At 40, Sally Quinn Misses a Deadline but Delivers Her Best Story Yet: a Baby Boy
05/17/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT
Those quiverings in her stomach were definitely not butterflies. Nor was a seasoned guest like Washington Post reporter Sally Quinn likely to be fazed by the VIP list at the Georgetown dinner party given by Pennsylvania Sen. and Mrs. John Heinz. No, Sally's qualms were altogether different—they were the beginning of labor pains. "There I was," she remembers, "having contractions and discussing cost overruns with Scoop Jackson."
Twenty-four hours later, after a long, tough labor, Quinn reported to her editor, Ben Bradlee—who is also her husband—that she had delivered a new addition to one of the first families of Washington journalism: six-pound eight-ounce Josiah Quinn Crownin-shield Bradlee. "I'm on such a high," she said. "It's been such a spectacular experience, I can't even sleep."
Quinn never expected to be a mother at all until recently. "The idea of having a baby was just horrifying," she remembers. "There were other things I wanted to do with my life." As she approached 40, though, Quinn felt she could hear her "biological clock" ticking to the tune of It's Now or Never. "I suddenly started thinking, I had this machine here that could produce this miraculous thing, and I wasn't using it." Timidly, she tested the idea of a child on Bradlee, beginning her queries with uncharacteristically vague phrases: "What would you think if..." Bradlee, a thrice-married, twice-divorced, 60-year-old father of three children ages 21 to 33, was standoffish about another go-round with parenting. He worried about his age. When the child reached 20, he told Sally, he would be a doddering 80. After a year of hedging, though, the Bradlees decided that the age problem was not insurmountable. "If anything happens to us, the baby can live with Ben's son, Ben Jr., and his wife, who already have a year-old child," says Sally. "I think the advantages he'll have by having us as parents outweigh the disadvantages of our age."
Motherhood is an oddly conventional role for a reporter who made a career out of her sassiness. For 11 years on the Post, "Poison Quinn"—as Norman Mailer once dubbed her—was the scourge of the pompous. In the pages of the Post's Style section, Sally skewered Washington hotshots ranging from social climber Steve Martindale to former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, whom she once accused in print—incorrectly—of unzipping his fly in front of a woman. Her talent for bitchy prose even managed to redeem her mercifully brief appearance in 1973 as co-anchor of the CBS Morning News, an experience she turned into a truculent memoir, We're Going to Make You a Star. Her reputation for overlong stories inspired a joke that went around official Washington: "What are the seven most feared words in the English language? Answer: First of a series by Sally Quinn."
Sally threw herself into pregnancy with the same zeal she showed chasing a story. Ever the assiduous researcher, she perused dozens of books on childbirth, took private lessons with Ben from a nurse, and signed up for prenatal exercise classes. "I don't like to do anything or get into anything that I don't know about," she explains. To test the genetic status of her fetus, Sally underwent amniocentesis during her 16th week of pregnancy. "If there had been any problems, I would have had an abortion," she says. "Absolutely. No question. It would have been a tough thing to go through, but I would have done it. I see no reason to bring a retarded child into the world when you don't have to."
Happily, the tests indicated that little Quinn, as the Bradlees plan to call the baby, was a perfectly normal boy. And, much to Sally's surprise, pregnancy proved to be a delight. "I didn't have one problem—no cravings, not a moment of morning sickness, nothing," marvels Sally, who gained 34 pounds and went more than a week past her due date. "The delivery was the only thing that didn't go according to plan. I went to the hospital at 3 a.m. on Wednesday, and he wasn't born until 12:38 a.m. the next day." (She received an epidural block to ease the delivery.)
Back home in the Bradlees' Washington town house, mother and child were welcomed by the godparents—humorist Art Buchwald, attorney Edward Bennett Williams, writer Nora Ephron and publicist Ann Pincus—as well as a baby nurse and an Irish nanny. Despite the abundance of helping hands, Sally vows that she won't be a part-time mother. "I'm not having a child just so I can dump it on somebody and run off to my career," she says. "I want to be a good mother. I plan to spend a lot of time with this child."
She will stay at home for the next six months finishing a novel she has been writing during her pregnancy and then, possibly, return to the Post as a part-timer. For now, though, Sally is satisfied just cuddling Quinn. "He's become my buddy. I just sit here and hold him most of the day," she says. "I planned everything so that this baby would be hassle-free. And I intend to enjoy every-minute."