Beth Fraley couldn’t look at the ultrasound screen. Six weeks into a hard-won pregnancy, she told her husband Lane he could look, and she’d watch his face.
Lane wasn’t exactly sure what he was seeing at first-six-week ultrasounds can be pretty difficult for new parents to decipher-so he was watching Dr. Michael Hickey, the reproductive endocrinologist/infertility specialist at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital.
“Dr. Hickey said, ‘Oh, wow,'” Lane remembers.
“It was a big sigh,” Beth says.
“Then we waited for the longest 20 seconds ever and he didn’t say anything,” Lane says.
Lane couldn’t take it anymore.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“There are four,” the doctor replied.
A petite, dark-haired, self-described organizer and worrier, Beth, 30, immediately began worrying about having a healthy pregnancy and the logistics of caring for four newborns.
Lane, also 30, leaped way ahead of her.
“What are we going to do when they’re 16 and they all want a car?” he asked Beth.
But then it hit them: the family they’d talked about since they met in college was actually finally happening.
“I did cry, because I was so happy to be pregnant, but yeah, it was overwhelming,” Beth admits.
On the trip home, Lane and Beth found themselves staring at the ultrasound pictures.
“We just kept saying, ‘oh my goodness, oh my goodness,'” Beth says.
Beth, a speech therapist who works with early intervention for children from birth to age 3 at Hinsdale Hospital, knew the possibility of four preemies was almost a guarantee. She also understood only too well the risks that come with premature births. She reached out to other parents of triplets and quads to help prepare and to better understand her mixed emotions.
“To be finally pregnant, to get what we wanted, but from day one to be high risk-it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I never had a typical pregnancy,” Beth said.
But as each week passed with every indication the babies would be healthy, the couple began to prepare to care for four newborns.
Lane and his father put together four cribs, two lining each wall in one of the bedrooms in their three-bedroom town home in Wood Dale. Four car seats lined the wall, which would fit into the minivan the couple bought when they found out how many babies they were having. The boxes of diapers stacked up, thanks to friends’ and co-workers’ donations.
They set up diaper and feeding areas on both the first and second floors of their home. Wicker baskets filled with neatly folded burp cloths and receiving blankets were tucked into the corner of each room. Rows of bottles began to fill the kitchen cabinets.
On April 7, 31 weeks into the pregnancy, Beth gave birth to Landon James, 3 pounds, 6 ounces; Olivia Grace, 2 pounds, 13.5 ounces; Clare Elizabeth, 2 pounds, 13.5 ounces; and Maya Kathryn, 2 pounds, 14.5 ounces.
Like Beth’s pregnancy, the birth experience was anything but typical.
“You think you’ll have these little quiet moments, but there’s 20-something people in there and little alarms going off everywhere,” Lane says. “It’s a little chaotic.”
The couple wouldn’t get to hold their babies, who would be rushed off to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Hinsdale Hospital. Still, “when I saw Landon go by, then I started to cry, because they were real,” Beth says. “Then it hit me that they were here.”
Lane, who had never changed a diaper or held a newborn before having his own, became a pro at diaper changes on his tiny preemies, maneuvering around monitor wires in isolettes in the NICU.
Four weeks after their birth, Clare and Landon headed home with their mom and dad. Two weeks later, Olivia and Maya followed. All four babies show every indication of being healthy, typically developing newborns.
In spite of the many offers of help, Beth and Lane initially wanted to have time alone with the babies to create their own rhythm as a family.
The couple generally feels lucky if they get two uninterrupted hours of sleep, although during the work week Lane gets to sleep from midnight until 4 or 5 a.m., when he wakes up and helps with the morning feeding before going to work.
Beth, who never drank coffee in her life, now looks forward to the cup of coffee Lane makes her every morning, as she launches into another round of baby care times four.
“There is usually no day, it’s just one continuous… I don’t even know what to call it,” Beth says with a laugh. “You just keep going.”
Each morning kicks off about 4 a.m. with feedings, then it’s (hopefully) back to bed for an hour or two, then more feedings, morning baths and fresh clothes. The day continues on with feedings, diaper changes and naps, broken up with tummy time or a few minutes under the brightly colored play gym. Beth adds in walks in the stroller as long as someone comes with-right now they have two double strollers, but expect to upgrade to a quad stroller by the end of the year.
When Lane returned to work as a manager at the Walgreens corporate office in Deerfield, Beth’s mother began staying the night to help out with night feedings and daily care. Every outing takes at least two people to maneuver car seats and strollers.
And then there are all the other logistics that go with having four infants-an average of 32 bottles a day and anywhere from 32-40 diaper changes. Two diaper pails that have to be emptied daily, at least one load of laundry every day, and a dishwasher that runs constantly to clean bottles.
In spite of the relentless, all-day, all-night care required, Beth and Lane find time each day to celebrate the emerging personalities of each of the babies. They’re adamant that their children be known by their names and own unique characteristics, not as “the quads.”
“One day I put them all under the play gym,” Beth says, “and Olivia’s looking at all the rings and she was moving her arms trying to reach them. You look at Maya, who’s just staring and probably thinking, ‘I should reach for those.’ Clare didn’t like it at all and started crying and poor Landon, he flipped to one side and there was a sister and he moved to the other side and there was another sister. I can’t wait to see if he’s thinking, ‘Oh another girl. There are girls everywhere I go.’ It’s kind of cute how different they are just given the same toy.”
The one thing both parents are getting used to is the constant guilt of not being able to comfort all the babies when they need it. Beth jokes that she wants a T-shirt that says, “I love you, but it’s not your turn.”
“Once in a while it is all four of them crying, and then you feel terrible; you’re running back and forth and you go to the one who’s loudest first,” Lane says.
Beth says, “I can do two, but when the third starts, I feel guilty I can’t do it all myself. It took me a while to realize I needed help because that’s what best for them, so they’re not crying for long periods of time and they’re getting more interaction and support.”
They know challenges will continue-there’s those cars Lane is worried about, plus more immediate things like potty training and four teething babies. But right now, they love every minute of the large family they always wanted.
“You get a wide range of reactions when you tell people (you have quads) and they’d say it was hard with one, they can’t imagine four, but this is our life,” Lane says. “Everything has been a blessing.
“But they were right about the sleep. That was unfortunately pretty accurate,” he says with a laugh.