Sitting near his newborn baby girl in a Fresno hospital on Saturday, John Moua laughed and said he’ll never forget her birthday — or her older sister’s.
The newest edition to the family, Riley, was born on his fiancée’s birthday — April 2. Their older daughter, Adora, was born last year on Moua’s birthday — Feb. 18. Both were natural births and no, the birthdays weren’t planned.
“From a guy’s perspective, I would say it’s a great fortunate thing. You can’t forget your wife’s birthday and you can’t forget your own birthday, so now we can’t forget any birthday.”
Also coincidentally, each parent came up with the name of the daughter born on their birthday — and the names they chose represent roughly the same thing.
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Mother Paa Thao thought of Riley. She said it means “courageous and brave.”
Dad came up with Adora — the name of a sexy, sword-wielding heroine in a favorite cartoon from his childhood, “She-Ra.”
“Hopefully the names will honor them and they will grow up to honor their names and be strong women in the community,” Moua said.
And family members say Riley looks more like Mom and Adora more like Dad.
Moua and Thao first met in 2006 on the set of a Hmong movie being filmed in Fresno. Thao was playing the lead role and Moua the “bad boy.”
The movie: Bad boy breaks good girl’s heart, and then an angel man falls from heaven to woo the broken-hearted. The girl is torn between her suitors, but not surprisingly, chooses the divine man.
But in real life, Moua was the angel — just not at first in Thao’s eyes. While filming, Thao was on-again, off-again with an ex-boyfriend and Moua said she didn’t even notice him.
Moua definitely noticed her.
He was patient and his moment finally came one day at a potluck, where Thao was impressed by Moua’s ability to steam rice. She had never met a man who could make rice the old Hmong “traditional way.”
“That was a big eye-opener to her. I thank my mom for teaching me to steam rice the right way.”
True love soon blossomed, and the pair got engaged in 2010. They are waiting to wed for financial reasons.
Their road to parenthood has been a rough one. Before their daughters were born, they lost a baby boy in 2011.
Doctors said the unborn boy’s skull wasn’t fully formed. The condition would make for a dangerous pregnancy and if the baby survived past birth, he wasn’t expected to live longer than 30 days.
“We were forced to choose between (Thao’s) life and my baby’s life,” Moua said, “and at that time, the best decision was to let him go.”
It was a heart-breaking decision.
“It really, really traumatized us — to this day,” Moua said. “The first time around, the feeling when we walked out of the hospital empty-handed … I would never want anyone else to go through the same.”
They walked to their car in silence. Drove home in silence. Everything felt dark.
After that, they tried unsuccessfully for years to have another child. Finally, to please their older Hmong relatives, they agreed to have a shaman perform a ritual to help them conceive a child.
“The younger generation jokes about it — we call it jingle-belling,” Moua said. “The shaman uses jingle bells when chanting.”
Moua and Thao, who each work in the medical field, were somewhat skeptical. Thao is a nurse’s assistant at Community Regional Medical Center and Moua works for a Fresno home that cares for children with special needs.
But a couple weeks after the shaman chanted and jingled, Thao was pregnant again. Their families weren’t surprised. Moua’s father told him shamans are chosen to be “middle men” between the living and spirit worlds.
“Growing up in America and working in the medical field, it’s very hard for us to believe in such things,” Moua said, “but there’s still a lot of things that are unexplainable. … It makes you wonder.”
After Adora was born, the pair finally walked out of the hospital the way they had always imagined.
“We went home with joy and the sun was out and everything,” Moua said. “It was a complete 180.”
Life isn’t perfect, Moua said, but he and Thao take comfort knowing the lows of life gave them a greater appreciation for its highs.
It’s also made them more appreciative of their parents’ love. Before Riley was discharged from the hospital on Saturday afternoon, Moua’s parents drove up from Orange County with 10 freshly-butchered farm chickens for their daughter-in-law. In traditional Hmong culture, a woman eats only chicken and rice for one month after giving birth to a baby so she can cleanse her system and regain vital nutrients.
And Thao and Moua say they couldn’t have asked for better birthday presents than the birth of two healthy children.
Said Moua, “We’re very blessed.”