Helen O’Callaghan speaks to mother of quadruplets Anita Kelly, who explains how she and husband David juggle day and night to take care of their young sons.
ON the day I talk to Anita Kelly, she’s had a broken night’s sleep.
Which is par for the course for the Offaly-based mum of 18-month-old quads — she also has a two and a half-year-old son.
“Last night, I was up from 2am to 3.30, again from 4.20 to 5.50 and then they all got up for the day at 6.50am.”
Three nights a week, she has a bad sleep. The quads — Tom, James, Charlie and Luke — go to bed at 7.15pm. Her older boy, Matthew, is down at 8.30pm. Anita heads to bed at about 10.30pm.
“At 12.30, one of them could wake. I could be up until 4.30 if one of them sets off the other. I’d be back in bed [after settling one] and another starts up.”
When there are more than two awake, her husband, David, who works for Bord Na Móna, gets up too.
“I let him go back to bed once one is settled — he has work the next day,” says Anita, 32, a nurse who – after the quads’ birth in February 2015 — took six months maternity leave, 16 weeks unpaid leave and a further year on career break. She hopes to return to work and send Matthew to playschool next January.
“I’ve been looking for an au pair but I can’t seem to find one.”
While the quads aren’t currently sleeping great (“they’re all teething”), things have been worse.
“Last June, we just couldn’t get them to sleep. David and I’d be walking the roads with the buggies at 10pm trying to get them off.”
Separating the four brothers into different rooms didn’t work either.
“They were missing each other — they wouldn’t settle.”
Anita contacted a sleep therapist, who suggested no heavy meals prior to bedtime. Now the busy mum has them on a routine of three main meals – breakfast at 7.30am, dinner at 11.30am and supper at 4.30pm – and three snacks: at 9am, 2.30pm and 6.30pm.
“It seems to make a difference.”
Feeding was a marathon in the early days when each had to be fed at 15-30 minute intervals.
“Now I line up all four in their high chairs. I spoon-feed them breakfast and dinner. The rest they eat themselves as finger food. I have one bowl and one spoon and I feed all four.
"If there are two of us doing it, we have two bowls, two spoons. I get it done in 10 minutes. They’re good eaters. I cook dinners once a week and freeze them. We grow our own vegetables.”
Anita’s mum — a retired nurse who lives a 10-minute drive away — helps out five or six days a week from 6.50am to about 3pm.
“It’s busy. It’s very hard work. It’s just a mad-house! There are toys everywhere. Even when the quads nap [for 90 minutes], it’s not like I can lie down. I have Matthew to play with.
"How do I feel? Grand – I have to keep going. You just get used to it. I go with the flow.”
Anita and David feel blessed all four boys are healthy.
“They were very sick at the start. Three had chest drains because of fluid in the lungs. James got an infection in his hip. Tom had a bit of a brain bleed. We worried how he’d develop but we’re happy with how he’s doing.
"It’s all a waiting game. But they’ve been perfect since, an infection here and there, antibiotics now and then, nothing serious.”
Born at 29 weeks, they’re “a bit slower” reaching milestones. Charlie has started walking. Tom and Luke are able to pull themselves up independently.
“James hasn’t the strength yet to pull himself up — he was the smallest at birth.”
Each has his own personality.
“Tom used to be really quiet and sleep all night. He has changed dramatically. Now he’s the cross one — he’s up a good bit at night.
"Charlie’s the biggest and hardiest looking. He’s definitely the most assertive. He doesn’t mind hitting the others, but if they give him a little slap there’s war.
"Luke’s placid enough and so is James – if someone comes in, he’ll stare at the ground, then lift his eyes but not his head.”
Their older brother now realises the potential for fun with his siblings.
“And if one of them is climbing where he shouldn’t, Matthew runs to tell us, so he’s a help as well.”
Anita and David, 33, conceived their quads naturally. Which puts them in a rarefied category— the odds of having ‘spontaneous’ quads is one in 729,000.
“My mum was a twin. So was David’s,” says Anita, who recalls the radiographer telling her at the 10-week scan: “I don’t just see one baby. I don’t just see two or three. I see four.”
Anita was “just shocked, in disbelief this could even happen”.
Initially told one was a girl, she was surprised when she woke after the emergency c-section to find she’d had four boys.
“I didn’t mind so long as they were all well. And it’s easier to sort out their clothes!
“I’m tired at times but I feel blessed. Not everyone has four children [quads] alive and well. And it’ll get easier. I’m looking forward to the years ahead, to the craic and the Christmases. It’s great to have young kids at a young age.”
Until last December, the HSE provided the Kellys with a carer five nights a week (11pm to 7am).
Anita’s sisters, Orla and Una, help out on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons respectively.
“David’s family is only a text or phone call away.”
But, as a couple they don’t get out much, though they’ve managed it once or twice and have been to a friend’s wedding.
“We made three attempts to get away for a weekend but we had to come home each time because one of the babies was sick. But we’re still going. We’re still married. And I’m pretty easy-going,”says Anita.
Anita Kelly was at the launch of the Sudocrem Baby Changing Room Awards 2016 – visit www.sudocrem.ie to register your vote - closing date is today.
Best parenting advice you received:
“My sister-in-law gave me a sign that I’ve got stuck up on my kitchen wall — ‘Keep calm and carry on’.”
What’s been most challenging?
“At the start, the quads had a lot of appointments. It was hard trying to keep on top of everything. We had to buy a nine-seater Volkswagen transporter.”
What’s the biggest ongoing challenge?
“Lack of sleep — and trying to provide for five small children.”
On the parenting front, what strengths does David have that you don’t?
“He’s great at keeping them entertained. He’ll get down on the floor with them while I’m preparing dinner. He’s a bit calmer than I am.”
And what’s your strength?
“Organising — dinner and clothes everyday for them plus doing the housework.”
What do the boys love doing most?
“They love anything that makes noise. They have these little cars they go around on. They love throwing a ball. They love farm stories, about tractors and cows.”
What would you do if you got a day off?
“I wouldn’t know what to do! I wouldn’t be able to think straight — my head is always full of babies. Recently though, my brother and his fiancé took all the kids for a day and my mum took them for a sleepover. And I had my friends from work down to visit. It was great craic. I got very sleepy at around 2am but I kept on going.”
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