As Lynn and Joe Bova of Ventura celebrate the first birthday of their quintuplets today, they could measure the last year of their lives in many ways--perhaps the 11,000 diaper changes or the 10,000 times the babies have been nursed or bottle-fed.
But the staggering numbers aren't what they think of first. The Bovas instead reflect on the five smiles that greet them every morning when they walk into the babies' room and the touching way their 2 1/2-year-old son, Ryan, hugs his siblings and runs for a tissue to wipe their noses.
"Having five babies at one time does have its own inherent challenges--lack of sleep and nonstop days," Lynn said. "You're cleaning five highchairs, five times the handprints on the walls and food thrown on the floor. There's five times everything, but I prefer to think about five times the hugs, six times the love [with Ryan], six times the smiles."
Abigail, Emiline, Katie, Nathan and Samuel--Ventura County's first quintuplets and one of 13 sets born in the United States in 2001, according to the "Facts About Multiples" Web site--will have a huge birthday bash March 16. Community Memorial Hospital, their birthplace, has invited about 200 relatives, hospital workers, friends and volunteers who helped the Bovas through the year.
Smooth Sailing in the First Year
Today, though, will pass with less fanfare. The quints will get a checkup, complete with vaccinations. Lynn will make a cake, the Bovas will sing "Happy Birthday" and 50 little fingers will likely mash frosting into five little mouths.
It's definitely been a year for family members to celebrate, devoid of the health problems and chaos that could have faced them. Since Katie--the last one to master sucking, swallowing and breathing on her own--came home 11 months ago, the only ailments the children have had were their first colds and misshapen heads caused by their being squished together during Lynn's pregnancy. Abigail, Emiline and Samuel still wear padded helmets most of the time to reshape their heads.
"They were in good condition as babies and they have good parenting," said their pediatrician, Paul Feldheim of Ventura.
Conceived with the help of fertility drugs and intrauterine insemination, in which Joe's sperm was injected directly into Lynn's uterus, the quintuplets were born seven weeks early. Their weights ranged from 3 pounds, 15 ounces to 4 pounds, 10 ounces for a relatively hefty total of nearly 22 pounds. Compared with all 1-year-olds, the children are now about average for weight--with Nathan, the smallest at birth, the heaviest at nearly 22 pounds. Emiline is the lightest at 18 1/2 pounds. Their heights are all way above average, Lynn said.
Developmentally, the babies are all average or beyond compared with 10-month-olds, the age they would be if they had been born at full term, Lynn said. Four are crawling. All can stand while holding on to something, and Nathaniel and Abigail are the closest to walking.
The Bovas also seem to have defied the odds when it comes to maintaining order. Space is tight in the Bovas' three-bedroom home, with bins of clothes stacked on each other in what used to be their living room. But it isn't the hectic, crazy place one might expect. In fact, volunteers report, it's usually quite calm.
Joe, the 36-year-old principal of Foothill Technology High School, and Lynn, 31, a former kindergarten teacher, were determined not to endure the chaos they had seen and heard about in other multiple families.
To do this, the Bovas adhere to rigid schedules and continue to accept help. The family received many monetary donations and gifts, including diapers, formula and money to help buy a van. But they feel particularly indebted to the legion of volunteers. In the beginning, 90 people from Ventura Missionary Church and the Ventura Unified School District provided round-the-clock help, Lynn said. Friends and family, including both sets of grandparents, also helped.
"There's no way to measure that," Lynn said. "We couldn't have done it without them."
The Bovas now go at it alone when the quintuplets sleep, but about 60 volunteers still cover 50 shifts a week. Having so many people in their house was tough at first, Lynn said, but those who were strangers have become close and the lack of time spent alone as a family is worth it.
"I just think you have to be willing to sacrifice something," Lynn said. "We'd rather sacrifice some privacy now at this point in our lives in order to have quality time with our kids and [have] healthy lives."
For their part, the quintuplets are an easygoing bunch. They play and babble happily in their cribs until it's time for all of them to get up at 8 a.m. While someone may shout to get the first bottle, most of them patiently wait their turns in a plastic corral filled with toys while their siblings are fed and changed. Even big brother Ryan, whom the couple adopted in 1999, has adjusted well.
"We really feel that God has blessed us with six children who could handle being in a family like ours," Lynn said.
Personalities Begin Coming Into Focus
The quintuplets are not carbon copies of each other. Abigail is the most social and affectionate and has earned the nickname "Grabigail" because she is always grabbing and touching. Katie is the most adventurous and curious. Emiline is the little rascal, independent and stubborn with a talent for making funny faces. Bald, toothless Samuel is the sensitive one and the first to wave and say "Dada." Blue-eyed Nathan, the only blond, likes yelling loudly, banging on things and being where the action is.
And action isn't hard to find. Joe said the biggest blessing of having quintuplets is that there is never a dull moment.
"Somebody is always going to do something to make you laugh or entertain you in some way," he said. "It's constant joy."