Last spring, when her obstetrician suggested an ultrasound test to see if she was carrying more than one baby, Jennell Dickens prayed that she wasn't carrying twins. When an ultrasound technician examined her belly, counting two, three and four heartbeats, she steeled herself for quadruplets.
That was before a radiologist entered the room and found another heartbeat. Dickens cried for two months.
Yesterday, she was the picture of composure, smiling and laughing at the University of Maryland Medical Center just two days after delivering four girls and a boy 10 weeks early. They weighed a combined 11 pounds, 14 ounces.
"Right now, I'm in the best of health, and as long as their health is good, we'll take things as they come," said Dickens, 22.
The babies, in order of their debuts, are: JaMir Amare, a boy, and his sisters, Si'ani Ritay, NaRae Dimetria, Jade, and Rayne Anye. Each weighed between two and three pounds.
Dr. Rose Viscardi, a neonatologist, said the babies appeared to be in good health, with four breathing on their own and the fifth by means of a respirator. Those breathing without mechanical ventilation are being supplied oxygen and, in two cases, a positive-pressure mask that keeps the airway from closing in upon itself.
"The major hurdle initially is how well they can breathe," Viscardi said, cautioning that respiratory problems can emerge several days after birth.
After a Caesarean section, each baby emerged "screaming and hollering," a relief to Dickens, who was warned that babies born so small and early don't always survive.
"It turned out quite well, as well as we could have expected," said Dr. Hugh Mighty, who led a team of 30 specialists. Mighty, who is chief of obstetrics and gynecology, lifted the babies out of the womb in rapid sequence and handed them off to three other doctors assisting him.
The odds of bearing quintuplets are one in 65 million in the absence of fertility drugs, which raise the chances of getting pregnant and of carrying more than one child. The UM Medical Center delivered its last set of quintuplets in 1974.
Quints arrived at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center in 1995 and Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2001. The latter were born to Gisel Mora, wife of Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora.
Dickens, who works as an administrative assistant at the UM Medical Center's emergency medicine department, said she had begun taking hormones to correct a medical problem. Doctors cautioned that the medication would enhance her fertility, though she didn't imagine how quickly.
"I took it one time, and this is what I got," she said, explaining that she became pregnant within a week of completing her first four-day course.
The hospital has set up an account at M&T Bank for people who want to contribute money to the family.
Dickens, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment, said she delayed searching for a more spacious place because she wasn't sure how many new roommates she would be bringing home. She said her sister, mother and friends are mobilizing to help her cope with what lies ahead, but she conceded that her life will get much busier once she leaves the hospital, which could happen as early as today.
"Officially, when I get out of here, that's when everything happens," she said.