THE PARENTS: Susan Whitney, 42, and Reece Whitney, 47, of Wyndmoor
THE KIDS: Reece Jr., 8; Charlotte, 7; Henry, 6; William, 4; Weston, 2; Harrison, born November 4, 2017
STANDOUT MEMORIES FROM THEIR WEDDING: Abundant beer and rum, a day of snorkeling, and the plane ride home, when Susan turned around to see row after row of familiar faces.
They sat in the minivan at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery. Susan’s contractions were five minutes apart, but she hesitated to go inside; what if nurses said it was too early and sent the pair home again?
“Let me paint two pictures for you,” Reece recalls saying. “We go in, maybe — for once — have time to fill out insurance papers, go in the room, get comfortable, and the midwife has time to get here.
“The other scenario: We have the baby in the van. Could we please just go in the hospital?”
They did. And Harrison, Whitney offspring number six, was born two hours later.
When they’d talked about kids early on, it was either zero or a full house. Both come from large families — Reece is one of seven, Susan has three brothers, and her mother was the last born of 16 — so the idea of one or two children didn’t feel quite right.
There was a freewheeling stretch, between their 2004 wedding in Jamaica and the birth of Reece Jr., when the two relished travel, spontaneity, and the bounty of two full-time incomes.
“I said, ‘If you make the decision not to have kids, I’m OK with that. But if you do want kids, I’d like to have six,’ ” Reece recalls. Susan, who remembered her mother working long hours to raise her and her brothers single-handedly, responded, “I’m OK with four.”
Fall 2008 was a sorrowful time; Reece’s father, who had embraced Susan as another daughter, died of melanoma just before Thanksgiving. Shortly afterward, Susan stood in the shower one morning, tears mixing with the sluice of water, and held a positive pregnancy test over the curtain so Reece could see.
“I remember someone saying, ‘For every life that’s taken, another life will come in.’ In my head, I was thinking: We just lost his dad. We’re going to have a baby boy.”
They did, after a pregnancy that stretched 12 days past her due date. It took an induction, an epidural, and finally a vacuum suction procedure to coax Reece Jr. into the world.
“People talk about the [birth] process being so beautiful,” Reece says. “And the nurses are saying, ‘It’s perfectly normal.’ But it’s like a horror movie. Blood everywhere. All you want is for your wife and the child to be safe.”
The others followed rapidly: Charlotte in November 2010, Henry just over a year later, and William 18 months after that. Each birth had its own story: Charlotte popped out (“I tell her, ‘You’re our little torpedo,’ ” Susan says), Henry’s position called for Susan to give birth while kneeling on the hospital bed, and William was nearly born in the car.
Susan’s water had broken on the way to the hospital and she could tell the baby’s head was ready to crown. “I remember the paramedics saying, ‘Mrs. Whitney, we’re not letting you have this baby in the parking lot.’ I remember keeping my knees together for as long as I could.”
Those years, with three toddlers and an infant, passed in a fog. Susan recalls that one of Reece Jr.’s first words was squirrel, that Charlotte could speak her full name clearly at 13 months, that Henry never stopped smiling, and that William barely talked until age 2. “Other than those moments, it was really a blur.”
By 2014, they were ready for a fifth. What they weren’t ready for was a miscarriage at 10 weeks. “I had a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that … it wasn’t meant to be,” Susan says. “It took a while to let go of the thought that there was something I did to cause it.”
That loss haunted her next pregnancy. “Once I got to 13 weeks with Wes, I remember thinking, ‘OK, we made it this far.’ Then I wanted to make it to 24 weeks … then, let’s shoot for 32.”
Wes was purple when he emerged — the umbilical was coiled around his neck — and then, in November, came Harrison, born (just barely) in the hospital after Reece urged Susan to get out of the van.
Now, each child has a distinct profile: Reece Jr. is a responsible, diligent student, Charlotte a gregarious people-person. William (aptly named, his parents joke) possesses a fierce will.
Their children have changed them. The older three listened to classical music at their day care center, a place Susan and Reece could afford when Susan was working full-time (she quit just before Henry was born) and savored storytime with their parents every night.
“The fifth one gets read to, but it’s by the 4-year-old, who’s making up the words,” Susan says. Reece recalls his terror at bringing their firstborn home, how he walked Reece Jr. up the stairs until he was 2.
“Now, Wes is dancing on the kitchen table while his siblings clap,” he laughs. “We’re definitely different parents.”
Though it’s hard to summon moments from the last eight years, Susan and Reece vividly recall the first time they met. Susan, working three jobs to save money for law school, sold Reece a dozen chocolate noses — yes, nose-shaped chocolates on long sticks, a gag gift for Valentine’s Day.
His then-girlfriend was not amused. A few weeks later, Reece returned to Mueller Chocolate Co. in Reading Terminal Market and asked for Susan’s number. They went out for burgers and ended the night shooting pool in Manayunk. Four years later, Susan walked down the aisle at a resort in Montego Bay to the tune of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love.”
The song still holds, especially at those moments when Wes brings a salamander to the back door, or another kid has found a garter snake, or all but the baby are trying to mimic Reece Jr.’s hip-hop moves in the living room.
“Then the music is over; they’ll look at me and Reece and say, ‘Who do you like the best?’ We say, ‘We love you all.’ ”