A lesson in parenthood, times four

April 01, 1994|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Sun Staff Writer

Beverly and Curtis Poole are becoming skilled at assembly-line parenting since Mrs. Poole gave birth to quadruplets in December.

Bathe, clothe, feed -- times four. Do laundry, make formula, prepare medications -- times four. Try to sleep for five hours or so and start again.

"We barely have time to even sit down on the couch," Mrs. Poole said. "I haven't seen the news in ages."

The Pooles' lives now revolve around the care and feeding of Melanie, Zachary, Scott and Caitlin -- an undertaking that requires around-the-clock home nurses, more than 300 diapers a week and an undetermined number of diaper wipes.

Mrs. Poole, 26, describes the living room of their home on Long Corner Road in Mount Airy as a "mini neonatal intensive care unit." Couches and chairs have been moved out to make room for bassinets, oxygen tanks and monitors.

The babies, who were born three months prematurely, have medical problems that require nearly constant attention, including underdeveloped lungs and digestive systems.

The Pooles are virtually confined to their living room and rarely get more than five hours of sleep. Their medical bills are more than $800,000 so far. They had to buy a van when the babies came. Renting medical equipment costs $400 a month and isn't covered by insurance.

But after two years of trying to conceive, the Pooles are happily adjusting to their disrupted lives.

"I feel blessed I have four babies, and they're just so adorable, but I don't think I'd go through the whole thing again," Mrs. Poole said. "I'd be afraid that I'd have four more."

After Mrs. Poole failed to become pregnant through artificial insemination, the couple tried a procedure called gamete intra-fallopian tube transfer, which involved putting sperm and eggs in her fallopian tubes.

Mrs. Poole said this process usually only produces one fertilized egg, but in her case four of her seven eggs were fertilized.

Mrs. Poole first was told she was carrying triplets; then a sonogram last July showed a fourth baby.

She recalls breaking the news to her husband. "I told him I have good news and bad news: They all have heartbeats, but there's going to be another one."

Her pregnancy was difficult. In addition to the discomfort of carrying four growing babies, Mrs. Poole spent July in the hospital on intravenous feeding and lost 22 pounds.

The babies were born three months early in December.

"I was glad when they only pulled four out," said Mrs. Poole, who is on leave from her job as a teacher in Montgomery County.

Health problems

All four infants had serious health problems when they were born. Three were placed on ventilators to help expand their lungs, and Caitlin needed surgery to repair a perforated bowel.

Melanie, Zachary and Scott stayed in the hospital until mid-February. Caitlin came home three weeks ago. She must be fed through a tube to her stomach.

Since the babies' arrival at home -- an event that Mrs. Poole admits turned her into an "emotional wreck" -- the Pooles have developed a schedule to get them through each day.

"At first it was overwhelming, but it's gotten to be a routine," said Mr. Poole, 34, a Montgomery County firefighter.

He, his wife and the nurses begin each day by giving the infants baths, and a change of clothes and bedding. Then they take the babies' temperatures and listen to their lungs.

Feedings are every four hours, and on a good day the babies might sleep for an hour in between. During this respite, the Pooles try to squeeze in laundry, preparing bottles and measuring out the babies' medications, which include antibiotics, diuretics, fluoride and vitamins.

That's the easy part. The Pooles and the nurses are constantly tending to the babies' medical needs.

All four children are hooked up to monitors, which alert the Pooles if their breathing stops. An oximeter measures the infants' oxygen levels and the Pooles make adjustments when needed.

Signs on cribs

Mrs. Poole's organizational skills have made the routine a bit easier. On each baby's crib is a sign with detailed instructions on his or her medical needs and other pertinent information.

For example, Melanie's sign says, "I am an awful burper and prefer to sleep on my stomach." Caitlin's sign reads, "I eat through a tube, so be very careful not to pull it out or I will have to visit the hospital again and I sure don't want that."

Weekly visits to the pediatrician require nearly a whole day and involve loading the babies into the van with their portable oxygen tanks under a nurse's supervision.

In the midst of their sometimes chaotic daily routine, the Pooles have managed to discover something unique about each baby.

"They all have their own little personalities," Mr. Poole said. "If you get tired of one, you can just switch off."

Doctors have told the Pooles that the children might develop allergies and asthma as a result of their early medical problems. Caitlin's future health depends on how well her stomach develops, Mrs. Poole said, but all of the babies are expected to lead normal lives.

Grandmother to help

Mrs. Poole plans to return to her job teaching third grade at Ronald McNair Elementary School in Germantown in September. Her mother quit her job so she could care for her grandchildren.

The Pooles are uncertain how much of their medical costs will be covered by their insurance. And they're not sure how much longer insurance will pay for at-home nursing care.

To help cover the costs of diapers and formula, their families established the Poole Children's Fund at Farmers and Mechanics Bank in Damascus. Donations may be sent to the Poole home at 690 Long Corner Road, Mount Airy, Md. 21771.

The Pooles say their family is complete now. And despite the financial and emotional strain of having four babies simultaneously, they're happy.

"We're stressed and overwhelmed with the responsibilities," Mrs. Poole said. "But we wouldn't give them up."

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