Having babies was a Kennedy tradition. The house in Hyannis Port was filled with Joe and Rose's grandchildren and Jackie was expected to add to the brood as soon as possible. Her inability to get pregnant within the first couple of years of their marriage added to Jackie's discomfort around the Kennedy clan. One of the primary reasons Jack had gotten married was to start a family. So as the years passed without any children to show for it, he began to resent the lost freedom of his bachelor days. Even though his wife captivated him on an intellectual level, he was addicted to the rush of passion that affairs inflamed.
Their efforts to conceive were interrupted by Jack's medical condition. His back pain, caused in part by his left leg being an inch shorter than his right, was exacerbated by his football and war injuries, and complicated by his diagnosis of Addison's disease. By the spring of 1954, he could barely walk. Unless Jack agreed to undergo a risky lumbar fusion surgery, doctors predicted he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Jack decided he would rather be dead than an invalid and opted for the procedure, which was performed on October 21 in New York. He developed a subsequent infection and was so close to death a priest administered the last rites.
Jack recovered but had to undergo a second operation in February 1955 to graft a bone in his spine. After enduring seven months of excruciating recovery, Jack finally returned to the Senate. For the time being, Jack and Jackie moved into Merrywood. Soon, Jack was again gone more than he was home. Jackie was alone, suffering from bouts of depression.
Jackie became pregnant in 1955 but miscarried. She became pregnant again in 1956. She was in her final trimester during the Democratic National Convention, at which Jack narrowly missed out on the vice presidential nomination. Angry and frustrated, Jack left to go sailing on the Mediterranean with his father and brother Ted, over Jackie's objections. She was eight months pregnant.
While Jack was gone, Jackie began hemorrhaging and was rushed to the hospital. She underwent an emergency cesarean section, but the baby, a daughter who would have been named Arabella, was stillborn. Jack could not be reached until three days later. Rather than rush home to be by his wife's side, he called Jackie, then finished out his vacation. Friends said he probably wanted to grieve in solitude. Regardless, when he got back, his relationship with Jackie was more strained than ever.
Jackie blamed herself for being unable to bring a baby to term. What she didn't know, however, was that part of her childbearing problems may have been caused by her husband. Doctors now believe that Jackie suffered from chlamydia, a sexually transmitted bacterial disease.
Chlamydia is the most frequently reported bacterial sexually transmitted disease in the United States. Currently, 2.8 million Americans are infected every year. It is the most common cause of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ectopic pregnancy, and infertility in women. The symptoms can be so mild most people are unaware they are infected.
New Beginnings and Endings
His brush with death sharpened Kennedy's political ambitions and his appetite for women. He was encouraged enough by his rising national profile to start thinking about running for the presidency four years down the road in 1960. Not having children would become more and more of an issue the closer Jack came to announcing his candidacy. In early 1957, when Jackie announced she was again pregnant, the entire Kennedy clan held its collective breath.
That July, Black Jack checked into Lenox Hill Hospital for tests. He gave no indication that he was seriously ill. Jackie came to New York to see him, then left to go spend time with her mother. Black Jack had the reputation of being a bit of a hypochondriac, so checking himself into the hospital did not set off any alarm in his family. But on August 3, Black Jack slipped into a coma and died from liver cancer. Jackie was devastated but kept her grief private. She took charge of his funeral arrangements, and Black Jack Bouvier was buried next to his parents and his brother Bud in East Hampton.
Three and a half months later, on November 27, 1957, Jackie gave birth to a healthy baby girl named Caroline Bouvier Kennedy.