News center
Grade-A components, exacting quality protocols.

Finding ‘peace in being present’

Jun 09, 2024

THE PARENTS: Laura Sensenig-Long, 29, and Janson Long, 31, of Roxborough

THE CHILD: Eliza Wilder, born March 12, 2023

HER NAME: Elizabeth is a family name on both sides. They liked Wilder as a less-gendered middle name, and as a nod to a book Laura loved, Rewilding Motherhood, which suggests that parenthood and a rich spiritual life can coexist.

She scribbled her phone number on a piece of paper and asked a friend to pass it along. On their first date, he wore a yellow sweater and brought flowers. And after they kissed, at a winter dance, he wrote in his journal that he knew the two would marry.

They were 15 and 17, string players — Laura on viola, Janson on cello — in the orchestra at Governor Mifflin High School in Shillington. They were goofy and shy and weirdly confident that their flirting would somehow bloom into a lifelong partnership.

“We definitely didn’t take it lightly,” Laura says. “We’re going to sound crazy, but we were really sure that we were going to be together for life.”

Janson graduated and went to college in Indiana; they remained together, long-distance, for two years. Then Laura, who had matriculated at Temple University, decided they should break up.

“I needed to have my own independence,” she explains. Janson says he never stopped thinking about her, and a few months later, when she reconsidered, he sent flowers. The bouquet included a note with the password she would need to listen to a recording he’d made, a cover — Janson singing and playing piano — of “Endlessly” by Green River Ordinance.

She was halfway through college when Janson proposed in summer 2014. The ring he’d ordered — inspired by Galadriel’s ring of power in The Lord of the Rings — was late, so he carved a substitute out of wood and proffered it, after a spate of nervous giggles, while the two were strolling through a waterfront festival in Providence, R.I. A gondola of people floated by as Janson was kneeling on a footbridge. The entire boatload cheered.

They married that December, a communal effort that included cupcakes made by Laura’s aunts, beer and wine by Janson’s stepfather and uncle, quiet jazz played by friends from Temple’s school of music. Pine boughs. A hot chocolate bar.

What Laura remembers is how Janson choked up in the middle of his vows. “I like to believe my words have weight,” he says. “That’s why I got overwhelmed.”

For the rest of that school year, Laura signed Janson in and out of the Temple dorm where she served as a resident assistant; then they moved to an apartment in Roxborough. They wanted kids. Maybe in 10 years, they thought.

“There was a point, three or four years in, when I started to get baby fever, but thought: I’m still too young for this,” Laura says. They got a dog instead, a five-pound, long-haired Chihuahua named Upa. Laura earned her master’s degree; Janson worked in retail management.

The “is now the right time?” conversation popped up more and more frequently. But once they did start trying, conception didn’t happen. Months went by. The one-year mark. They’d just begun paperwork for a fertility consult when Laura walked into the bedroom, a pregnancy test in hand.

“Do you see that line?” she asked.

“At that point, it was relief and joy, but also panic: Can we do this?” Janson recalls. Laura remembers thinking their pregnancy was a shock, a relief, and a privilege — to be able, at a time when reproductive rights were under attack, to choose when and how to grow their family.

Still, “I was nervous about how having a baby would change our lives and our relationship … the idea that there’s this human coming into the world, and they’ll always be our child. The magnitude of that existential reckoning.”

Laura’s mother had given birth to four children without medication; Laura hoped for the same experience. They worked with midwives at Lifecycle WomanCare and took a class on mindful birthing.

Laura was nearly 39 weeks along when she woke up early on a Saturday with what felt like menstrual cramps. The pains became stronger and more regular; still, it took two trips to the Lifecycle birth center before midwives thought she was dilated enough to stay.

By the time Laura began pushing, she was exhausted and thirsty. “The midwife said, ‘Your body is going to do what it has to do. It will find the energy.’ ” She squeezed Janson’s hands and arms; she sipped water between contractions.

At one point, Laura thought her husband was having an allergic reaction to something. Really, he says, he was crying with every contraction. “It was literally manifesting,” he says. “Laura carried this human in her body, and there she is for my first interaction with her. A whole other reality. The truth of our child. Our family growing.”

The baby didn’t cry immediately, but when she finally did, it felt as if the whole room exhaled. Janson held his daughter skin-to-skin. Laura recalls feeling in shock, wasted with fatigue. Famished. Awed.

“It’s so crazy; people [have babies] all the time. But when it happens to you for the first time, it’s unreal. This is such magic.”

The mindfulness strategies they’d learned — taking deep breaths, hitting the “pause” button on swells of emotion — weren’t so useful during active labor, Laura says, but she relied on those techniques when breastfeeding proved difficult, “when you’re sleep-deprived and she’s not latching and your nipples are so sore, having those tools to literally breathe through the pain.”

Janson took a month’s parental leave right after Eliza’s birth; at 14 weeks, when Laura returned to her job in human resources for a cybersecurity company, he took another week or so for one-on-one bonding. Laura’s mom came to stay for a bit; then Eliza started day care.

What they’re learning is that change is the new constant. “That there’s peace in being present,” Laura says. That the pause-and-breathe mantra works well when the baby is disconsolate, when one of them has had a ragged day, when they’re feeling overwhelmed. They remember what the instructor always said: “You’re about to give birth to your best mindfulness teacher.”