Parents Sarah and Bruce Plauche hold quintuplets, from left, Owen, Miles, Corinne, Reece and Tessa. (Donna Price / American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, April 01, 2013 10:18 AM
Five times a day, vehicles pull up in front of the Plauche home on Julius Street in Lake Charles. Several volunteers pile out, knock on the front door and enter a room full of five hungry 6-month-old babies who need their diapers changed. It’s time to get busy.
Then, in just over an hour, the Plauche quintuplets, Owen Parker, Tessa Quinn, Reece William, Miles Shepherd and Corinne Elise, (they were born in that order) have fresh diapers and full bellies. They’ve also been burped, hugged and cuddled by volunteers and one or both parents. The volunteers file out and the Plauche home quiets down somewhat until the next changing/feeding session four hours later.
It’s a daily ritual that leaves some visitors wondering just how parents Bruce and Sarah Plauche manage it all. On Sept. 7, 2012, the household mushroomed from just the two of them and a golden retriever named Deuce to a family of seven when the quintuplets were born.
The saga began in 2011 when the couple, married since 2006, consulted a fertility specialist. On the third attempt of a process known as intrauterine insemination, Sarah became pregnant with quintuplets.
When the couple first learned they were having five children, Bruce was elated. “At the time, I was pretty much oblivious to all the risks and concerns,” he said.
Sarah, on the other hand, admits to feeling joyful, yet afraid. She was aware that as parents they would probably be confronted with a difficult decision. They soon were. A procedure called multifetal pregnancy reduction is presented for consideration by parents in pregnancies with high numbers of fetuses. This procedure involves injecting one or more fetuses with a lethal medication.
The thinking behind the procedure is that by reducing the number of fetuses, the remaining ones may have a better chance for health and survival. The couple was presented with this option, and decided against it.
The goal then became for Sarah to keep from going into early labor for as long as possible.
The usual gestation time for human infants is 40 weeks. Sarah first went into labor at 25 weeks, and credits Dr. David McAlpine at Women’s and Children’s Hospital for stopping the labor and getting her safely to Houston, a trip she made by ambulance. The babies were delivered there at Texas Children’s Hospital Pavilion for Women at 28 weeks — three months earlier than normal. Sarah remained in Houston until the last babies were released from the hospital on Nov. 30.
At birth, the babies all weighed between 2 pounds 4 ounces and 2 pounds 9 ounces. Now, at six months, the babies are all between 11.5 and 14.5 pounds.
All are healthy.
Dr. Robert Carpenter, the OB/GYN physician who delivered the babies, said the fact that none of the quintuplets suffered from intra-ventricular hemorrhage (or “bleeding in the brain”) is “pretty remarkable.”
There have been some minor setbacks. At three months, all five babies contracted strept throat. Owen came down with it first, and it quickly spread to the other four babies. Then, at five months, Reece had surgery to have a hernia repaired, but his recovery was quick and uneventful.
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As with any parents of young babies, the Plauches don’t get a tremendous amount of sleep, but things did get better this month when the babies began skipping the 2 a.m. feeding.
And though the feeding of babies is a continuous activity at the Plauche home, the feeding of the parents has taken a back seat. Sarah said she was never much of a cook anyway, and now there is not much time for it even if she were.
“It’s hard to be healthy,” said Bruce, who says he tries to make and eat lots of salads. Cereal and Lean Cuisine frozen dinners are eaten on a regular basis.
House cleaning is another activity that doesn’t take top priority with round-the-clock feedings and the necessary washing and sterilizing of what was once 30 but is now down to 25 baby bottles each day.
“My mom comes over and mops once a week,” said Sarah. Her mother, Shawn Parks, also arrives at 6 a.m. every day to prepare all the baby bottles for the next 24-hour period. Parks also does laundry, empties the dishwasher, and watches the babies while her daughter gets in a morning nap.
Having five babies in the house does present some unique challenges. The days of being able to pick up and go anywhere at a moment’s notice, are gone — at least for now. In fact, until two weeks ago when the Plauches purchased a van, the family of seven could not go anywhere together in one vehicle.
When the babies need to visit the pediatrician for vaccines, it’s done in shifts — three on one day and two on another.
“I try to have a one-to-one ratio of helpers to babies when we go,” said Sarah.
The babies go through 35 diapers and a little over a gallon of Similac baby formula each day. A month’s supply of formula fills one wall of a storage room off the couple’s garage.
The babies also each get one bottle of breast milk a day, thanks to several donors.
Every day is laundry day at the Plauche home, and with five babies, there are 50 fingernails and 50 toenails to keep trimmed on a regular basis so they won’t scratch themselves or each other.
Bath nights are Wednesdays and Saturdays and the process is done assembly-line style with four adults participating. Each baby is undressed, washed in the baby tub, dried off, moisturized with baby lotion, diapered, and dressed again.
An army of more than 80 volunteers helps keep things moving smoothly. A weekly schedule of round-the-clock feeding times has been coordinated by friend Susie Lytle since the babies came home.
One Sunday, it was mentioned at St. Luke-Simpson United Methodist Church, where Sarah and her parents attend, that the Plauches would need help when the babies were released from the hospital in Houston.
Lytle, herself the mother of 9-year-old twin girls, volunteered to coordinate all the volunteers.
She was surprised at the large number of people who signed up to help, she said.
“We have a group of regular volunteers, and an awesome bunch of volunteers that jump in when our regulars aren’t able to be there. I have been so humbled by this experience. It has been an absolute blessing,” said Lytle.
Every Sunday, she emails a weekly schedule of who is to feed and change the babies at what times for the next seven days.
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The birth of the quintuplets has changed both parents. For Bruce, it means working more hours as a clinical director at Volunteers of America and as a counselor at New Horizons Counseling Center.
Sarah, a behavior analyst who is now a stay-at-home mom, said she has had to become more organized. With five infants being fed five times a day, sticking with a strict schedule is imperative.
On the other hand, Sarah says she’s learning to just “go with the flow.”
“I’m a Type A. But I’m learning to just take things as they come,” she said.
Even with all the volunteers, there are times when Sarah is the only adult in the house and all the babies are crying at once. Sarah is now undaunted by this scenario.
“I just put them on their tummies in a circle around me on the floor. I give them all a (pacifier) and pat them on their backs. It’s like playing drums. I can also hold two and rock one (in a baby carrier) with my foot,” she said.
Overall, though, the couple says they are surprised at how good the babies are.
“They don’t cry a lot,” said Sarah.
When they do, both parents can quickly identify which one is in distress by the sound of the cry, even from another room. Corinne has been dubbed “the siren” because of her distintive cry, which is a series of short, loud bursts.
Corrine also has another nickname: Cornie. It came about when a government agency employee misunderstood the baby’s name when on the phone with Sarah, thinking the mother said the baby’s name was Cornie instead of Corrine.
Tessa got the nickname “Chestnut” in the same way from a similar phone conversation on another day.
As far as the official naming of the babies, Sarah had final say on all except one: Miles Shepherd. Bruce, a “Star Trek” fan, named Miles after character Miles Edward O’Brien, played by Colm Meaney, on the television series “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”
The name Shepherd came from Shepherd Book, a fictional character played by Ron Glass in the science-fiction/western television series “Firefly.”
Miles, by the way, is the baby who wants to communicate the most, his parents say.
“He’ll probably be our first talker,” said Sarah.
None of the babies are identical — all are fraternal. However most visitors are quick to point out the strong resemblance all of them have to their father.
“It’s like having five clones,” Bruce quipped.
With five babies in such close proximity, things happen. Once, during a diaper change on the floor, baby Owen released a spray of urine that landed on his sister Tessa’s face.
“Thankfully her mouth was closed,” said Sarah.
It’s fun to see what makes the babies laugh and smile, both parents said.
The couple disagrees on who was the first to smile. Sarah says it was Owen. Bruce said it was Corrine. Sarah says Corrine was too young when that “smile” occurred and that it was just the result of Corrine having a bout of gas. Tessa is currently regarded as the baby who smiles the most, with Reece holding the title of “happiest over all.”
It’s a joy “just watching them develop and seeing their personalities emerge,” said Sarah,
At six months, the babies are said to be developmentally at three months, because they were born prematurely. With that being considered, the babies are developing normally.
Both Sarah and Bruce have high praise for their mothers, who have been “really supportive.” Sarah’s mother and Bruce’s mother, Marcia Plauche, are always there for them when needed, they say.
With help from family and friends, Sarah does occasionally get to leave the house.
Her mother-in-law comes over once a week while Sarah attends an exercise class.
And once a month, Bruce’s supervisor and four of his coworkers come over to babysit so the parents can go out for an evening alone.
“These five ladies call themselves the VOA (Volunteers of America) aunties,” said Bruce.
The biggest surprise of the whole experience has been the generosity of people, said Sarah.
“We appreciate everyone that comes to help. We couldn’t do it without them,” she said. “With all the volunteers, it’s like a giant family. The volunteers always ask, ‘How are my babies?”
As far as baby basics, the Plauche’s are covered. They have five cribs, a changing table, and various infant seats. They are, however, continually needing more diapers, baby wipes, soap, dishwashing liquid, paper towels and other consumable items.
People have donated baby clothing diapers and supplies. Some friends of the couple even set up a trust fund for the quintuplets at First Federal Savings and Loan, with one anonymous donor contributing $2,500.
Registered nurse Linda Findley, who attends Sarah’s church, shows up at the Plauche home every Sunday afternoon to feed the babies.
“I think that all the people at St. Luke-Simpson Church who prayed for Sarah and Bruce and the babies from the get-go made a huge difference. Not everyone can show up for feedings but they can pray and there are a ton of people who pray daily for these babies,” Findley said.
Findley, who also comes over every morning to help Sarah’s mother sterilize and fill the baby bottles with formula, said the morning ritual “is a great way to start the day — with five little miracles.”