Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Life with Quads

Despite highs and lows, the Besslers see their 4-month-old babies as blessings - not burdens

By Michele Day
Enquirer contributor

        MANCHESTER, Ind. — Mary Bessler tiptoed up to the two cribs in the back of the family room. Hannah, Isaiah, Isaac and Isabella had just completed their once-every-three-hour routine — a 5-ounce bottle of formula and a diaper change. Now they were all in bed; all was quiet; and naptime was next on the schedule.

The Bessler quads, from top: Isaac, Isaiah, Isabella, Hannah.
(Greg Ruffing photo)
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        Mrs. Bessler peeked inside the cribs to make sure everybody was sleeping peacefully. “Uh, oh,” she says with a grin at her husband, Rob. “They're ALL AWAKE.”

        Life rarely goes according to plan for the Besslers these days, not since the April 8 birth of quadruplets transformed this average small-town family into one of the country's most out-of-the-ordinary households.

        Giving birth to quadruplets is, in itself, rare — it happens to about 500 women a year in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. But what makes the Besslers even more unusual is that the family already included three children.

        And most unusual: The couple had not been on any fertility drugs when the quadruplets were conceived. Doctors estimate that more than 90 percent of quadruplet births are related to fertility drugs and the odds of spontaneous quads are from 1 in 500,000 to 1 in a million.

        “It's exceedingly rare,” says Dr. Deward Voss, the high-risk pregnancy obstetrician who delivered the Bessler quads in a crowded and joyous operating room at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati.

        “I'll probably never in my career see a set of spontaneous quadruplets again. It's really very miraculous.”

A prayer is answered

        Like their doctor, the Besslers view their children's birth as a miracle. They also see it as the direct — and unexpected — answer to a prayer.

        Mrs. Bessler had been reading the bestselling book, The Prayer of Jabez, which encourages believers to ask God for extravagant blessings.

        “We were on the chapter about blessings when it came to me to pray for God to give me a blessing that's so overwhelming that only by your strength can I handle it,” she recalled.

        A few months later, a shocked ultrasound technician would point to four tiny heads on a screen — and suggest the Besslers go immediately to the hospital.

        Carrying and giving birth to quadruplets is extremely risky.

        “These can be just catastrophic pregnancies for families,” Dr. Voss says.

        The requirements that the pregnant woman maintain complete bed rest, coupled with looming fears about complications when the babies are born, cause many women to need antidepressants, Dr. Voss says. But the Besslers amazed their doctors with their resilience.

        “I've never met a couple that's more prepared to be parents of quadruplets,” Dr. Voss says. “They were very motivated and accepting of the restrictions and just had an incredible serenity throughout the entire pregnancy. They're probably some of the most calm people I've ever met.”

        Mrs. Bessler had to endure about three months of bed rest. The only time she was allowed out of the house was for visits to Dr. Voss' office in Cincinnati — about an hour's drive away — one to three times a week.

        On one of those visits — when Mrs. Bessler was 30 1/2 weeks into her pregnancy — events took another unexpected turn. Doctors were concerned about a decrease in Isabella's blood flow and wanted to deliver the babies that day.

        With Mr. Bessler operating the video camera and a medical team that included about three nurses and one doctor per baby, the quads arrived to what Dr. Voss called a “celebration.”

        Though almost 10 weeks premature, the babies were healthy. Hannah and Isabella weighed in at about 2 1/2 pounds each. The boys tipped the scales at about 3 1/2 pounds each.

Emotional roller coaster

        Mrs. Bessler describes the birth as one of the high points of an experience that's been an emotional roller coaster.

        A low period came May 3, when Isabella developed a staph infection that required surgery at Children's Hospital Medical Center. The family's spirits soared when Hannah, Isaiah and Isaac came home from the hospital on May 5; then they rejoiced again when Isabella followed two weeks later.

        Still, Isabella remained on an antibiotic, which she took through an IV, for six weeks.

        “It's up and down and up and down,” Mrs. Bessler says. “We just trust in God that everything's going to work out.”

        Tests show the Bessler girls are identical, but doctors won't be able to tell for sure about the boys until they are a little older.

        In the meantime, the family relies on color-coded outfits, a bump on Isaac's ear and Isabella's small size to tell the quads apart. (“It was a scary thing taking those hospital bracelets off,” Mrs. Bessler says.)

        To cope with the demands of nurturing four babies, a pre-schooler and two elementary-age children, the Besslers must rely on the help of family members and friends from the Grace Church of the Valley in Lawrenceburg, Ind.

        Grandparents are the most reliable volunteers. Mrs. Bessler's parents, Vince and Doris Roll of Delhi Township, make the trip to Manchester about every other day.

        And on the afternoon when Mrs. Bessler discovered the four awake babies, Mr. Bessler's parents, Joe and Laverne of Lakeside Park, were the volunteers on duty. With their help, a potential crisis was quickly averted.

        Dad gently tossed Hannah, dressed in her color-coded pink sleeper, on his shoulder. Grandpa snuggled up with Isaac — color code green — on the couch. Grandma settled into the chair with Isaiah — color code blue. And Mom kept Isabella — wearing signature yellow — in her arms.

        But scheduling volunteer helpers 24 hours a day, seven days a week is a nearly impossible feat for Mr. Bessler, who also has a full-time job helping run the family salvage yard business in Hebron, Ky.

        Having “guests” in the house at all hours of the day and night also gets tiresome, he says.

        “But it's necessary,” his wife reminded him, and he readily agreed. “We can't handle it by ourselves,” he says.

        Night shifts are always difficult. At best, there's usually a two-hour stretch where all four babies are sleeping at once, Mrs. Bessler says.

        The most stressful times, however, are when the Besslers take the babies to doctor's appointments.

        “It's been a real challenge getting places on time, trying to judge how much time it takes us to get ready,” Mrs. Bessler says. “We always seem to be running late.”

        Her husband interrupted: “I think we need to start a half hour earlier next time.” Mrs. Bessler smiled. “Sometimes I think we should start the day before,” she says.

Gifts from God

        Despite the difficulties, the Besslers feel blessed rather than burdened by the quadruplets' birth.

        “Children are a gift from God,” Mr. Bessler says as he rocked Hannah in his arms. “I believe that. It's not always easy but people don't know how rich we are.”

        The Besslers older children — Sarah, 8, Joshua, 6 and Noah, 3 — have adapted well to the attention-grabbing additions to the family. Sarah frequently helps feed her newborn brothers and sisters. “When we're really in a big pinch, we let Joshua feed them,” Mrs. Bessler says. “Noah just gets to hold them.”

        As seasoned parents, the Besslers know they have many different experiences to come after the quads outgrow bottles and diapers.

        “We look at our 3-year-old and think, "Oh my, four 3-year-olds going through potty training and other stages,' ” Mrs. Bessler says. “Doing this four times — it's going to be a trip. It should be fun though. We're excited.”

        She's especially looking forward to watching the relationships and bonds between her children.

        “I really want to keep a journal and write down things,” she says. “But I haven't started it yet. I haven't had time yet.”

        Time will always be in short supply in the home of quadruplets. But friends and family say the Besslers are ideal people for the situation.

        “Between all our sons and daughters, Rob and Mary are the only ones who could handle this,” Joe Bessler says.

        Mary Bessler shook her head. “That's what we always hear,” she says. “People say, "If there's anybody who can handle it, you two can.' ” She laughed and added, “I think people are just glad it's not them.”

        No, her father-in-law insisted:

        “I think it's God knows what he's doing.”

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