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What Happens When Your First Baby Is Quadruplets

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Much of the parenting conversation has centered on the notion of having it all, but anyone who has even some of it knows that it’s less about “having” and more about “doing.” In our series Mother's Day, we ask some of the most highly functioning parents we know exactly what they fit into a typical day, and how the hell they do it.

For Amber, a writer and blogger in Dallas, there's four times as much to do. Yes, she has quadruplets. When she crosses the street with her four 4-year-olds, she has two hands in each of her hands. She finds time, sometimes after the lights go out, to keep a lively publishing career; she has meal-planning and Target-shopping for six down to a science, and if you're curious how she gets the whole passel everywhere — it's NOT in a minivan. She and her husband still have their date-night ritual (steak dinner and a movie), and you might be jealous when you find out how often they make it happen. From now on, "quad mom" is code for "parenting beast mode."

Job: I work from home as a writer for bridal magazines and luxury coffee-table books, and I maintain my own blog, Texas Tales, where I document our life with the quads. Most of my writing gets done at my cluttered mess of a desk, tucked into my “office nook” in my bedroom. It’s usually late at night or while the kids are in pre-K three days a week. I’ve had some level of constant freelance work since 2010, except the month the quads were born. I was even working during the two months I spent on hospital bedrest. My work schedule is erratic at best. It’s all about opportunity and whether or not I’m able to stay awake.

Being a parent is definitely my number-one priority, and we are blessed that I was already in a flexible enough job to stay home with the babies. But it’s a confidence boost to see my work still getting published, and maintaining my presence as a writer and upholding my professional identity is important to me.

Parenting with: my husband of 10 years, Mike, who's an electrical engineer designing data centre facilities.
During the week, I do mornings solo. My husband is up and out the door for work before the sun has even fully risen.

My family and I are NOT morning people! Before we had kids, my husband and I could lay in bed until 1 p.m. on a Saturday. Clearly, that’s completely unattainable now. One of the things we made a priority when the babies were ready was sleep training. We weren't that strict; I know some people get twitchy trying to force-mould a baby’s natural tendencies, but we worked with their progress and were able to have four babies that slept 12 hours a night by the time they were five months old. They’ve continued to sleep well ever since, and they do NOT get up at 6 a.m. If, for some reason, a child of mine wakes up that early, they stay in their bed and go back to sleep or quietly read a book. At 7 a.m., I'm waking up, so it's fair game if they want to, too.
I wake up, brush my teeth, wash my face, and throw on a shirt and yoga pants, then start prepping breakfast. I drink a half-green, half-black iced tea every morning (neither the husband nor I drink a lick of coffee). If I need to get myself completely ready, including outfit and makeup, I have to get up about 45 minutes before the kids (say, 6:45 a.m.). I always end up fiddling with something longer than I planned to, like changing clothes three times, getting mascara poked in my eye, or deciding a top-knot isn’t going to cut it that day.

At 7:30 a.m., I turn on lights in the kids' rooms (they are two to a room) and start waking them up. They’re able to wash their faces, brush their teeth, and get dressed on their own, so I only assist if someone’s having a hard time with their wardrobe or is being stubborn about not getting out of bed. Meanwhile, I finish making breakfast.
By 8:30, I’m helping any stragglers get shoes on, putting breakfast on the table, filling their water bottles for the day, and putting lunch boxes together. Prepping things is vital to my survival as well as my ability to get anywhere even relatively close to on time. I’m notoriously late for things and have been working on that this year.

I make sure backpacks are all set, double-check that everyone has shoes on, and load everyone into the car. School drop-off is between 8:45 and 9 a.m., and we only live about six minutes away, which is a lifesaver; otherwise, I’d always be late. On non-school days, this is breakfast time, then I either do some dishes or laundry while the kids play.
I drive away from the school thinking, FREEDOM! Then my mind goes into overdrive thinking of all the things I need to do. I’ll either get straight to work at home, or I’ll run errands, or even get a pedicure if I need "me time."
Lunch. Sometimes, if the kids are at school, I’ll take about 30 or 45 minutes to watch a TV show or something. Otherwise, I'll check e-mail, run laundry, empty the dishwasher, or clean out closets.

If I've got the kids, maybe we'll go to the gym. Our gym has a kids' club with a wonderful children’s coordinator, and they gave us a great rate, which means I can make it there — even if it’s more to read a book on the elliptical than to work out — and the kids get to play, read books, colour, and interact with other children.
Naps! This is non-negotiable on non-school days. Naps range from one to two hours, depending on the day. Sometimes I nap, too, or get my post-workout shower done, or write a little bit.

The kids are with me two full days a week, and out of school at 2:15 p.m. on the other three; that’s a lot of time to fill. Sometimes they spend a day at my parents’ house, or if I'm taking them to swim lessons or some other crowded place, my mom or mother-in-law will come along to help. On the weekend, we do pretty much everything as a family, but sometimes Mike will take the kids with him to Home Depot or something to give me a little break.

I’m always missing the kiddos by the time I get them from school. Sometimes we head to the library, or if it's clear they're worn out, we'll head straight home and I’ll let them watch a movie (which means I can work some more or do some cleaning). Other times, I have a learning activity set out, or a book with a craft. Sometimes it’s a free-for-all.

Today, for instance, we ran around like crazy after school (picking up dry-cleaning, buying ice because our freezer’s on the fritz), and by the time I pulled into the driveway, my four exhausted kids were sleeping bobble-heads in the back. So I put the car in park, leaned my seat back, and dozed for about 10 minutes until someone woke up and asked why we weren’t going inside. There’s no “wrong way” to do things with quadruplets. It's all about survival.
I really try to wrap up whatever I may be doing so I can get my head in the game for dinner. I cook a full dinner almost every night during the work week, and I meal-plan constantly.

Sometimes I’ll even plan out the snack I’ll feed the kids when they get home on school days (because they’re always starving). It takes the guesswork out of it. We save stuff like pizza, chicken nuggets, and mac and cheese for nights that a babysitter is coming over or when we need to have a super-fast meal.

I’d like to be more organic in our daily diet, but for now, an overall fresh and healthy approach has to be enough. I’m not afraid to take short cuts if I’m having a tough week, either. Having grace for myself on a daily basis is something I try to keep in mind.
We eat dinner together as a family. Some people eat a lot earlier, but my husband is getting home “early” if he’s home by 6, and family dinners are important to us. We talk about everyone’s day, what the kids’ favourite part of school was, etc.

Mike puts away leftovers and does a load of dishes while I usher the kids upstairs for baths. We typically bathe them two at a time, then dress for bed, brush teeth, and read two books of their choosing. In between, I go around to each kiddo and help them pick out their clothes for the next day. They get to choose an outfit, but with a little guidance if I know we'll be going out. Their being involved in the selection process means we have almost zero tantrums in the morning about getting dressed. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Tuck everyone in, lights out. Then I go lay on my bed in my room, sigh with exhaustion, and ask myself the daily question: How much energy do I have left?

Depending on the answer, I’ll shower, do any work or obligations that I didn’t get to during the day, watch a TV show with Mike, or catch up on Facebook. I’ll also be sure to get lunches packed for school the next day, and I’ll even lay out my own outfit. Even if it’s just yoga pants and a T-shirt, every a.m. second counts!
Our bedtime is anywhere from 11 p.m. to 12 a.m. Mike often works on his laptop while I’m prepping things for school, or he’ll do more dishes if needed or run some laundry. (The laundry NEVER ends.) If it’s been a gruelling day and we’re just too exhausted, the dishes may be left in the sink or the floor might not get swept or the playroom may be left as is. Our chance to have some time together becomes more important than having every little thing cleaned up and in its place. Let’s just say we’ve learned to live with some mess.
Do you have any sense of how your life is different from the average parent’s because you have quadruplets?
There were so many times when the quads were babies that my husband and I would look at our friends with only one baby and envy their freedom. We couldn’t just pack up our crew and take off for dinner at a restaurant, and I couldn’t just make a simple Target run unless I had at least two babysitters or a grandparent. My husband and I have been outnumbered since the beginning, and the one beautiful thing is that we don’t know any different. We went from no kids to having quadruplets, and to us, that has become the norm. Sometimes, his parents will offer to have the kids spend the night on a Friday or Saturday evening, or my parents will take one or a couple for the afternoon after church. Then, if we only have two kids to care for, it’s easy-breezy — one kid is a total piece of cake!

Another thing that set our experience apart was the way it started. The quads were born 10 weeks premature and spent about two months in the NICU; it was weeks before they were even strong enough to manage a bottle. Our son was on a ventilator and became so ill, he nearly died when he was 10 days old. It was five more days before I even held him for the first time. Because of their delicate systems, we had to keep all four quarantined at home in a somewhat sterilised environment for months.

Do you feel like a pro now that the kids are 4 years old?
Now that the kids are getting older and more independent, we often say we feel more like we just have four kids versus quadruplets. It’s so much easier to take them places. I remember being petrified the first time I took them to the gym with me; they were just over 2, and I was scared to death one of them would get run over in the parking lot while I was trying to herd them inside. With every passing outing I managed on my own, I felt more confident and liberated about my abilities.

There are still plenty of things that make us keenly aware that we have quadruplets: school registration fees times four; buying shoes after they’ve had a growth spurt; meal times and all the plates of food; and going to the movies, because six tickets ain’t cheap!

How do you literally get around with everyone?
We have a Chevy Suburban LT. I had, and still have, no intention of ever driving a minivan. We have the carseats that convert to booster seats as the kids grow, so we didn’t have to keep buying the next thing: They fit two in the back row (a bench seat) and two in the middle seats. The storage space came in handy when we had to tote around two twin strollers, too. We had a quad stroller in the beginning, but it was heavy, huge, and attracted a LOT of attention — which you’re already doing when you’re out with four babies.

Loading four infant car seats into the car by myself was a chore. Now, I make sure to park by a sidewalk, never in the middle of a parking lot. At places like Target, I can just have them all stand in a shopping cart and push them inside. Then we switch to the biggest cart they have. Target is one place I’ve got down: We get popcorn, or pumpkin bread from Starbucks, and divvy it up. We bring sippy cups from home, and everyone picks their seat in the giant cart, which I like to compare to driving a boat. Two get my iPad and two get my phone, and they watch shows while I shop around. We go for a bathroom break as soon as we arrive, and then halfway through if it’s a big list.
Do you ever have time to yourself? What do you do with it?
I make time for myself and have no shame or guilt about it. I was thrilled for both myself and my kids when they started preschool. It was an exciting time for them to learn new things, meet new friends, and be out of the house in a fun environment — and for me, it meant alone time. I get a pedicure every two months or so (about the same as I did pre-babies). Mike and I try to make time for two or three date nights a month. (We are very predictable! Our usual date night is dinner at Texas Roadhouse and then a movie.) It’s not always perfect, but we continue to make our best effort. On months that date nights are fewer, we’ll make a point to sit together on the couch and watch a show or two and relax together. I try my best to keep up with personal appointments, like getting my hair coloured or going to lunch with my mom. I simply schedule these around my work deadlines and when the kids are in school.

How did your quad pregnancy change your body image?
My body definitely took a beating during my quad pregnancy. I was on home bedrest by 17 weeks and on hospital bedrest at 22 weeks (until I delivered at 29). The entire two months I was in the hospital, I was on various medications to help ease my constant contractions. It was a constant effort to keep things on any kind of even keel. I had a lot of bulge left in my stomach postpartum, excess skin, and my ab muscles had split almost completely in half. I was dealing with excruciating back pain and awful nausea on a daily basis, in addition to being exhausted. Looking at me, people constantly asked when I was due, which got old really fast — even though I mostly felt proud of what my body had accomplished. When the babies were eight months, I underwent an abdominoplasty and had a severe umbilical hernia repaired, excess skin removed, and my stomach muscles tightened. This has enabled me to function at a more normal level; it did away with my back pain completely, and I can actually exercise my core without any pain.

Are you still dealing with any postpartum changes?
The effects of such a long bed rest and strain on my body left me with sudden onset advanced arthritis in both my knees, and chronic plantar fasciitis in both feet. Each of these conditions can cause a great deal of pain, especially since I’m on my feet and moving all day, so I’ve been dealing with ongoing treatments, including a minor surgery on both feet and non-steroidal injections in my knees every few months. I feel like my metabolism has finally started to improve, which my OB warned me can take as much as two years after even a singleton pregnancy.

I have to mention that not all quad pregnancies have these effects; I’m only 5-foot-3, so there wasn’t a lot of room for my stomach to grow other than “out.” Some quad moms I know who are much taller got barely any stretch marks and made it to 34 weeks. Others felt fine for the most part and even kept working during pregnancy.
What kind of role do other parents have in your life?
I’m immersed in a private online quad mom group that has been my saving grace ever since I was pregnant with my babies. There are about 450 of us; we recently added a new quad mama who's in Kenya, and we also have some in Finland, England, and beyond.

They normalise this life so very much and have provided so much feedback, advice, and encouragement over these past four years. Many of them are wonderful examples to me of what to strive for, what goals to accomplish, what priorities to keep, and how to just continue taking things one day at a time. That’s how we’ve survived since the beginning, and it’s exactly how we intend to keep going!

Have you come up with a parenting hack that changed the game for you?
Parenting is a constant learning process. Whether you learn from the first child when you have the second or, like us, you’re learning to deal with each of your same-age children at the same time. I’m still learning to let the small stuff go, that having an orderly house isn’t the most important thing in life. I often remind myself that, when I was pregnant with the babies — not knowing whether they would all even survive — I would have traded anything in a split second to know that my babies would grow up happy and healthy. All the dirt in my house is a sign that I have four children who live there, and so I’m immensely grateful for it.

What have you felt the least prepared for so far? Anything you think working moms NEED to know?
There’s so much attention on the “breast is best” movement and the effort to normalise breast-feeding — which is by all means fantastic — but mothers out there can’t forget those like me who either aren’t able to produce enough or aren’t able to continue pumping or breast-feeding for whatever reason. I stopped pumping, because my body was so taxed with recovery, traveling to the hospital to spend all day every day in the NICU, rotating among my four infants, and trying to cope with becoming an instant mother to quadruplets, that I simply had nothing left to give. I wish I’d been more forgiving to myself about that. Giving your baby formula doesn’t mean you’ve failed or have no sense of what’s best for your child. As mothers, it’s our job to band together and support each other in the best possible way.
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