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At an obstetrician appointment in the spring of 2008, when Jamie Ferrante was 31 years old and six weeks pregnant, she was worried that she was having a second miscarriage.
“But then my doctor told me, ‘This is quite the opposite. I see one, two, three, four heartbeats,’ ” says Jamie.
Five weeks later, another doctor discovered a fifth heartbeat.
Many women in Jamie’s shoes would have been a little frightened by the news, since caring for quintuplets certainly isn’t easy and because carrying multiple children has higher medical risks than carrying a single child, such as early labor and low birth weight. But Jamie wasn’t fazed.
“I was so happy to be pregnant. I just thought, ‘OK, this is what I got,’ ” she says.
Since Jamie had trouble getting pregnant naturally, she had undergone intrauterine insemination, which means that sperm were placed in her uterus around the time of ovulation. She also got injections to help her ovulate, which increased her chance for a multiple pregnancy.
While she was pregnant, she felt a lot of pressure from doctors to reduce two or three babies.
“I was told that there was more than a 65 percent chance of at least one baby having a disability. But I wasn’t going to allow anyone to play God. I can’t imagine my life without any of my five kids,” says Jamie. “For three months, I couldn’t find a doctor who would take me as a patient. Nobody on Staten Island had delivered quintuplets before.”
Sixteen weeks into her pregnancy, Jamie had to leave her job as co-manager of The Children’s Place to go on modified bed rest. At 23 weeks, she went to Staten Island University Hospital and stayed there until she delivered via a C-section.
After 27 weeks and five days, on Dec. 27, 2008, Jamie was delighted to meet her five children for the first time: Alessia Louise (2 pounds), Amanda Frances (1 pound, 8 ounces), Emily Ann (2 pounds, 1 ounce), Matthew Sabatino (2 pounds, 4.5 ounces), and Ella Lilliana (1 pound, 15.5 ounces).
“At the hospital, my doctor was the most amazing person in the world. His name is Paul Heltzer, MD,” says Jamie. “He was so calm and reassuring. After he delivered my last baby, he said, ‘I need to take out your right ovary. You have ovarian cancer that was never diagnosed.’ So he also saved my life and helped me realize why I had such a hard time getting pregnant. He came to visit me every day I was in the hospital to see how I was doing.”
Dr. Heltzer wasn’t the only one who impressed Jamie. The 40 hospital staffers who were assigned to help with the birth of her children also blew her mind.
“They were all on call, just waiting for me to go into labor. Once I delivered, each baby had a team of six or seven people caring for it. The babies were labeled ‘A, B, C, D, and E’ and the team members wore shirts with corresponding letters on them. It was so cool,” says Jamie.
The five babies were tiny and fragile right after birth.
“Their skin was see-through. With one of my daughters, every time a doctor touched her skin, it bled,” says Jamie. There was a scare when Emily had a brain bleed, but, fortunately, it cleared up on its own. There was another moment of concern when doctors realized that Matthew was born without one pinky finger bone, so one of his pinkies was removed.
“I said, ‘That’s it? That was my huge chance of disability? Thank God. Who needs a pinky?’ ” says Jamie. Beyond those two hiccups, the babies were all doing well. “I was so proud that I was able to carry five healthy babies.”
As the children grew stronger, they were released from the Natal Intensive Care Unit one by one over several months. Life for Jamie and her husband Kevin, an operating engineer who was 34 at the time, became very regimented.
“We stuck to a feeding schedule of 2:00, 5:00, 8:00 and 11:00, around the clock. And we were changing them constantly,” says Jamie. The norm was going through 40 diapers a day, 40 bottles a day, and seven cases of specialized formula a week. “I didn’t get much sleep at night, because I would stand over their cribs to make sure they were breathing,” says Jamie.
As the kids got older, new challenges presented themselves. Just when Jamie and Kevin had mastered the baby routine, the kids started to crawl.
“And when they started walking, that turned my world around. They were everywhere, all at the same time,” says Jamie. Sickness was — and still is — a hassle, because when one gets the flu, they all get the flu.
“Then they learned to fight,” says Jamie. “Sometimes I feel like a referee.”
One day in the car, the kids were being particularly difficult. All five were screaming at once and Jamie started laughing. Kevin asked what she was laughing about. She said to him: “Before they were born, we didn’t even know if these kids would have lungs that would work. Listen to the lungs that these kids have!”
Even when things are hard, she appreciates her good fortune.
“I always remember that we beat the odds and I’m so grateful for that,” says Jamie.
Another part of life that took some getting used to: being a local celebrity in Staten Island. Sometimes, it has its downsides.
“Some people are rude,” says Jamie. “One lady at a mall once asked me, ‘Are they all normal?’ ” But for the most part, Jamie says the kind comments from people in her community are nice. “People will see me in 7-11 and say, ‘Oh, I saw your babies in the newspaper. They’re so big now,’ ” says Jamie.
Now that the kids are in school, Jamie would like to work again.
“After I dropped them off at kindergarten, I came home and started crying. The house was so quiet!” says Jamie.
The Ferrante family was thrilled to celebrate the kids’ fifth birthdays this past December at a party hosted by Staten Island University Hospital with all the doctors and nurses who helped bring the children into the world.
“It was so nice to see everyone who had taken such good care of my kids,” says Jamie. The hospital workers provided a dazzling, three-layer fondant cake that was decorated with snowflakes, gingerbread men, and snowmen. They gave the children Build-a-Bears, as well as Crayola backpacks filled with art supplies.
The hospital staffers enjoyed seeing how much all five children had grown.
“The fact that they all turned out so well is like hitting the Lotto. It’s definitely a reason to celebrate,” said Dr. James Ducy, director of obstetrics and maternal fetal medicine at the hospital.
Lately, the kids have been on a kick where one will say to Jamie, “I need to hug you” or “I need to kiss you,” and then the others will immediately follow suit.
“It becomes a train. They all jump on me until I say, ‘I can’t breathe anymore!’ ” says Jamie. Moments like these are why she became a mom. Jamie put it best when she said: “I’ve got five times the gray hair, but I get five times the love.”
Jane Bianchi was an editor at Seventeen, Family Circle, and Good Housekeeping, and now freelance writes for a variety of publications. She lives with her husband in Brooklyn.
©2014 Community Newspaper Group
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