THE PARENTS: Caitlin Winton, 29, and Mike Winton, 29, of Haddon Heights
THE KIDS: Michael Thomas, 19 months; William McCormick, born Nov. 22, 2016
AWKWARD ADOLESCENT DATING MOMENT: Mike brought Caitlin flowers, but her parents didn’t yet know about their relationship, so she left the bouquet outside.
It was their first grown-up mattress, an upgrade from the sleep-cheap varieties they’d used in dorm rooms and that first stamp-sized apartment at Eighth and Walnut. Workers had just delivered the Serta that day; Caitlin and Mike climbed gratefully into bed a little before 11 p.m.
Then her water broke.
“I was 36 weeks and four days pregnant,” Caitlin says. “I rolled over and jumped out of bed.”
First babies weren’t supposed to be early. First babies weren’t supposed to blurt into the world after 10-hour labors. First babies were supposed to go home from the hospital with their parents.
But Michael was born with an infection that turned into pneumonia; he spent 13 days in the NICU at Cooper University Hospital while Caitlin struggled with self-doubt. “It’s hard to be a first-time mother and feel like you can’t keep your baby inside long enough to let him mature. Then breastfeeding was hard. I thought, what kind of mother am I, that I can’t do the basic things?”
Mike remembers feeling floored by the baby’s sheer existence. “Nothing prepares you -- not the birthing videos, nothing -- for that brand-new life lying there, making noise.” After they brought Michael home, and after Caitlin went back to work, pulling night shifts as a pediatric nurse, there were surreal father/son hours, with Mike warming bottles in the kitchen, half-asleep, or collapsing into bed with the baby just as the sun rose.
“I’d come home at 7 a.m.; they’d both be on their backs, shirtless, in bed, both equally exhausted,” Caitlin says.
They knew they wanted another; they hoped their kids would feel as deeply bonded as they each felt with their siblings. Caitlin’s younger brother was just 3 when the couple met -- she was a junior at Merion Mercy Academy, and Mike was about to graduate from St. Joseph’s Preparatory School -- so their dates often doubled as babysitting stints.
“I’m sure I told Mike the day I met him that I was obsessed with kids,” Caitlin says. From that first meeting -- at a church carnival, where Caitlin jumped the line so she could be next to Mike, and he sat on her flip-flops so they wouldn’t fly off when the ride whisked them upside-down -- they dated long-distance through college (he was at Fordham in New York; she was at Rowan in New Jersey) and the two years after.
Cool kids back then had Motorola Razr phones, which required paying per minute, so the two stayed in touch with hand-written letters and weekend visits to each other’s schools. When Mike got a job with a financial firm in Philadelphia, they moved in together -- that cozy box of an apartment near Thomas Jefferson University, where Caitlin was in nursing school. “It was one giant room, but it was our space,” Mike says.
He proposed during a family trip to Scotland; they married in 2014 with a ceremony in the massive Church of the Gesú and a reception for 270 people at the Water Works. “We had been dating for 10 years at that point, but I was still so nervous,” Caitlin says.
A month after the wedding, they bought a house in Haddon Heights -- charmed, in part, by the owners’ sweetly decorated nursery -- and a few months after that, on Thanksgiving, Caitlin handed her iced coffee to Mike and said, “I can’t drink this anymore.” She’d taken a pregnancy test that morning.
A case of gestational diabetes prompted both of them to clean up their diets -- no sugar, no pasta, coconut oil for cooking -- and a birth class at Blossoming Bellies gave them relaxation strategies to use during what turned out to be a surprisingly brisk labor.
It was completely different the second time around. Caitlin learned she was pregnant on St. Patrick’s Day and managed to keep the news from her family until nearly Easter; they were traveling together, and she turned down a cocktail in a Virginia restaurant. “My dad looked like he was going to cry. My mom said, ‘You’re going to love [having two],’ ” Caitlin says.
Because Michael had been early, Caitlin expected to go into labor anytime after Halloween (her due date was Thanksgiving), but this baby remained steadfast: 38 weeks, 39. Then, during lunch with her mother at Nordstrom, Caitlin’s contractions began.
She labored at home until 2 the next morning; at Pennsylvania Hospital, she dilated rapidly, from five centimeters to 10, in about an hour. “I was planning on getting an epidural,” Caitlin recalls. “But the nurses were like: 'Nope, here he comes!' ”
And then William was on her chest, a sturdy 9 pounds, 6 ounces. “I remember asking them if he could breathe. I said, ‘It’s OK if you have to take him away.’ The nurses said, ‘Stop. He’s fine, a perfect, normal, healthy baby.’ ”
They left the hospital the evening before Thanksgiving and made it to Caitlin’s parents’ house in time for dessert. The next day was the usual feast at Caitlin’s grandmother’s, and Friday the family gathered again for leftovers. They blinked, and it was Christmas: swirls of family and food and gifts and noise.
Now, even a routine weeknight dinner can be chaos: trying to keep a toddler from reaching into the oven, then hoping he will eat the chicken Parmesan; nursing a screaming baby at the table; intervening before anyone can throw a plate. But then Michael will delight them with a new vocabulary word -- “hockey” is a recent acquisition -- or William will flash one of those gummy smiles that says, “Hey, I know you.”
There are days when Michael, usually the first one up, insists that his father carry him to say good morning to Caitlin and William, “like he’s taking inventory of everybody that he lives with.”
And there are occasional, blissful oases when everyone winds down at once. Maybe they’ll watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood on PBS. And then -- all together now -- they take a nap.