THE PARENTS: Kelly Bluth, 31, and Danny Bluth, 32, of Fishtown
THE KIDS: John James (JJ), 4; Madelyn Jane (Maddy), 2 1/2; Anna Isabel, born April 27, 2019
THEIR NAMES: A combination of old-school preferences, sonic pleasure and nods to relatives going back several generations, including Kelly’s great-grandmother.
When Danny asked Kelly’s parents for permission to marry, her mother’s first question was, “Are you taking the dogs?” Kelly had been living with her parents after college—Danny frequently made the two-hour commute from West Philly to Newtown—and her dog, Maggie, was a constant companion to her parents’ dog, Rocky.
Kelly’s father had a different question: “Do you think you’re ready for that?”
Danny was. The two met at College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, two Division I athletes (football for him, lacrosse for her) in their first awkward weeks of freshman year. They dated for a while, then parted. It wasn’t until several years after graduation, when they kept running into each other at alumni events, that Danny had a change of heart.
“My frontal cortex had fully developed, and I saw what a wonderful woman she was and that I should engage in a committed relationship,” he says. After inviting himself to Kelly’s brother’s graduation party, he realized that her entire family was ready to embrace him—and vice-versa.
Not long afterward, Danny’s grandfather died. “Kelly was with me and my family at a very serious, sad time,” he says. “She was beyond helpful and supportive.’”
It was Dec. 31, 2012, when he urged Kelly outdoors during a winter sojourn at her grandparents’ house in Vermont, dropped to one knee in the snow, a bonfire crackling nearby, and said, “Kelly Elizabeth Casey, will you marry me?” Kelly’s brother was snapping photos from a balcony; her parents were peeking from a window.
They married at Kelly’s high school, Nazareth Academy, on Memorial Day weekend 2014. Danny wowed their guests with his disco-style entrance to the dance floor, nearly executing a split to the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.”
They wanted kids, and sooner rather than later—not only because that was the norm in their Catholic families, but because both saw parenthood as a gesture that would ripple through generations.
“I saw the value of having young parents and grandparents,” Kelly says. “I wanted to maximize my time with kids, grandkids and great-grandkids,” Danny echoes. “I saw it as a lifetime decision to start as soon as possible.”
Kelly had an inkling, about six months after their wedding, when the odor of coffee suddenly seemed repulsive and their new home in Fishtown smelled to her like a cesspool. There was a plumbing problem, it turned out… and she was pregnant.
At the time, Kelly’s parents were divorcing after 26 years of marriage. Announcing the pregnancy “was a happy moment in a really terrible December,” she recalls. “JJ was a little glimmer of hope.”
They prepared for what Kelly hoped would be an unmedicated labor: She did pre-natal yoga while Danny devoured books including The Birth Partner and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. But after 17 hours of labor without discernible progress, Kelly asked for an epidural. Six more hours of labor, 20 minutes of pushing, and the midwife moved out of the way so Danny could catch his son.
They brought the baby everywhere: Fishtown bars, restaurants, even the mobbed Benjamin Franklin Parkway during Pope Francis’s 2015 visit. JJ was their “trick baby”—an easy sleeper, an avid eater, the one who made them eager to have a second.
This time, it was a beer that tasted awful. “It’s fine,” Danny said when he sipped. Kelly looked him in the eye: “I’m pregnant.” But unlike her first pregnancy, the queasiness continued: 18 weeks of morning sickness, along with congestion, skin break-outs, a general feeling of crumminess.
Still, she was determined to labor without medication. “I felt like I was in competition with myself,” she says. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.” And she did—through the “soft, butterfly contractions” of early labor, through an entire day walking the streets and parks of Fishtown, through an intense, natural delivery that left her breathless.
Maddy was different from her brother: hungry for attention, harder to breast-feed because of her small mouth. “We knew we wanted another baby, but we also knew we weren’t going to have them as close together,” Kelly says.
She miscarried in June 2018, an experience that left her recoiling from the medical terminology—a “failed pregnancy”—and clinging to the perspective of mom-friends who shared stories of their own pregnancy losses. Kelly was pregnant again a few months later.
This time, she felt vigilant, wary to share the news too soon. They also decided to let the baby’s sex be a surprise. Kelly was at Pennsylvania Hospital, her labor progressing slowly, when she had a sudden urge to push. “Anna kind of flew out of my body,” she says. It was a nurse, not the stunned parents, who announced that the baby was a girl.
Now strangers glance at them and inevitably say, “You have your hands full.” For Kelly, parenthood has pushed her her type-A personality to new extremes. “We are two working parents with pretty full schedules,” she says. “I like to have a lot of details, to put things in the right place.”
They’ve taken seriously some advice from Kelly’s former boss, who advised, “Put your kids down early so you can have your own time.” That’s why they aim for all three kids to be asleep by 7:30 p.m.
“I’m less selfish,” Danny says of life with children; there are times when he’d like to work out, but opts to stay home rather than leave Kelly alone with three kids. And both are conscious of having small witnesses to their every gesture—are the kids mimicking Kelly when they urge one another, “Finish your dinner”? Are they aping Danny’s habit of biting his nails?
“They are modeling things you do, and so I’m more self-conscious because of them,” Danny says. “It’s a lot of power.”