Multiplying By 4

Odds kept going up for a Columbia couple trying to expand their family. The payoff came Monday with the birth of Quadruplets

April 24, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

To say that Jina and Gilbert Buentello have battled long odds in pursuit of parenthood is an understatement.

First, the former Maryland couple needed the help of in vitro fertilization to conceive. They also faced the fear that the process could have been canceled by the chaos following Sept. 11. Finally, more than three-quarters of the way through the pregnancy, they had to pack up everything and move across the country from Columbia to San Antonio when Gilbert, a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves, was activated.

But this week, they won big. On Monday, they became parents - four times over - to healthy quadruplets. Doctors had told them there was less than a half percent chance all of the babies would survive.

"The stats were so scary, I almost went into a depression," says Jina. "I thought, I'm going to go through all this, and they're not going to make it."

Yesterday, the new additions were gathered for their first photo - two boys and two girls: James Gilbert (4 pounds, 9 ounces), Charles Festa (3 pounds, 13 ounces), Elizabeth Ann (5 pounds, 2 ounces) and Pia Marie (4 pounds, 7 ounces).

"All the babies came out screaming," says Gilbert, who watched as they were born at the University of Texas University Hospital in San Antonio. "I was just so happy, I cried. It was such a wonderful experience. We're just so thankful."

And after seven months of uncertainty, Jina was feeling relieved - and lucky.

"I should play the lottery," she says.

Life wasn't always so complicated for Jina and Gilbert Buentello.

The couple met at the Cancun Cantina in Baltimore, fell head over heels, married in November of 1995 and set out on their way to happily ever after. Pretty standard stuff.

The first snag came when they started trying to have a baby.

"We absolutely wanted children," says Gilbert, 38, an IRS senior analyst. "But we'd been trying for years and it wasn't working."

The Buentellos (pronounced Bwen-tay-oh), both from big families, consulted a fertility specialist and settled on using in vitro fertilization. Jina's eggs were harvested, fertilized with Gilbert's sperm outside the body, then transferred back into her uterus.

That effort resulted in son Benjamin, now 17 months old. Jina, 33, was able to deliver him naturally at 39 weeks (a typical gestation period lasts 37 to 42 weeks), and her complications were relatively minor: slight bleeding, early - but controllable - contractions and required bed rest.

Her second pregnancy was something else entirely.

The process started smoothly. Jina's eggs were harvested and fertilized Sept. 9 at George Washington University Hospital in Washington and were scheduled to be transferred into her uterus on Wednesday, Sept. 12. But Tuesday, the world changed.

After terrorists steered planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Jina, who was then working as a payroll manager in Rosslyn, Va., tried to call Gilbert. He was stranded on the Metro on his way to work and she couldn't get through. So she called her mother, June Leonardi, in Little Falls, N.J.

"She was frantic," says Leonardi, a middle-school nurse. "Her first thoughts were for her husband's safety, but she was also worried about the embryos."

Jina's third call was to the hospital. "I know it sounds funny talking about embryos," Jina says, "but to me they were already my babies."

The embryos were fine, though they wouldn't stay healthy for long. The Buentellos feared they might have trouble reaching the hospital, just a mile from the White House, after the terrorist attacks.

The next day, however, the couple made it through the turbulent city and four embryos - doctors implant several to increase the odds that one will take - were successfully transferred. Two weeks later, during the first of many sonograms, the Buentellos got the surprise of their lives.

"[The nurse] said `I see one' and I was so excited," Jina says. "Then she said `I see two,' and we were like `oh my God.' Then she said `Jina, I see three. How many did you put in there? I see four!'"

All four fertilized eggs had attached to Jina's uterus; she was pregnant with quadruplets.

Increased risks

While multiple births are still rare (506 of the more than 4 million U.S. births were quadruplets in the year 2000), there's been a sharp rise in the number of American families experiencing such pregnancies. The rate of triplet and higher multiple births in the United States rose by 523 percent between 1980 and 1998, which a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study attributes directly to "advances in, and greater access to, assisted reproductive medicine."

The multiple-birth boom may finally be leveling, though. The number of triplet-plus deliveries rose by only four births between 1999 and 2000; there was a 4 percent drop from 1998 to 1999, a steadying that doctors attribute to better technology and selective reduction.

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