Our quintuplets started pre-school this year. There is a lot of debate about splitting multiples or keeping them together, but we decided for our family it was best to split them up into separate classes as much as we could. They spend so much time together that we felt they would benefit from some individual time. John, Becca and Ali are each in their own classes, and David and Kate are in another. Plus Mark is in his own class. This creates some logistical challenges. For example, the school encourages the parents to bring a treat to celebrate a child’s birthday, and we have four classrooms to schedule this month. Keeping track of teachers, friends, paperwork, etc. is more work. It takes longer to drop them off and pick them up. However, we are very glad that we opted to separate them. They are really enjoying having their own independence, teachers, friends, and stories to tell! When they come home from school, they compare artwork and ask each other questions about how they made it.
Each of our quintuplets has a very unique personality. Some pop right up to answer questions. Others are more reserved and prefer to talk one-on-one and won’t fight for attention. When we ask questions about their day, they can’t answer for each other. The answers are different. “What color was your play dough today?” is met with various responses, and it is fun watching them interact and share whether theirs were different or the same. While they are in different classes, they see each other on the playground and get to play together some too.
Most of what I have written has been about the kids, and I want to write a little about being a mom as well. I adore my children and am so glad that I have been given the privilege to be home with them and raise them, but it is definitely challenging. When we enrolled the kids in pre-school, I was thinking about their social development, the chance to have a little independence and not be part of a group, all the fun they would have, etc. I had not thought about what pre-school would mean for me. The break has been a really nice bonus. Two days per week for 4 hours, I can run errands alone, get things done, clean the house, etc. My husband has encouraged me to take some time for myself as well, and I am doing that. I have enjoyed coffee with a friend, lunch dates with my husband (who works close to home and the school), quiet time alone, as well as being productive. I think sometimes as moms it is easy to get so focused on what needs to be done and if all of the kids are getting enough attention, love, and time that moms can forget to take a break. And sometimes even if the break is wanted, there just isn’t time for it.
This is a difficult stage in many ways. From what I hear, every stage will have challenges. However, I really enjoy this time. It is our last year before Mark starts kindergarten and is in school every day, and it is the first year where our quintuplets are in pre-school and really able to get out and do many activities. I am enjoying having breaks but having time to do all the outings and activities that we want to. The kids have all already opened up more from school, and I am sure that will continue as they grow older, but I am very grateful that they have each other as a support system to come home to.
My kids are all very good eaters! There are lots of theories on whether to make kids eat, let them refuse, give them alternatives, etc., and I think every family finds what works best for them and their situation. We try to offer a healthy variety at each meal. We don’t require that they eat anything, but to get seconds of anything, they have to finish all of the things on their plates. I purposefully don’t put a lot of things that I know are not favorites.
We have three meals per day plus one or two snacks. (Sometimes we miss the afternoon snack.) We do not offer food in between these, so the kids learned pretty early that they didn’t have to finish their dinner, but they would wait to eat again until breakfast.
Dinner could be 18 tacos, a 9×13 casserole, two pounds of meatballs along with spaghetti and sauce, two (or more) pounds of chicken (grilled or baked) with potatoes, 2 lbs of fish with rice, or many other options, and dinner always includes a fruit and vegetable, and I have started adding a bread side to fill them up! I am amazed how much they eat, and it kind of scares me to think of the teenage years!
I really enjoy getting to eat outside the home. From an early age, we went on lots of picnics, sometimes at a park and sometimes just in the backyard. While we go out to eat some, it is not a frequent activity. I think that actually makes it easier! Since it is a special treat, the kids are really good! We always pick kid friendly restaurants with our favorites serving pizza, Mexican food, or a variety of food where we get bread or chips early to give them something to snack on.
The kids love helping me cook, and I try to involve them as often as I can. I divide the ingredients into either six or 12 portions, so everyone gets to add something the same number of times. Sometimes that means I split one ingredient and two people add it (two half cups of flour instead of one cup). Everyone enjoys stirring! Their favorite two things to make are banana bread and “yogurt pops,” which are yogurt, almond milk and honey frozen as a popsicle.
Transitioning a baby from breastmilk and/or formula to “real food” can be exciting and sometimes a little intimidating. Mark started solids at six months, and our quintuplets started around five and a half months. We opted to make all of our own baby food instead of purchasing pre-made jars. Mark’s first food was banana which was really easy! I mashed it on his high chair tray and let him touch it and eat it on his fingers. For him, we added avocado, cereal, fruits and veggies, grains and eventually meats. With our quintuplets, we started with rice cereal and added applesauce very quickly. I had heard that cereal can cause constipation in infants, so we always mixed it with a fruit or vegetable. I would think that helped the taste too. Making baby food was much easier than I thought it would be. For soft fruits like pears and peaches, I pealed them and put them in a food processor.
For most veggies and harder fruits, I peeled them if necessary then cooked (usually steamed or baked) them and put them in a food processor. Doing it this way, I could control the texture. At the beginning, I blended it to be very smooth then increased the texture as they got older. When we started meats, I would add water or broth from cooking to get a good texture. Very shortly after adding meats, I would make meals and put those in the food processor too. The favorite two were pot roast with carrots and potatoes and chicken and rice with peas. When Mark was a baby, I would make big batches of different types of food then freeze them in ice cube trays. When frozen, I would put the cubes in labeled baggies or tupperware and just pull out what I needed for that day. Our quintuplets ate enough that I never froze any. I would use one big bowl of food and one spoon and go down the line.
I am a believer in the philosophy that kids learn by touching and trying things. We were never very neat! As soon as they were able to feed themselves, almost everything became a finger food. Around ten months old, they ate almost everything that we did and fed it to themselves. I knew I needed to scrub the table and mop after each feeding, but it was worth it to have them becoming
more independent and learning.
When they were little, the kids wore bibs, but they quickly learned how to take those off. I safety pinned them on for a short time, but the bibs tore from that. I tried feeding them in just a diaper, but we found that then we had to sponge bathe all the kids after meals too. What worked best for us was putting an old, stained, larger shirt on over their clothes. It didn’t matter if it got more stained, and we just threw them in the wash each day.
Bill and I really wanted to sit as a family for dinner as often and as early as we could. When Mark was old enough to “sit” in a bumbo, he sat in that on the table with a toy during meals. When he was in a high chair, we put it at the table with us and gave him toys or cheerios until he was old enough to actually eat with us. We used a four seater feeding table for our quintuplets with a booster seat pulled up next to it. When we were just feeding the kids, we put Mark’s booster at it too and fed them or let them eat. When Bill and I were eating with them, we set up a card table next to the feeding table where we would sit with Mark. When we outgrew the feeding table, we bought a utility table and all sat at that with the kids in booster seats.
We still sit at that only they don’t use booster seats any more. I know this table does not go with the decor of the house, but it is awesome with kids! They color, glue, use playdough, etc., and I am never worried about the furniture.
Being home with an infant is definitely an adjustment for any family! Bringing home five brought even more changes to our home! The quintuplets were on a three hour feeding schedule when they came home from the hospital. It took us about an hour to change diapers, make bottles, feed them all, and get cleaned up, then two hours later we started again. Within about a week of being home, we stretched to a four hour feeding schedule which helped a lot! We put the babies in boppies in a semi-circle with Bill and me in the middle for feedings. We used blankets to help prop bottles at the beginning then bought bottle proppers to make it easier. Eventually I got to where I could burp three babies at a time putting them tummy down on the boppies and using my foot for one of them! We were fortunate to have friends and people from our church come to help with feedings during the day, and my parents helped with many of the evening feedings. Bill and I did nights by ourselves and were very happy when they started sleeping through the night around 3.5 months.
Schedule was not the only adjustment for us. We lived in a 3-bedroom, 2-story house, and our bedroom was downstairs. Mark had slept in a pack-n-play in our room for the first few months after he was born, but it was too noisy having all the babies in our room. We got rid of our dining room furniture and made it a downstairs nursery so we wouldn’t have to go up and down the stairs so much when they were little. We had 2 pack-n-plays, 3 swings, a changing table, and some storage in the dining room, and it was baby central! At a couple of months old, we moved them upstairs to their room. We were able to fit five cribs in one of the bedrooms, and Mark kept his own room for awhile. Our living room had 5 bouncy seats, several play gyms, and eventually three exersaucers and two jumperoos, and it was gated at all three entrances.
All five of the quintuplets came home on apnea monitors. These had two leads on their chests and monitored their breathing and heart rates and would sound an alarm if either were outside normal range. The alarms were loud! They sounds like smoke detectors blaring! When they were first home, the alarms went off a lot because the leads would come loose. We started taping the leads on, so they wouldn’t come off as frequently. A representative from the company would come out periodically, download the data from each of the monitors and send it to the pediatrician. At two months old, they no longer were connected when they were awake, so we kept the leads attached and tucked them into their clothes and would plug them into the monitors when we put them in bed. Within a few months of that, everyone was off them completely. The monitors gave a lot of peace of mind! I slept soundly knowing that everyone was breathing and doing ok. However, we were very happy to be done with them!
I had a 5-seater vehicle which would no longer hold our family. We bought an old Suburban after the babies were born to accommodate everyone. While the babies’ carseats were rearward facing, I would climb into the back and load three of them from there and then load Mark and two babies into the backseat. Shortly after the quintuplets turned two, we upgraded to a 12-passenger van which is definitely easier to load!
Getting out and about was more of a challenge with five as well. I took Mark everywhere I went when he was a baby, and I rarely used a stroller. He rode in a sling, front pack or back pack until he was old enough to walk. Obviously I couldn’t carry all five of the quintuplets! We had two triplet strollers as well as a six-seater stroller. The 6-seater was great and gave me the freedom to go out by myself! It does not collapse though and rides on a carrier that attaches to the hitch of the vehicle and then is tied down. While I have a cover for it, I usually took the two triplet strollers if it rained since those collapsed and fit in the back of the Suburban. I got used to pushing one stroller while pulling the other.
Because they were preemies born in October during flu / RSV season, we did not allow other kids around them and were very careful to not have anyone who might be sick near them. Our church was incredibly supportive and opened another room in the nursery that was only used for our kids! When the quintuplets were three months old, we were able to go back to church, and I rejoined some of the activities there during the week. Calling someone to babysit wasn’t really an option for us at that point, so it was really nice for me to be able to get out some and have those short breaks!
During my singleton pregnancy, my husband Bill and I took various classes: childbirth, infant care, etc. I felt prepared and ready to have a baby! However, I somehow came away thinking that all women experienced Braxton Hicks contractions at least once. (These are contractions that are not real labor.) So when I woke up in the wee hours of the morning one Thursday having contractions, I thought these were my Braxton Hicks. I didn’t even bother to wake my husband figuring that he had to go to work that day while I could take a nap later. So I sat on the couch and watched TV and somewhat tracked the contractions. Around 7 that morning, I noticed that they did seem like they were getting close together and decided to wake Bill up. Now I am normally a very organized, responsible person who is on top of things. However, at this point, my contractions were between 4 and 5 minutes apart, and I was still convinced that I was not in real labor; however, my husband was equally convinced that I was! We called the doctor’s office. Since I seemed calm and not in extreme pain, they said to come in when their office opened. That was fine with me because I wanted to have breakfast and clean the kitchen. Although Bill was nervous about taking extra time, he agreed and those things were accomplished. He did draw the line and said no when I wanted to vacuum the whole house though! So we left for the doctor’s office (house un-vacuumed!). I was still calm, walking fine and in relatively little pain. The nurse hooked me up to the monitor and said I would probably be awhile. When the doctor came to examine me, he determined that I was already 8 cm dilated and completely effaced! (Ten cm dilated is when they have you start pushing.)
We walked over to the hospital and got checked in. I was still doing well, but I was VERY scared that I would be too far along to get an epidural. They said we still had time, and the anesthesiologist came to the room and did the epidural. My parents came to the hospital to be with us. A little after 2 that afternoon, the doctor said it was time. I pushed for 12 minutes and out came our beautiful 8 pound blessing! Mark William was born on Thursday, April 26, 2007, perfect and healthy and we couldn’t have been happier!
Fast forward 18 months. At 33 weeks pregnant with quintuplets, my body had given all it could give to carrying five precious babies. My OB, Dr. Kirshon, said we needed to deliver at this point, and Baby A’s water broke. Even though average delivery for quintuplets is 27 and a half weeks and we had been told that at 33 weeks odds were very good that the babies would all be healthy, I was still really nervous! It just didn’t feel like it should be time yet! They were still so small, but we trusted the doctors to take care of me and them. I had felt pretty bad the night before, but I didn’t want to tell Bill and have him come to the hospital because I was afraid that would make everyone around me push for delivery. When my contractions increased in intensity and quantity and then my water broke, the doctors were moving pretty fast. It was an hour drive from our house to the hospital without traffic, and I was concerned Bill wouldn’t make it in time. My parents went to our house to watch Mark, and Bill rushed to the hospital and made it before I went into the OR. A lot of the delivery day was a blur for me.
By this point in the pregnancy, the only clothing I fit in was the extra large hospital gown, so I was already dressed and ready to go. They moved me to the delivery area and prepped everything. Bill put on scrubs and met me in the OR. He stood by my head and talked with me and took pictures. The nurse anesthetist was awesome! He was also by my head and talked to us and explained things which was very calming. He also took our birth video!
The OB broke each water one at a time and handed each baby off to be taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to be examined. There were at least 20 people involved in this process. All five babies were born in about a minute and a half! All were examined and found to be extremely healthy which meant that each baby could be brought back into the OR so that I could see them. I even got to hold John!
The NICU has different levels. Level 3 is what most people think of when they hear the term, and it is a high tech area where the doctors and nurses can deal very quickly with just about any problem that arises. Level 2 is often nicknamed “feed and grow.” In level 2, babies are monitored, they might need oxygen, and they probably need feeding help, but they don’t require as much attention as is needed in the higher level.
All five of our babies were immediately downgraded to level 2 after being examined! What an amazing blessing for us! Our quintuplets were born on Saturday, October 25, 2008, at 11:03 and 11:04 am. John Daniel was 3 lbs 3 oz, Rebecca Jenne was 4 lbs 1 oz, Alison Marie was 3 lbs 12 oz, David James was 4 lbs 12 oz, and Katelyn Elizabeth was 4 lbs. We were overjoyed to have them here and healthy! Our next concern would be getting me back into shape after spending so long in bed and getting them healthy and home.
On a Saturday morning, at 29 weeks, I started having a lot of contractions and they were much stronger. I had 21 contractions in an hour, and we couldn’t get them to stop with the tertbutaline, so Bill and I went to The Woman’s Hospital of Texas. During the 45 minute drive there, I really hoped that I would get to come home again but figured that was improbable. We prayed that the babies would not come yet!
When we arrived, the doctor examined me and put me on a medication called magnesium sulfate to stop the contractions. They decided that I should check into the hospital for the duration of the pregnancy. This drug had a much bigger impact on me, and I had to be hooked up to an IV all the time which was very limiting. The staff also monitored contractions three times per day and baby heart beats once each day. Within a few days, I was able to get off of the magnesium sulfate and go back to the terbutaline pump. This allowed me flexibility to shower more easily, go for “walks” in the wheelchair, etc.
Bill spent the night with me in the hospital the first night, and Mark stayed with my parents, who brought him to visit the next day. Leaving Mark was very hard. Everything happened so quickly that morning that I don’t think he knew what was going on and seemed very concerned. It helped a lot getting to see him again the next day. During my stay, Mark got sick and wasn’t able to come for a whole week. Because he wasn’t even 18 months old yet, he didn’t grasp what was happening and wasn’t able to talk on the phone. Bill, my parents and my friends would give me updates every day with what he did and would sometimes send pictures.
The staff at the hospital was awesome! The nurses were extremely helpful and really nice. They even brought me a cake and sang “Happy 32 weeks to you” when I reached 32 weeks! I met with a dietician, a physical therapist, a neonatal doctor who talked about what to expect when the babies were born, and of course the OB every morning. Everyone went out of their way to try to make things as comfortable as possible. I really missed being at home, but it was calming to know that if there were any issues at all, I was already at the hospital with a great team of doctors, nurses and other medical professionals.
Trying to fill the time on bedrest at home is hard, but it is even harder in a hospital! I watched TV, read books, did Sudoku puzzles, ate a lot, and really appreciated visitors, especially if they brought Mark with them! I think the biggest challenge, but one of the most important things, was trying to keep an upbeat and positive attitude. We were focused on keeping the babies inside as long as possible. There was a dry erase board in the room where Bill wrote all the babies names and made a calendar with a countdown to our target delivery date. One of the highlights of each day was lowering the numbers of days left until delivery! It gave me a sense of accomplishment, and just looking at their names reminded me how important it was to stay focused on the goal.
The last couple of weeks were very uncomfortable. I had gained over 90 pounds and 27 inches around, more than doubling my waist size. It took a lot of effort and sometimes some help even to roll over from one side to the other. I had to wedge myself into the shower literally touching my back and stomach to the walls. Honestly the last week or so is kind of a blur. I started not feeling as well and was so uncomfortable. I pretty much watched TV and slept, although I did walk to my last ultrasound three days before delivering! It was only three doors down from my room, but to me that was a big deal! Even with the difficulty of this pregnancy compared to the first, I still loved being pregnant. While I was excited about delivering soon, I felt sad that the pregnancy would be over. It is such an amazing thing watching a baby or many babies grow inside!
On Saturday, October 25, at 33 weeks, my body had given all it could give. My OB, Dr. Kirshon, said we needed to deliver at this point, and Baby A’s water broke. It was so exciting to hear that it was time, but it was terrifying too! I was certain that, like the pregnancy, this delivery was going to be different than when Mark was born!
I was so excited to finally be pregnant! After about a month on bed rest due to bleeding during the early part of my pregnancy with Mark, I was back on my feet and found that I loved being pregnant! I wanted to do everything I could to have a healthy baby, so I ate right, avoided all the foods on the no-no lists, stayed active and exercised, and read every book about pregnancy and babies I could find. I enjoyed several baby showers, and Bill and I loved watching my tummy grow bigger and seeing it jump when Mark had the hiccups or just seeing him move around! I gained 21 pounds during the pregnancy and was active to the very end.
My pregnancy with quintuplets was definitely different from that one! Because there were so many babies needing nutrients to grow, the diet was completely opposite this time around. I aimed for 5,000 calories every day and avoided too many fruits and vegetables because they took up too much tummy space without adding many calories. I ate a lot of cheeseburgers and drank a lot of milkshakes. Bill made me a special milkshake every night that had extra protein powder and totaled 1,000 calories. My activity level was limited from very early on. At 12 weeks into the pregnancy, the doctor did a cerclage, which is where he stitched my cervix shut to help prevent an early delivery. From that point forward, I couldn’t lift Mark any more, couldn’t do stairs and stopped driving. The hardest part was not being able to care for Mark the way I used to. We had a wonderful nanny that summer who came to our house every day. It was nice that I could get all the rest that I needed but that I could still see Mark and spend time with him every day too. He and I spent a lot of time cuddling on the couch reading books or doing puzzles. At 16 weeks, I had gained the same amount and measured the same size as when I delivered Mark!
I started feeling some minor occasional contractions at 18 weeks into the pregnancy. A nurse came to the house and set me up with a home monitor. This had a belt that went around my stomach and hooked to a machine where it measured the number of contractions. I used it for one hour per day and then it sent the data to a nurse who checked to make sure everything looked fine. This was great! It gave me a lot of peace of mind and was a way to check for contractions if I was nervous without having to go to the doctor’s office or the hospital. The nurse also set me up with a terbutaline pump which helped slow contractions. It had a small sub-cutaneous needle that inserted the tubing into my thigh and a tube that connected to the medicine in the pump which was about the size of a pager. My activity level was definitely restricted more at this point. It was hard being home and limited, but I was happy to do anything I could to keep the babies inside as long as possible. It is hard to be home all the time and / or to be on bedrest. When I felt down or lonely, I kept thinking about the babies and what they would be like. I read a lot of books, ate almost all the time, slept when I could, and really appreciated friends who came to visit! A couple of friends who had kids the same age as Mark made sure to include him on many of their outings and had him over to play frequently. While it was hard to miss out on those things with him, it made me feel so much better that he was still getting to be an active 1-year old and play with friends, and I am so grateful for those friends! When the summer ended, our nanny left, and Mark went to day care for a couple of months.
Hurricane Ike hit Houston when I was 26 weeks pregnant with the quintuplets. We stayed put at home and weathered the storm with very minimal damage. We were without electricity for 5 days and were grateful for the cooler weather. That being said, it was still September in Houston, Texas and being as huge as I was made me pretty hot! It was fun having Mark home for an extra week with Bill home to take care of both of us, and we enjoyed being outside and visiting with neighbors. I was large enough that I couldn’t sit up comfortably for very long, so I would go sit outside to cool off then come lie down inside to get comfortable, then rotate through those two spots again. I was able to stay at home until 29 weeks into the pregnancy when my scenery changed, and I checked into The Woman’s Hospital of Texas.