When Meryl Ferraro was on bed rest for two months, awaiting the birth of her quintuplets in an Arizona hospital, the Olympics were on television almost constantly during the first three weeks of her stay. As her belly grew (somewhat lopsided, by the way), she said he began to see making her pregnancy last 34 weeks as her own sort of Olympic challenge.
"It's just determination," Ferraro said. "If you decide this is what you want, you've got to give it all you have."
Most quintuplets are born between 24 and 28 weeks into pregnancy, sometimes causing them to be born with underdeveloped lungs, cerebral palsy, and sight and hearing deficiencies. So it was crucial for Ferraro to keep her babies inside as long as possible to give their tiny bodies more time to grow. Full-term pregnancy is typically about 38 weeks.
Early on, doctors told her to reduce the number of fetuses she was carrying, but Ferraro and her husband, John, decided they couldn't bear to choose which babies would live and which would die. After John read a chapter in a book about multiple births written by Dr. John Elliott, they found out he lived 45 minutes from their California home and gave him a call.
Elliott specialized in high-risk pregnancies. He delivered his first quadruplets in 1984, and has delivered 99 sets in all. He'd also delivered 12 sets of quintuplets when Ferraro met him.
And this month, he delivered two more sets of quints: one to Meryl and one to Carmen Matthews, who met Meryl in July and gave birth a few weeks before Meryl did. Both families temporarily moved to Arizona to keep Elliott as their doctor when he relocated to Banner Desert Medical Center in July. (John actually took all the seats out of his van and put a mattress in back when Meryl was 23 weeks pregnant, so he could drive her from their home in Southern California to Mesa, Ariz.)
Both moms were nurses; both sought fertility treatment; and both gave birth to five babies with September birthdays.
Once Matthews gave birth, Meryl was even more uncomfortable -- both ready to hold her babies in her arms and desperate to keep them inside just a few weeks longer. Quoting her husband, Meryl said giving birth to quints at 32 weeks instead of 28 weeks was like the difference between a "fender-bender and a front-end collision." She'd take the fender-bender.
Her water broke at 5:15 a.m. Wednesday morning, when she was 32 weeks and five days pregnant. All five babies were born via Caesarean section between 11:01 and 11:04 a.m. There was a team of 24 people in the operating room and another 50 in recovery.
When she went into labor and knew she wouldn't make it to 34 weeks, Meryl said the first thing she felt was anger. In the Olympic challenge she dreamed up, 33 weeks was only worth a sliver metal, and she wanted to reach the 34-week mark she'd imagined as gold.
"I was so mad because I had this goal, and, to me, I didn't reach it," she said.
But in the days since delivering, she's gotten to know the three girls and two boys she felt nudge her from the inside for so long. She already knows Gabby can sleep through anything, Addy (the smallest) is a fighter, and Riley (the biggest) is kind of lazy, she said. She calls Riley "my chubber."
Meryl Ferraro, 39, and 5-day-old daughter Addy, a quintuplet.
Although Meryl says her stomach feels as sore as if she's done "1,000 crunches," and she's getting used to walking again after two months in bed, she can go home to her temporary apartment in Arizona today. The quints will stay in the NICU until they're ready to leave, too.