With zero experience changing a diaper or holding a bottle, Margaret and Michael Baudinet, now in their mid-thirties, suddenly had more infants than they could both hold in two arms. The Baudinets, with Ava, Clara, Millie, Luke and Izzie, their quintuplets––now two years old––moved to Crozet last month.
Luckily, they had time to prepare. The couple––who had already experienced a couple of miscarriages––sought medical help earlier in the pregnancy while on vacation and were stunned when the sonographer found four heartbeats. “We were just in shock,” Margaret said. “Michael could barely talk.” Once home, their doctor confirmed there were actually five hearts in five tiny bodies.
Thus began a kind of race against the clock, only backwards. Margaret’s job was to prolong the pregnancy as many weeks as she could, giving her children the best possible chance for survival. “I was to eat 4,000 calories a day and gain 100 pounds,” she said. “I wasn’t prepared for the strain it put on my joints and muscles.” Towards the end, she used a wheelchair to move around, swimming for exercise and pain relief. Margaret, who had spent years as a dancer, understood that she was undertaking an athletic event that would use all her powers of focus, discipline and physical endurance. “The Rio Olympics were that summer,” she recalled. “I realized that having the quintuplets would be my Olympics.”
Meanwhile, the couple began to collect what they needed. “The registry alone was overwhelming,” Margaret said. “We needed five of everything.” They found gadgets and ingenious devices designed to feed, transport and contain multiple babies. They also knew they would need additional manpower for the infants, so they lined up family, friends, volunteers, au pairs and paid help,
Michael’s an attorney and Margaret is an executive at a college counseling firm that she co-founded, and they did extensive research. They found an American doctor who has delivered 24 sets of quintuplets and more than a hundred sets of quadruplets.
He was in Arizona, so they moved there, as he instructed, and prepared a temporary home both to wait for the birth and receive the babies afterwards. The quintuplets were born at 32 weeks, first Ava, then Clara, then Millie, then Luke and then Isabelle. There were a few minor problems, but overall the quints were in great health and were slowly released from intensive care, one at a time. For a while, both grandmothers and two au pairs lived with the Baudinets to handle the constant feedings required for the tiny infants to thrive. At times, all needed some rest, so volunteers, paid caregivers and family pitched in, too.
Returning to Virginia in a private plane donated by a benefactor and accompanied on the trip by a nurse, the parents struggled towards some kind of schedule that would allow everyone some sleep. “We just had to have a routine,” Margaret said. “Otherwise there would be too much chaos.” She acknowledges that running her family these days is pretty much like running a business, with plans, back-up plans, inventory, checklists and assignments. Dancing, running a business and high-level volunteer work (at one time she was the president of Charlottesville Junior League) had all benefited from her high energy and ability to push herself. She turned this same intensity towards her home life. At one time, she ran a household that included (besides five newborns) both mothers, two au pairs from two different countries, plus volunteers coming and going: an exercise in diplomacy as well as stamina.
“I had to rely on others,” she said. People showed up for her, sometimes quietly in the middle of the night; sometimes when she just had to have a few minutes off. Sitting down for a meal was out of the question, so friends at the Junior League put together packages of vegetables, hummus, peanut butter and pretzels to keep up her strength while breastfeeding. The family has only been in town for a few weeks, but neighbors have welcomed them with flowers, cookies and stuffed animals.
Here’s what a day is like at the Baudinet’s new home just outside downtown Crozet, now that the children are two years old:
“Luke wakes up first, and always has,” Margaret said. “So he’s in a separate room.” The girls wake up an hour or so later, at 7: “Of course, when one wakes up, they all do.” Michael said.
Breakfast varies, according to what the children want and what’s available, but there’s usually a selection of cereal, eggs, oatmeal and muffins.
Michael leaves for work, and the children play together for the next few hours, have a lunch (again, a simple selection of kid-friendly food). The children nap from 1 to 3. In the afternoon, Margaret might plan an outing, or if she’s working, the remaining au pair will do something with all five.
Michael describes coming home at night: “I always miss them terribly all day,” he said. “When I come in the door, I feel like I’m surrounded by so much love.”
After an early dinner, the children are allowed to watch television in the family room with their bottles. “This is the time, that we just kind of grab whatever babies are near, change them and put on their pajamas,” Margaret said. Baths are a few times a week, and the children are learning simple chores like putting their own bottles or toys in a basket. After a couple of books, the babies walk in a line upstairs to bed.
The girls call to each other from their beds, almost like taking a head count: “Ava, Millie, Clara, Izzie.” If one is missing for any reason they become upset, and it took them a while to adjust to Luke being in another room. Being part of a whole crew of children since infancy means they’re always aware of each other. If one’s upset, another is likely to offer consolation in the form of a beloved object or a pacifier.
This carries over to their interaction with children outside the family, Margaret said: “I’ve been happy to see they treat other children well, and show early signs of compassion.” But the Baudinets don’t want them to just think of themselves as part of the group: “I want them to know they are worthwhile and special as individuals,” Margaret said. She works towards this daily, scheduling some kind of personal attention with each one, as she is able. On Fridays, she spends the morning with one of the five, scheduling a trip or a meal just with that one.
Of course, the children have very different personalities, characteristics that were apparent very early and distinguish them as surely as any only child:
“Ava was born first and she’s the boss,” Michael said. “She’s willful, but she’s also the one who wants to help out.”
Clara was born next, but was the first one to “graduate” from the intensive care unit. She’s the happy one, always smiling, kind of goofy, her parents said.
Next came Millie, a thoughtful child who’s drawn towards books, and is always “reading.”
Surrounded by his sisters and mostly girls’ toys, Luke quickly chose his own path. Energetic and extremely active, his favorite toy is a truck.
Born last, Isabelle is a sweetheart, kind and loving, If Margaret is nearby, Izzie is likely to be on her lap or in her arms.
Michael also schedules one-on-one time with his children: He takes one of the children to church with him every Sunday to his home church, St. Thomas Acquinas, in Charlottesville. “They get excited when they know it’s their turn,” he said, “and of course the people at church are also thrilled.” When they return, the others are excited for whichever one was chosen that day.
The Baudinets have gotten their share of media attention, as well as lots of attention when they appear in public with all five of their children. Behind the scenes, reality is just as demanding as it is picturesque. As appealing and sweet as the children are, the volume of work and planning is sometimes overwhelming. Margaret orders groceries online for pickup and makes trips to Costco to keep the cupboards stocked. When there’s a cold, a flu, or a stomach virus, it requires all their resources to cope. And, like all young parents, the Baudinets often catch the same bug. With few opportunities for unbroken sleep, it’s hard to recover. “We’re always tired,” Margaret said. She has some back problems, but the inactivity required to heal them is for now just a dream.
Margaret has gone back to work at College Solutions, the business she co-founded. She had to back off from seeking perfection at home, and it was hard for her. “The laundry may not be done, the house may not be as tidy, the meals may not be as elaborate as I would like, but I’ve come to accept that,” she said. She uses “good enough” as kind of a mantra to keep her perspective.
Still, their worries center on the well-being of Ava, Millie, Clara, Luke and Izzie rather than themselves: “I worry about their future, keeping them all healthy and happy,” Michael said.
“I have such a fear that they’ll see me as too busy to be bothered with their concerns,” Margaret said. “I want them to understand that I will take however long they need to listen to them, even if it seems like I’m always short of time.”
Keep up with Baudinet quintuplets through their Facebook page. There’s also a blog, “A Bundle of Baudinets.”