Crazy, rewarding year for Benton City parents, quadruplets

BENTON CITY -- Patrick and Felishia Burchard had plans. Instead, they had quadruplets.

After a challenging start, the four newest members of the Burchard family turn 1 on Thursday.

Ryder, Racer, Max and Mia are healthy -- crawling and pulling themselves up at tables and chairs as though they could take off on their own at any minute.

What a difference a year makes.

The Benton City couple had a 6-year-old son and planned to have another in a few years. But Felishia had trouble getting pregnant. The couple decided to try in vitro fertilization after the doctor assured them he took precautions to prevent a multiple birth.

The Burchards weren't expecting to welcome four babies into the world.

They shied away from publicly announcing the quadruplets after stories like that of the Octomom, a California woman who received much media attention when she had octuplets in January 2009. They didn't want that kind of attention, Felishia said.

Even when they took the kids out, they got strange looks. And some people have said things without thinking to the Burchards.

"One woman came up to me and said, 'If that was me I would cut my throat,' " Felishia said. "That's a hurtful thing."

It's not like that was their plan.

There's 4 in there

The Burchards' home pregnancy test came back positive on July 4, 2009.

A few days later Felishia went to her doctor and got a blood test to confirm the new family member was on the way.

The blood test showed a high possibility of twins.

Felishia and Patrick talked and decided it wasn't what they expected, but they could handle it.

A week later, at the ultrasound, the technician pointed to the screen and showed the Burchards' Baby A.

And Baby B.

And Baby C.

And Baby D.

"I said, 'No,' " Felishia said. " 'No. ... No. ... No.' "

And from that point on, the pregnancy was a whirlwind of doctors, tests and worry. Lots of worry.

Felishia, 36, went to a Tri-Cities maternal fetal medicine specialist. The pregnancy was "very, very high risk." Two of the babies were identical twins who shared the same placenta, putting them at a much higher risk of complications.

The doctor told them one twin likely wouldn't survive. He told Felishia she probably would deliver her babies before she was 28 weeks along into her 40-week pregnancy. The surviving children could be blind, deaf or have cerebral palsy.

"That was the first visit," remembered Felishia.

Then he suggested she "reduce the pregnancy."

"We said that's not an option for us," she said.

There wasn't much time to take it all in.

There were three trips to Portland to check out hospitals.

They chose Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, and Felishia was off for a two-week evaluation in Portland, after which she was put on bed rest. That meant she couldn't keep her job as a hair stylist. She still could do her part-time medical transcription work.

Patrick, the Eastern Washington operations manager for fertilizer firm Perfect Blend Organics, immediately sat down with his bosses.

"I said, 'This is my situation, this is my schedule and the way my life will be," Patrick, 35, remembered telling them.

He worried he would lose his job. But the company's two owners instead offered to pay for 24-hour help once the babies were born.

Felishia was admitted to the hospital at 20 weeks because there were signs labor could start soon. At about the five-month mark in the pregnancy, she said she was as big as when her son was born.

The babies pressed on her ribs as they grew.

"I was so miserable," she said. "There wasn't a day I didn't cry."

Many chip in

But she said her husband didn't show any worry or disappointment. "He was like, 'This is our family.' "

Their son Maverick was in kindergarten, so Felishia's parents came from Salem to take care of him while Patrick tried to balance work and getting to Portland to see his wife.

She didn't get to see Maverick for a month after the hospital banned anyone younger than 18 from visiting because of H1N1 flu concerns.

Felishia's days were filled with tests to make sure the babies were OK and her body was handling the strain. She was trying to eat enough calories to make sure the babies were nourished. The nurses constantly were pushing protein shakes.

At Thanksgiving, the family rented a motel room about a mile from the hospital and all of their friends and family came to visit.

By that time, Felishia was using a walker to get around. The ultrasounds came every day. Getting her in and out of bed was a challenge.

"It was like moving a whale," Felishia said.

At 24 weeks, the doctors asked the pair the question most expectant parents never have to face: If they come tomorrow, do we resuscitate?

They decided to make that call when they saw what medical problems the babies were born with. Quadruplets are rare. Only 369 sets were born in the U.S. in 2007.

Finally the pregnancy was beginning to take a dangerous toll on Felishia's liver.

So when the babies were just 29 weeks along, the doctors announced they were taking her into the delivery room in an hour.

There were two delivery areas, one for the mom and one for the babies. There were four or more medical staffers for each baby.

The teams were ready to get the babies breathing, but Patrick said each one let out a cry as he or she was delivered by Caesarean section.

Tiny 4 arrive

The babies were tiny when they arrived. Mia, the largest, weighed 3 pounds. Twins Racer and Ryder each weighed 2 pounds, 11 ounces, and Max was the smallest at 2 pounds, 5 ounces.

All the babies needed oxygen, but Max was the weakest. His weight quickly dropped to 1 pound, 7 ounces.

Racer's lung collapsed shortly after he was born. Mia had a heart murmur, and the doctors were considering surgery for a while.

But they all grew stronger day by day. Felishia was staying at the nearby Ronald McDonald House so she could nurse them.

Racer and Ryder got to leave the hospital a month and a half later. Mia followed in two weeks. But Max still was struggling. The nurses were having trouble keeping his oxygen levels up.

"They called one day and said, 'You need to get over here right now,' " Felishia said. "They worked on him for 45 minutes."

Max joined his brothers and sister at home March 6.

Then it was poop charts and pee charts and food charts to make sure the babies properly were digesting.

It was the fight to get them on an eating schedule that helped their weary parents finally get some sleep. Then it was getting the babies to sleep through the night and to protect their fragile immune systems.

"We were like Nazis," Felishia said. "No one touches our kids if they may be sick."

A year later

Now as the toddlers approach their first birthday, they obviously are healthy and happy.

Last week, after changing more than 8,400 diapers, feeding them 72 gallons of breast milk and 130 gallons of formula, the Burchards took a few minutes -- that's about all they have -- to look back.

"It was really hard to enjoy this pregnancy," Felishia said. "It was so scary and heavy."

She credits her husband with getting her through it all.

"Patrick was my rock."

It also helped that they could hire a nanny. They didn't have trouble finding a daytime nanny ready to take on the challenge of four babies and a 6-year-old. Finding help at night wasn't as easy.

"One girl made it one night," Felishia said.

Finally, they got help for the nights from friends, many from their West Richland congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. Felishia and Patrick would take one night and a volunteer would take the next.

"It's been a very humbling experience," Felishia said.

The couple can laugh about much of it now that they know the babies are reaching their milestones. They said they know their life will be nothing like the one they planned.

"It wasn't the journey we set out to take," Felishia said. "But it's the path we'll follow."