Tallmadge -- The Whitmer quadruplets, which are said to be the only known quadruplets in Tallmadge's history, reached a major milestone when they turned 1 last month.
Kelly [Smith] Whitmer, a 1999 Tallmadge High School graduate who is an eighth-grade math teacher at Green Middle School, and 1988 Mogadore High School graduate Tony Whitmer, who runs the family's lawn fertilization business, invited about 100 guests to a party at the Akron Turner Center in Tallmadge Jan. 20.
Friends and family sang four rounds of "Happy Birthday" to the toddlers lined up in their highchairs and watched while each smashed his or her own cake.
Admission to the party was a package of diapers.
As Kelly and Tony look back on the first year of their children's lives, their story elicits emotions ranging from love to excitement to anxiety.
The time is right
After two years of marriage, Kelly and Tony felt it was time to start a family.
"We tried for a year and a half to have kids, and with me getting older and her insurance at work had changed which then covered the costs of the fertility specialist, we went," Tony said.
The couple opted for insemination. The doctor told them there was a 20 percent chance of conceiving twins and carrying them to term and a .2 percent chance of quadruplets.
Tony said having twins was attractive as they could have two kids at one time and complete their family. Kelly wanted three, which could have taken six to eight years, and Tony said he didn't want to be 48 years old and still having children.
"Later in my life, I thought two and done would've been great, but she wouldn't have been able to talk me into three," he said. "When I was younger I wanted a big family."
Three ... No, four!
Before the couple found out Kelly was pregnant, she told Tony something wasn't right. What she had read about early pregnancy didn't cover a swelling belly before a mom-to-be even found out she was pregnant.
At six weeks of gestation there was good news from her OB-GYN.
"The first time we went to the doctor we were told we had triplets," she said. "The week after that when we went, we were told there was a possibility there was a fourth gestational sack there but couldn't see a fourth baby or a fourth heartbeat." It appeared that four of Kelly's eggs had been fertilized, but only three had developed.
During the next appointment a week later, the doctor confirmed there were four beating heartbeats in Kelly's womb. The doctor said the fourth embryo might have been connected to one of the others and was undetected by the ultrasound.
"When we found out it was quadruplets, I was like, 'OK. What's one more? One more to add to the party,'" she said.
Tony, although relieved to have an explanation for Kelly's swelling abdomen, didn't take the news as well as he did when he thought they were having triplets. He said through TV shows, he'd learned of families who had triplets, and foursomes seemed to be "the new twins." But even "Jon and Kate Plus Eight" didn't prepare him enough.
"I was just overwhelmed when I heard it was four," he said. "I think that was it. I had never been a part of or heard of anything [about quadruplets] from anyone in my life."
Kelly was referred to a high-risk OB-GYN to closely monitor her pregnancy.
In the early weeks, severe, all-day nausea from a fourfold increase of pregnancy hormones led her to take medication, but she was able to coach cross country during the fall, even while she was on bed rest.
As the weeks went by, her abdomen grew ... and grew ... and grew.
"When her doctor put her on modified bed rest where she would rest a few hours a day but still be able to do her daily routines, such as driving and grocery shopping, she felt her energy and health improving.
Her doctor appointments every other week continued until she was 28 weeks pregnant and then became more frequent.
Still, the size and weight of her belly made it difficult for her to do much of anything. By the time the holidays came around, Kelly could go Christmas shopping, but only in a wheelchair.
Finding clothes that fit posed another challenge.
Four is better than one
Toward the end of her pregnancy and after she had been on full bed rest for a week, Kelly's doctor discovered she had pre-eclampsia, or high blood pressure. Because it was her first pregnancy, and she was carrying multiples, Kelly was at a higher risk for developing the condition.
At that time she was scheduled for a Caesarian section at Akron General Hospital to deliver the babies, who had been developing for 32 weeks and five days, on Jan. 17, 2012.
"It was hard to see her have to go through that, but she did all the right things ... ," he said. "She carried these quadruplets for a long time. The doctor was super-proud of her." Tony said the average gestation of a quadruplet pregnancy is 28 to 30 weeks.
Kelly and Tony chose not to learn the sex of the babies until they were born.
"I was thinking probably two and two. So we went to the hospital prepared with three boys names and two girls names," Kelly said. "And we had three girls and one boy."
The only boy in the set, 4 pound, 11-ounce and 17.5-inch Bryson, came out first, followed by Kendall at 3 pounds, 12 ounces and 17.25 inches. Both were born at 11:51 a.m.
A 11:52 a.m. Alana, 4 pounds and 16.5 inches, was delivered before the smallest of the set they called "Peanut." She was 3 pounds, 2 ounces and 16.5 inches.
After a smooth delivery, the overall healthy babies were transported to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Akron Children's Hospital. Kendall received some respiratory assistance that night but by the next day was breathing on her own. .
With the complications of the delivery of the multiples -- a C-section, four placentas, blood loss and different post-operation medications she was taking -- Kelly wasn't able to see her babies until two days later. At that time, the new parents officially named "Peanut" Jenelle.
It takes a village, or
at least a team of 12
Alana was the first of the quadruplets to be released after spending three weeks in the NICU, and Jenelle came home the following week. Kendall and Bryson couldn't wait long after and joined their brother and sister the next day.
"After watching the [TV] shows, I was prepared for them to be in there for months," Tony said.
Now that the entire family was together, Kelly said it was "overwhelming" to be caring for the babies themselves.
"We kept everything on the same schedule. They fed every three hours. They didn't feed quickly," she said. Half of their feeds were pumped breast milk, the other half special formula for preemies.
The quadruplets haven't experienced any health complications from being premature and are growing properly. Jenelle took a while to learn to roll over, but after she did, she soon reached other milestones, such as on Jan. 1 when she rolled from her back to her belly, crawled and stood by herself.
A week after their first birthday, Kelly said the babies are all doing well.
"Two of them are walking, and two of them are trying. They're hitting milestones at or ahead of where our doctor is expecting them. You really don't expect 1-year-olds to be walking," she said. Kendall was the first walker at 11 months old, followed by Alana at 11.5 months.
They understand language and are starting to say some recognizable words.
The Whitmers have recruited a team of 12 volunteers to work in shifts to help care for the children. Family, friends and neighbors donate their time. A nanny works during the winter when work is slower for Tony and possibly will again this summer when Kelly is off work. She works full-time for the family during the spring and fall.
The babies start to wake up at 5:30 a.m. during the week, and Kelly's parents, who live across the street in the house where Kelly grew up, arrives at 7 a.m. Her cousin and her boyfriend come Monday afternoons, and volunteers help out every bath night.
Tony admits he gets "housetrophobic" when he's stuck inside at home all day and the weekdays and weekends blend together.
"Technically, Kelly and I can do it, but when we have do it all the time, it just gets to us. And that can affect our relationship," Tony said.
The Whitmers don't plan to have more children, but their quadruplets will have playmates that also have the experience of being higher-order multiples. Since they were born, Kelly and Tony have befriended two other families -- one in Green and the other in Medina -- with quads.
And the support goes beyond the babies; the parents of each of the families lean on each other for information and advice.
Kelly and Tony's hopes are what all parents should want for their children:
"For them to be healthy and happy with whichever path they choose," Kelly said.
Tony added that he wants people to see past the fact that they're quadruplets and get to know them individually.
"They're already close, and they'll always be close, but I want them to be individuals, too," he said.
Unless there's a special event, such as a holiday, the toddlers dress in non-matching outfits. Kelly avoids referring to them as "our quadruplets" and prefers "my kids."
"They're siblings that just happen to have the same birthday," she said.