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Ventura County

Support After a Brood Awakening

October 27, 2002|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

For Shawna Brino, one of the hardest things about raising quadruplets is managing the chaos. Like when her 4-year-olds taunt each other in the backyard.

"With three boys the same age [her fourth child is a girl], you can imagine the dynamics," said Brino, who lives in the Antelope Valley. "They feed off each other and do crazy things. One will say, 'Hey, I bet you can't jump off the swing set.' And the other ones will try it."

Bringing up triplets, quadruplets and quintuplets can be incredibly challenging, says Brino and other parents of multiples. And that is after enduring a pregnancy that can leave many women debilitated, depressed and downright shellshocked.

To help Southern California parents cope with some of these issues, two suburban mothers of triplets -- one from Simi Valley, the other from Lancaster -- founded a support group two years ago for parents of multiples.

Although parents of twins are welcome, the group is aimed at those who have more than two at a time. At a recent meeting, all but one of the parents had triplets, quads or quints.

Members of Higher Order Multiples Support meet once a month in a conference room at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Woodland Hills, where the drama of their hectic lives unfolds as they trade information and swap hand-me-downs.

They also get some peace and quiet -- mothers leave the children at home with dad on meeting nights, or they hire a sitter.

The recent meeting began with announcements and a look back on the group's popular summer picnic, which drew many television cameras. Then co-founders D'Anne Fraye and Tracy Lujan divided the parents into two groups.

Those with school-age children sat on one side of the room, while those whose babies and toddlers were too young to set foot in a classroom sat on the other. Most in the latter group hung on every word uttered by Dale Sua of Simi Valley, who raised her 19-year-old triplet boys without benefit of support groups and Internet sites.

"My boys were in the same classes through elementary school," Sua told the moms and dads. "One year I agreed to separate them, but the homework and class projects were overwhelming. And the field trips

Fraye and Lujan said they wanted to provide a comfortable, low-key environment where parents could express their concerns and fears with others who could relate to their frustrations.

"Sometimes you just need someplace where people don't look at you like you're crazy," Brino said. "Parents of single children don't understand."

Although several national organizations hold annual conferences and connect parents of multiples over the Internet, "you don't find the nitty-gritty how-to's," Lujan said.

While multiples were once rare, the U.S. multiple birth rate, meaning three or more children born at once, soared from 37 live births per 100,000 in 1980 to 194 live births per 100,000 in 1998. The surge came as women who postponed childbirth turned to fertility treatment to become pregnant. The rate has since tapered off to 181 per 100,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As mothers carry three, four and five babies to term, they find themselves increasingly isolated from a world largely inhabited by singletons and twins, said Janet Blyle, a Stockton mother who founded a national support group, the Triplet Connection, nearly 20 years ago when her triplet boys were born.

Its handbook on bearing and raising triplets is considered by many parents to be the prime authority on the subject.

"The issues are so unique, and no one else understands," Blyle said. "It's wonderful that they [Fraye and Lujan] are doing it."

Expectant parents of multiples face a host of serious health and medical challenges, parents say, including:

* Reduction. Many doctors and insurance companies recommend that pregnant women reduce the number of fetuses they are carrying to one or two to lessen the risk of complications -- and to avoid the high cost of delivering multiples.

* Bed rest. Obstetricians often order pregnant women with multiples to stay in bed 24 hours a day to reduce the risk of early labor caused by physical activity.

* Medication. Doctors often prescribe medication to prevent early labor. A common one is magnesium sulfate, whose side effects include dizziness, blurry vision and loss of muscle control.

* Premature birth. Multiple babies are usually born prematurely, creating a host of medical complications. A team of specialists is usually required to deliver them in a newborn intensive care unit.

After the babies are born, parents are confronted with a new set of questions, such as:

* How do you I keep from becoming a shut-in because it's too much of a production to take the kids out of the house? (Get a relative or friend to help you, experts say. Once you are outside, avoid making eye contact with strangers who might stop you with questions.)

* How do you breast-feed three babies? (First two, then one.)

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