An Intimate Exchange With Dad – Part 5

9. What do you remember about the births of your children?

Joanne was born in the Old Sibley Hospital on North Capitol Street, N.E., Washington, DC on the first Sunday in January.  The temperature was about 41 degrees. She was born about one month premature. Dr. Bacon made a home visit and drove Norma,  her mother, Loretta, and me from our home to the hospital.  All of our children were born premature, and the first two were fast labors and deliveries.  I remember Dr. Bacon driving fast and beeping his horn all the way.  Joanne weighed only five pounds and two ounces.  Dr.  Bacon ended up using forceps during the delivery.  When I saw her I immediately noticed she had no eyebrows and no fingernails.  Her head was bald, pointed, and bruised from the forceps.  From the first moment, her grandfather Roy nicknamed her “pudd’n head” and sometimes “pumpkin head.”

Norma had about five early-on miscarriages between Joanne’s and Frankie’s births for a total of 11 years and 2-1/2 months difference in ages.  In fact, Dr. DeFrancisco placed Norma on  drugs to help her carry the baby full term.  However, Frankie, too, was born about one month early, at 4:54 a.m. on Sunday, March 16.  We were awakened in the middle of the night when her contractions began. We were still living in Capitol Heights and had already practiced  and timed the drive to Providence Hospital on Irving St. N.E, Washington, DC.  It was about 36 degrees in Capitol Heights and the East Coast was still recovering from a winter blizzard that laid down about 30 inches of snow just one month earlier.  We suspect the medicine prescribed to Norma  to help her carry the baby full term was a brand of “thalidomide.” It was relatively new in the United States and other countries had already removed it from the marketplace because it was linked to births of babies with minor to major deformities to their arms and legs.   Frankie was born with only a thumb and three webbed fingers on his left hand.   In those days, it was standard practice to keep mothers and their babies in the hospital for 3-4 days.  Boys stayed longer so they could  be circumcised by a pediatrician.   Within one month, we sought out surgeons who specialized in orthopedic and plastic reconstruction surgeries.  At about three months old, Frank was operated on by a Dr. Suraci, who was supposed to be the best in the field in the District of Columbia Metropolitan Area.  During what was supposed a first  surgery in a series of surgeries that separated his index finger from the others, it was discovered that Frank had only one tendon that allowed all three webbed fingers to function as a unit.  No more surgeries were performed.  And amazingly enough, Frank became an excellent musician, singer, and drummer.  In later years we talked again about revisiting specialists to see what new procedures had been developed, but Frank said he knew what he could do with his hand the way it was and didn’t want to take the risks  of further surgeries that might negatively affect his hand’s future functionality.

Johnny was our last child to be born.  We found out we were pregnant with Johnny at nearly the same time as Norma’s 37-year-old brother John’s passing.  Hence, the name John.  Norma thought having a baby at 36 years was way too old, especially when we had our first one when we were teenagers.  Johnny was born about six weeks premature, weighing in at 4 lbs. 11 ounces.  In fact, he wasn’t positioned properly in the birth canal.  I think her labor lasted about 20 hours this time, with Johnny being born, butt first!  Doctors kept him in the hospital for about three weeks to try to get him to gain weight, but he wasn’t thriving, so they sent him home to see if he would do better with his family.  And sure enough, he rapidly added on the pounds.  If Norma was here today, she surely would tell you how those three weeks were the longest three weeks she could remember, waiting for her baby boy to get home.  And, too, Johnny always remained her baby boy.



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