TajMarie posed the question directly. “I thought: I need to see where his head is at. Was he looking for a flock of children? A couple of children?”
His answer: One, definitely. Two, max.
It was a few months later when TajMarie missed a period and had a sudden craving for pepperoni pizza — an unexpected craving, because she doesn’t eat pork. A handful of drugstore tests delivered identical news.
Garry was working, so she told him via FaceTime, saying the word pregnant so quietly he didn’t understand the first time.
“You’re pregnant?” he finally blurted. “Are you sure? Is it good? Is it true?” Then he began fretting over the financials: How would they pay for college in 18 years?
“I was like: The baby’s not even born yet. I was still thinking: What am I going to eat?” TajMarie says with a laugh.
When she told Nazir, he was upset, then curious, then happy — ”all these emotions within an hour,” TajMarie remembers. “He was saying, ‘Are we going to move? What are you going to do now? Do I have to share a room with the baby?’ ”
The pregnancy felt both familiar and utterly new. Fourteen years ago, there were no pregnancy apps, and her body was different. “Physically, I remember feeling heavy; they say the second pregnancy is more rough. I felt like a new parent all over again.”
In her eighth month, she developed congestion and a persistent cough, and was diagnosed with COVID-19. “It was a little scary. But at the same time, I’m a person who tries to be so optimistic. I live with faith: Oh, it’s going to be fine.”
Most people, Garry and TajMarie included, had a hunch the baby was a girl. But a gender reveal in March — blue balloons floating from a box Garry’s sister had prepared — showed otherwise.
They moved to Bala Cynwyd, the living room filled with shower gifts, and Garry made a practice run to Pennsylvania Hospital, to make sure he’d know what exit to take when the moment arrived.
He also schooled himself about labor and delivery — YouTube clips, books, even the video of his own birth via C-section, a film his dad would sometimes insist he watch when he acted out as a child.
“If I did something bad or disrespectful, my dad would say: ‘Watch that. See what your mom went through?’ “
“I thought: Will [this birth] look like that? How will it go? You can oversaturate with information. At some point, I thought: I’ll just get them to the hospital and let the professionals handle it.”
TajMarie was almost 37 weeks along, so seemingly ready to deliver that friends joked, “Don’t have the baby right here!” when they visited for breakfast a few weeks before her scheduled C-section.
Her first contractions felt like stomach cramps. But soon she could feel the baby descending. “By the time we got to my [hospital] room, I threw my clothes off and told the nurse, ‘Somebody needs to check me.’ ” She heard a doctor whisper, “She’s fully dilated.” Then — because doctors feared a uterine rupture due to her previous C-section with Nazir — they rushed her to an operating room.
TajMarie remembers praying as doctors wheeled her in. She remembers someone asking her name and birth date. “When I woke up, Garry was with me, but the baby was in the NICU.” She didn’t see him until the next day.
Garry, excluded from the operating room because it was an emergency C-section, paced the suddenly empty delivery room, tried to look up phone numbers, sat down, stood up again, waiting what felt like an eternity until nurses emerged with his newborn son.
Luke spent two weeks in the NICU until his lungs could fully develop. The day they brought him home felt both momentous and ordinary: They buckled their son into his car seat and gave him a tour of Philadelphia: through Center City, up Kelly Drive.
“It was one of the happiest days of our lives,” Garry recalls. “But it was also so normal. OK: You just came home.”