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LELAND—Carmen and Mike Matthews recently had a family photo taken—the parents holding their five 2-month-olds.
In the photo, they almost appear to be juggling all those children, an appropriate metaphor for the daunting task of raising quintuplets.
But the picture doesn’t tell the whole story.
Outside the frame there are plenty of spotters to help with the babies, but the parents haven’t lost their grip.
That’s a better metaphor, with a little support around the edges, the Matthewses—parents and babies—are doing fine.
“I always wanted a big family. We were not expecting five at once. When it happened, it happened,” Carmen said.
Raising five children is just raising children to the Matthewses.
“I’ve never had one to know what it’s like,” Mike said.
“My opinion is having them here is easier than getting them here. Over the summer there was a lot of stress—when are they coming, will they be healthy, will mom be healthy?” Mike said. “Now they are here—and they are so darn cute.”
Lorna, Layton, Carleigh, Rucker and Eason were born Sept. 6. They were the first quintuplets born in Banner Quest Hospital in Phoenix, Ariz., but not the first for Carmen’s obstetrician, Dr. John Elliott. The Matthewses sought him out when they learned her pregnancy was a multiple-baby pregnancy.
Elliott has spent 20 years in practice working to ensure women pregnant with multiples reach a stage where, while the children may be born premature, they will develop enough to be healthy.
To have the children under Elliott’s care, Carmen moved to California, then Arizona—with family either along for the trip or making several visits before she gave birth by C-section.
Carmen experienced pre-term labor at 20 weeks, but a simple medical procedure corrected the problem. She also dealt with gestational diabetes and toxemia, which led to her staying in the hospital for the final six weeks of the pregnancy. But no health issues have lingered after the children were born.
Carmen said she remembers just being tired.
“Why was I so tired?” she asked her mother, Brenda Milam, who was helping with the children.
“Really?” Milam said with a look. “You had five children who needed nutrition. Mothers get tired with one baby. Times that by five.”
Carmen said Elliott considered reaching 28 weeks a milestone for a healthy quintuplet pregnancy; 32 weeks would be even bigger. Matthews delivered at 34 weeks.
Lorna was born at 7:25 a.m., Layton and Carleigh came at 7:26 a.m., then Rucker, followed by Eason at 7:27 a.m.
When most parents have to come up with a name for their child, they make a list and pare it down. For the Matthewses, they didn’t have to throw out any favorites.
“It was actually fun. There were lots of names I liked,” Carmen said.
The children’s first and middle names were mostly taken from family members, except for Rucker. Mike took a shine to the name while eating with friends at Rucker John’s Restaurant in Wilmington.
Milam said each baby put their own personality on display as soon as they came home from the hospital.
Carmen said she could tell their personalities while she was still carrying them.
Lorna is the easiest of the bunch, the laid-back child.
“If she cries, she gets your attention because she never cries. She’s so good; we had the doctor check because she seemed to be too good. We wanted to make sure nothing was wrong,” Milam said.
“Layton loves to cuddle,” Carmen said of her oldest boy.
Carleigh is her mother’s little princess.
“She’s very dramatic. It’s very cute,” Carmen said.
Rucker was the smallest at birth and the last to come home from the hospital.
“We were always told (by hospital staff) we’d have no problem with him because he’s always been under stress. He’s used to fighting,”
And Eason is impatient.
“When he wants something, he lets you know,” Carmen said.
While not high on the difficulty chart, Eason gets stomachaches the family keeps watch for.
Overall, the only medical issue the children are dealing with is acid reflux.
Mike said while they all started at different birth weights, each child has gained about two and a half times its weight in two-and-a-half months.
“I anticipated they would be in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). I anticipated being scared because they were so little we would not know what to do,” Carmen said.
“But the NICU staff were so good, they teach you so well, they make you feel comfortable so it just feels natural. I was not intimidated at all,” Carmen said.
After her eight-week maternity leave ended, Carmen went back to work Nov. 1 for NHRNC Home Health Care. Mike’s company builds commercial and residential cabinets in Wilmington.
“There is so much stuff to do so you don’t get to spend as much time with them as you want,” Mike said.
When he gets home, his first move is to go prepare bottles of formula for the next day—three types for the different needs of the children—30 bottles per day.
“We are managing, and we get help from other people. Without their help it would be a whole lot more difficult,” Carmen said.
“We have a lot of help—grandparents, family, friends. Some stay and give us a night a week,” Mike said.
Both Carmen and Mike’s parents frequently help with the babies. And family and friends have volunteered their time. Carmen even keeps a calendar for them to sign up.
Sometimes they will stop in to help with a feeding. Other times it’s for a few hours or overnight.
Milam said feedings could take 45 minutes with five people, more than an hour if one person handles all five babies.
With the exception of Rucker, each baby is fed 4 to 6 ounces of formula every four hours. As the smallest of five premies, Rucker gets a little more than half as much for now. In a day the babies go through about 120 ounces.
Carmen said bath time is set up like an assembly line. Everyone has a role—undress, bathe, then hand off to dry, diaper, lotion and clothe.
The only trips the quintuplets have made so far have included a visit to Carmen’s parents’ church, a few doctors’ office appointments and the photo shoot, which was at Katie Mathews’ Photography studio in Wilmington.
“That was a long, long day, but it was awesome,” Carmen said.
Now that the holidays are here they will do some traveling on Thanksgiving and during the weekend to visit family.
“It takes a lot to get them out—outfits, diapers, formula, five baby carriers and several adults,” Carmen said.
The Matthewses have their community of family and friends for hands-on help, but they also have an online community where they can talk to other families of multiples—triplets, quadruplets, quintuplets and more.
“When I first found out I was pregnant with quintuplets, I found a webpage for a couple in Winston-Salem whose quintuplets just turned 8. I contacted them and they gave me a Facebook page for families with multiples,” Carmen said.
That’s also how the Matthewses were introduced to Dr. Elliot.
Carmen was visited by a mother and her quintuplets while in the hospital and spent the last few weeks of her pregnancy in Banner Quest Hospital in Arizona together with another quintuplet mom who gave birth to her quintuplets two-and-a-half weeks after she did.
“Families with quadruplets and quintuplets, it’s a tight community. We have a separate Facebook page where we can ask each other questions. There is always someone (on) to ask,” Carmen said. “There’s a lot of support.”
Milam said, from her perspective, as a mother who raised two children who were born 15 months apart, the situation was pretty overwhelming.
“She’s tough. I was with her in the hospital for the last six weeks of the pregnancy. Not many could do what she did,” Milam said. “She’s always been my strong-willed child. If anybody could do this, she could.”
The Matthews family has a couple months left before the babies start moving—rolling and crawling—which will start the next stage of their adventure, keeping up with them.
“It’s definitely a challenge, but I was never one to back down from a challenge,” Carmen said.
Brian Slattery is a staff writer for The Brunswick Beacon. Reach him at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.