By LINDA MARX
Brittney Middleton was not looking for love when she met Ikenna Ogike, who is known as Ike, at the Couture nightclub in Los Angeles in October 2014.
She had recently ended a six-year relationship with a man she had dated since attending the University of South Carolina. And she had more than enough to keep her occupied managing the business and personal affairs of her brother, Khris Middleton, who plays for the Milwaukee Bucks of the National Basketball Association.
“I was too busy to date,” said Ms. Middleton, 29, who was born in Shreveport, La., and raised in Charleston, S.C. She had moved to Los Angeles in 2012 to pursue a career in sports and entertainment management when the job with her brother opened up. “I was traveling a great deal with Khris for the N.B.A.,” she said, “and not thinking about romance.”
She wasn’t hanging around clubs, either. “I rarely sit around in clubs, and after an hour, I was ready to leave,” Ms. Middleton said, recalling that night at the Couture. “Shortly after my friend convinced me to stay a little longer, Ike walked in, and we made eye contact.”
When Mr. Ogike spotted Ms. Middleton, he felt she looked out of place. “I liked that she was wearing a ruffled and pleated outfit instead of the usual short and tight attire worn by many L.A. girls,” said Mr. Ogike, 39, who was born in Nigeria and operates a State Farm insurance agency in North Hollywood.
“I bought her a drink, and we talked for a while. She was reserved yet attractive and interesting.”
Ms. Middleton said she “liked his accent and thought he was cool, established and mature. He reminded me of a well-mannered guy from the South.”
They exchanged phone numbers, and two days later, Mr. Ogike, who was ready for a relationship after years of bachelorhood, texted her. Their first date was on the rooftop at Wokcano, a restaurant in Santa Monica. Although Ms. Middleton was sick with tonsillitis, they shared Asian-fusion food, listened to music and chatted about work, family and dating in Los Angeles.
“I didn’t feel butterflies that night, but I was intrigued,” Ms. Middleton said. “Ike’s mature viewpoints on life were refreshing, but I wondered why he never married.”
Arranged marriages were part of Mr. Ogike’s Nigerian culture, and he had met some women through introductions. But after 21 years in this country, he had assimilated to American ways and had seen how couples from varying cultures could be happy together.
“Even though Brittney wasn’t Nigerian, which I originally wanted in a partner because it’s easier, she spoke well, and I liked talking to her,” he said. “But she acted nonchalant and didn’t show much emotion. I felt she wasn’t into me.”
So nothing happened for three weeks. When Mr. Ogike eventually texted her, she responded by expressing her displeasure for not being contacted sooner. “I thought: ‘Wow! She must like me,’” said Mr. Ogike, and he quickly asked her to go bowling.
They met in Studio City and had fun just being themselves. “We talked trash, were casual and let our hair down,” she said. “When he kissed me good night by my car, I started to fall.”
The couple began dating at least twice a week. He sent her flowers and cupcakes, and they talked constantly when not at the beach, movies or dinner, where they bonded over food.
“I liked the way he treated me, opening my door and talking about serious issues,” Ms. Middleton said. “I found him to be mature with an in-depth ability to discuss the stock market, finance, family and our different cultures.”
Mr. Ogike liked Ms. Middleton’s independent streak and feisty manner. “Her hopes and dreams aligned with mine,” he said. “We both loved family, wanted children and experiences like travel, sports and dining in restaurants.”
In December, when Mr. Ogike flew to Nigeria for his sister’s wedding, they sent pictures and talked daily via FaceTime. “His commitment to me while he was in his home country made me realize that I was in love with him,” said Ms. Middleton, who sent him a video professing it.
But when he returned to Los Angeles in January 2015, the mood changed. Mr. Ogike had contracted malaria. He was also still struggling with the death of his mother a few years earlier.
“Ike was awful and nasty, wanting his mother because he was sick,” Ms. Middleton said, adding that while she sympathized with his feelings, she thought he should have dealt with his illness better. “I grabbed my bag and left his apartment.”
He entered the hospital, complaining that Ms. Middleton was insensitive. “I was ill and didn’t think she cared enough,” she said. “After texting each other, she came back sobbing, telling me that she was a great girl, and that I won’t ever meet anyone like her again.
“That defining moment,” he continued, “was the first time I knew I would someday make her my wife.”
But there were challenges to overcome. Mr. Ogike still embraced certain aspects of his Nigerian culture, like not wrapping Christmas gifts and playing down birthdays. (Ms. Middleton loves birthdays.) He also speaks in the native Igbo language to his father, a retired college professor, and other family members who live in California. (“I felt left out,” she said.) And he favors traditional Nigerian foods like goat meat, chewy chicken, rice and soups. (Ms. Middleton wasn’t a fan.)
Ms. Middleton also noted that the Nigerian culture favored traditional roles for men and women. “Nigerian men expect to lead, with the woman being a caretaker,” she said. “My mom and dad both worked, and my dad did child-rearing, too. Ike’s family was not like that.”
But they learned to understand each other, often resolving any conflicts the same day.
“Ike is an uneasy guy who feels at home with Brittney because she is down-to-earth and humble,” said Obi Dukes, a groomsman. “He was never that close to any girl before. It’s a beautiful thing to watch them together.”
In August 2015, Ms. Middleton complained of “feeling funny” and soon learned that she was pregnant.
“This was a total shock to me because it was so soon, and I thought Brittney was on birth control,” Mr. Ogike said. “While we had talked about having three children after we married, I never wanted a child out of wedlock.”
Ms. Middleton was equally surprised. “We both freaked out, went through shock, grief and periods alone to think and evaluate for a couple of days,” she said. “But he was very supportive. And since we were committed to each other, we resolved to make it work.”
Still, telling her family was daunting. Her brother-employer thought the baby would make their lives more hectic. But because they had “such a great comfort level, that would make it work,” Khris Middleton said.
Her mother, Nichelle Middleton, took the news well. “Brittney was educated and could take care of herself and the baby,” she said. “I was O.K. with it. One just came before the other.”
Two months later, the couple moved in together. While they split the household chores, cooking, another traditional aspect of the Nigerian household, presented problems. Each took turns preparing meals, though it didn’t come naturally for Ms. Middleton. But Mr. Ogike got over it. “When I like a nice meal at home,” he said, “I just cook it myself.”
By working through their cultural differences, the couple had begun to forge a modern relationship using their own rules.
On Jan. 13, 2016, while Ms. Middleton was six months pregnant, she and Mr. Ogike were enjoying a beachside dinner at the Grand Bahia Principe resort in Runaway Bay, Jamaica, when their waiter brought over a plate covered in a dome and removed the top to reveal a ring box and writing in chocolate that said, “Will You Marry Me?”
Mr. Ogike grabbed the ring, got down on his knee, and proposed: “You are carrying my child and making me the happiest person.”
Before Chizarankem Emory Ogike, named for Mr. Ogike’s mother, was born on April 19, 2016, Ms. Middleton had converted from her Southern Baptist religious upbringing to his Roman Catholicism. “I did it for him and for me,” she said. “I am more spiritually in tune now than I was as a Baptist.”
On June 17, the couple were married before 275 guests, including the flower girl, Zara, which is how their daughter is known, in a traditional religious ceremony at Holy Spirit Catholic Church on Johns Island, S.C.
Under oak-beamed ceilings, the Rev. Fidelis Omeaku, the associate pastor at St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church in Camarillo, Calif., officiated. The Nigerian-born Father Omeaku, a longtime family friend, explained to the guests how the wedding merged two cultures. And he stressed the importance of communicating and listening to the other’s point of view. “Marriage is about sacrifice as you join as one,” he said.
Ms. Middleton’s cousin Kandis Thomas, a bridesmaid, observed that “as they embraced the other’s culture, both have mellowed. This day begins their new life where each is excited about taking care of the other.”