Sunday 24 September 2017

'Once one is awake, all of them are awake' - Parents of Limerick quads on their first five months

Every day, Irish mum Lisa Fenton uses 40 nappies, makes over 20 bottles and has the washer and dryer on the go constantly - raising quadruplets isn't easy, but these proud parents would have it no other way

Quads
Quads
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Quads

Denise Smith

Beyoncé and Jay Z are expecting twins, the Clooneys are seeing double and Pharrell Williams and his wife Helen Lasichanh just welcomed triplets into the world - but these adorable Irish quads have trumped them all.

First-time mum Lisa Fenton is running on five hours sleep when I interrupt her 'quiet time' - it's a brief interlude in her otherwise chaotic day when her quad-squad slumber peacefully.

"They are five-and-a-half months now, so I have started to put them down for a nap in the afternoon in the past couple of weeks," explains the sleep-deprived mum, from Limerick. "When you have four babies under the same roof, routine is everything."

The 34-year-old pre-school teacher gave birth to Alexander Matthew (3lb 6oz) followed by Ashley Cienna (3lb 1oz), Maxwell Lucas (3lb 4oz) and Kayla Marie (3lb 4oz) last October.

For the devoted mum and her partner, Wayne Downey, it was a complete surprise.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think that we would ever be parents of quadruplets, but now, I couldn't imagine my life any other way.

Limerick quadruplets Alexander Matthew, Ashley Cienna, Maxwell Lucas, and Kayla Marie with their mum and dad.
Limerick quadruplets Alexander Matthew, Ashley Cienna, Maxwell Lucas, and Kayla Marie with their mum and dad.

"We do have two sets of twins on my mam's side but quads never even entered my mind. When I was told, I never panicked. I like to be organised, so for me, when I found out that I was having four babies, I just said, 'What do I have to do to prepare?'

"I worried about them being healthy and if it was going to be a complicated pregnancy, because I had never been pregnant before so I didn't know what to expect and I had nothing to compare it to. I just wanted to make sure I had four healthy babies."

Lisa was nearly 32 weeks pregnant when she delivered her bundles of joy through Caesarean section at Limerick Hospital.

"The first baby came home just over a month later - in fact, we had just moved into a new house on the Monday and the first baby came home from the hospital on Thursday.

"Looking back now, I definitely think we were mad, how did we manage to move house in the middle of everything, it was crazy."

For Lisa, there's no ordinary day, but the one thing she can rely on is an early wake-up call.

"I could start the first feed at five o'clock in the morning and I could finish feeding them in an hour and a half.

"Once they are fed, they will go back down to sleep until about 9am.

"They feed every four hours, so at nine, it's feeding time again, then we do tummy time and I change their nappies and clothes.

"Once they're changed, we do some floorwork, they relax and sit in their chairs for a half an hour and then we go again until their next feed which would be about 12.30pm."

If this sounds exhausting, we've only got to lunch. Lunchtime is one of the most anticipated parts of the devoted mum's day where she has time to unwind and catch up on any household necessities.

"They go down for their long nap and that's between 12.30pm and 3pm. Which gives me time to wash bottles, tidy up and catch-up on laundry.

"Then they get back up again it's time for changing, feeding and then they are back on the floor. It's like a circus," she laughs.

At bedtime, it's the same drill.

"They go down to bed at around 8pm but by the time we are finished that feed, it could be 9.30pm.

"The next bottle is at midnight. If they settle, our big sleep is between 12am and 5."

Of course, that's not always the reality.

"If you have one baby that doesn't want as much of a bottle, they wake earlier and start babbling and chatting. Once one is awake, all is awake.

"Right now, they are sleeping in their moses baskets but they will be going into their cots when they are six months.

"They looked so small in their cots that I didn't feel comfortable putting them in, but now they are bigger, they can go into their nursery, it feels like we have reached a milestone."

Lisa may be a supermum by ordinary standards, but she's quick to point out that it would be impossible without the support of her husband, friends and family.

"Wayne took a month off at the start, he works in Limerick Regional Hospital as a porter so he's gone by 8.30am and back around 5pm. Once he's home, he makes the dinner and plays with the lads, that gives me a huge break. I don't know where he gets his energy from.

"I have home help for an hour every morning, a lady from Barnardo's helps me with feeds on Tuesday and Wednesday morning, and on Fridays, I have two lovely women who come in for three hours from Community Mothers. I really do have the most amazing support. I would be lost without them."

On a regular day, Lisa goes through 40 nappies, makes over 20 bottles and is now currently on the lookout for a mummy wagon to transport her growing brood.

"I was changing one of the boys this morning and I used three nappies in the space of 20 minutes and that's just one baby.

"They feed every four hours, so I lose count of the number of bottles. My washing machine and my drier are always going, it never stops.

"They bath every second night in the evening and on the rare occasions we do all go out, it's just for a walk. It's like a conveyor belt, everything is a military operation.

"And now, we have to look for a vehicle that will support all of us. A seven-seater won't do it: the next mission is to find an eight seater.

"I never thought I would ever be one of those mums with an eight-seater," laughs Lisa.

Of course, the hard slog is all worth it.

"They all have their own little personalities. We have Kayla and she is a pure little lady, that's all I can describe her as, and then I have Ashley, who I think will be a tomboy. She is just feisty and loves to be rolled around with.

"The two boys are just gentle giants, they are just so good, you wouldn't even notice that they are there."

Lisa has an admirably laidback attitude when it comes to coping with the every day stressors of caring for her four bundles of joy.

"The midwives were amazing and they told me, 'They are babies, they are going to cry; that is how they are communicating with you'.

"Even now, if two or three were to start crying, I don't allow myself to get stressed out.

"If I have one baby in my arms, the rest are used to my voice, I can settle them with my voice.

"When you have one baby, you can run over and give them a cuddle whenever you want, but if you have more than one baby, you can't pick up four babies at once.

"I never get stressed over them crying; once you are taking care of their needs, you can only do what you can do."

So what are the biggest everyday challenges?

"It's the simple things like realising you forgot to buy a carton of milk and you can't get out. Or wanting a shower.

"But I am lucky, if I have had a bad night's sleep, I can go for an hour's nap with the support I get in the morning.

"At the beginning though, the sleep deprivation was hard. The second I put my head down, one of the babies would be awake."

Lisa has a message for any first-time mums who might be struggling: "If you feel it is too much, ask for support. Even now, every person that comes into the house has a job."

And if she was ever granted the rare gift of having a day off?

"I would probably curl up in bed. Even when I was pregnant, I couldn't sleep. I don't even know what I would do.

"We do get out every two or three weeks to the cinema or for dinner, we need an outlet and our parents and the godparents have been fantastic.

"I feel like we are just incredibly blessed. Having the babies has really put things into perspective, your priorities change.

"Before it was 'Oh, where are we going to go on our holidays?'

"Our first holiday will probably be Ballybunion and the grandparents will have to come with us," says the mum with a smile.

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