When you’re planning a birthday party for quadruplets, choosing a cake can be tricky.
Just ask Kristin and Stuart Eastman of Columbia. Their quadruplets shared a variety of opinions as their fifth birthday approached.
“I like chocolate cake,” Wilson said.
His sister Ellie agreed, “I want chocolate.”
But then Caroline chimed in, “I want pink cake.”
“Actually, I want pink too,” said Ellie, in a change of heart.
“But I really like vanilla,” said Luke.
Kristin and Stuart just smiled.
Five years ago, Kristin gave birth to the quads at Boone Hospital Center. It was a delivery like few can imagine.
Multiple births involve risks and can sometimes contribute to developmental problems. Like many multiple births, the Eastman quads arrived premature and had to spend several weeks in the Boone Hospital Intensive Care Nursery.
But with good fortune and excellent care at the nursery, the quads developed into strong, healthy children with no major health issues.
Today, at five years old, the Eastman kids are still on the small side, but they are developmentally on par with their peers. They’re also extremely active.
Luke goes to taekwondo class and Wilson does gymnastics. Caroline and Ellie both take ballet lessons.
Kristin and Stuart say the staff and physicians at the Boone Family Birthplace Intensive Care Nursery played a major role in getting their kids off to a good start.
“They were just incredible. I got to know the nurses quite well; they became part of our extended family,” Kristin said. “We attribute a lot of their early success to the physicians and staff at Boone.”
A special delivery
Like her four children, Kristin is a Boone Baby.
As a child she moved around the Midwest with her family. She later returned to Columbia in 1994 to join the University of Missouri swim team.
She met Stuart on a blind date. He’s a Joplin native who attended Westminster College.
The couple married in 2004. Stuart is an Edward Jones financial advisor, and Kristin worked as an elementary school teacher.
When the time came to have children, the couple had difficulty conceiving. They sought out fertility help, and Kristin soon learned she was pregnant.
Blood tests revealed she was likely pregnant with multiple children. Because twins run in Kristin’s family, that fact in itself was not surprising.
Reality began to dawn on the couple when an early ultrasound showed several developing embryo sacs. Before long, four definite heartbeats were showing up during Kristin’s visits to the doctor.
“He started counting, ‘well there’s one, and that’s two,’ and he kept counting,” Stuart said. “It was then I kind of started realizing, wow, this is real.”
After sharing the good news with family and friends — to a unanimously stunned reaction, “The look on their faces was like, what? What did you say again?” recalled Stuart — the couple began making preparations.
Not only did the Eastmans need all the standard baby items — times four — they also needed a bigger house, which prompted a move to a four-bedroom house on the west side of Columbia.
They spent time counseling with physicians and caregivers at Boone Hospital who walked them through every stage of the process. The doctors even discussed how society would react to seeing a family with quadruplets.
“‘You don’t realize what this is going to mean,’” Kristin and Stuart remember being told by the doctors. “‘Back in the day, twins were the big thing. Then triplets. But now, it’s quadruplets. Be prepared, because there are going to be a lot of people who are going to want to talk to you and help.’”
At 22 weeks, Kristin went on bed rest, a common step taken to prolong a pregnancy, especially when multiple children are involved. Fortunately, that ended up being the only step needed to sustain the pregnancy for several more weeks.
“For having quads, it was really a fairly smooth pregnancy,” Kristin said.
But by 29 weeks, Kristin didn’t feel right and went to the hospital. Her blood pressure was elevated, indicating she may have preeclampsia, a potentially dangerous problem.
Physicians also determined the babies had stopped gaining weight in her womb.
The time came to schedule Kristin’s delivery. They picked the morning of April 18 for a planned Caesarean section. The children would be born at 30 weeks and three days, which is very premature but not unusual for quadruplets. Normal gestation is about 40 weeks.
On the morning of the 18th, Kristin and Stuart arrived at the hospital at 7 a.m. as a large team of caregivers assembled for the delivery. About an hour later, Kristin received an IV. Before long, she was being wheeled into the operating room for the delivery.
Stuart vividly remembers the busy scene inside the room.
Kristin’s doctors were working with her as 12 additional staff and physicians including neonatologists, respiratory therapists and other caregivers waited in the room for the infants to arrive.
“It was like a well organized orchestra in there,” Stuart said. “There were at least three medical professionals per child.”
Then, at 9:14 a.m., Wilson Eastman was born. He was followed closely by his siblings Ellie, Luke and Caroline.
They were all born within three minutes of each other.
Ellie and Caroline weighed 1 pound, 12 ounces. Luke was 2 pounds, 10 ounces and Wilson weighed 3 pounds, 4 ounces.
The Eastmans went from having no children to having four in three short minutes.
Now the task fell to the physicians and caregivers at the Intensive Care Nursery to help the four children grow and eventually go home with their parents.
Boone Hospital physicians worked closely with Kristin and Stuart as they cared for their quadruplets inside Boone Hospital’s Intensive Care Nursery.
For any child born around 30 weeks the main concerns are lung and brain maturity.
Wilson, Ellie and Luke were quickly put on oxygen after being born to help them breathe with their immature lungs.
Doctors also spotted a potential intestinal problem with Caroline, which tests revealed to be nothing more than a gassy bubble.
“Overall, there were no major things wrong with any of them,” Stuart said.
Their preparation before the delivery helped Kristin and Stuart become familiar with the sight of children with wires and cords attached to their bodies.
“The real shock was when you saw how small they were,” Stuart said. “When you went and saw the well babies in the other nursery they seemed like giants compared to our kids.”
Kristin was discharged from the hospital just days after her delivery, but she returned each day to be with her four babies in the Intensive Care Nursery. She would come to the hospital in the morning, leave in the afternoon to rest and then return in the evening with Stuart.
During this time, Kristin became close to the team of the nurses who were caring for her children. It was helpful that every child had the same nurse providing care each day.
“They were amazing, outstanding. We cannot gloat enough about them,” she said. “They cared for our quads as if they were their own children. It made me feel so confident about leaving my children with them and knowing that they had top-notch care.”
The Eastmans said hospital staff also guarded their privacy and helped them avoid an unwanted celebrity status.
“No one knew about the quads. It wasn’t publicized, and that was a good thing,” Stuart said. “You could go to the cafeteria without people coming up to you. We felt like we were commoners like everyone else.”
After six weeks in the Intensive Care Nursery, Wilson and Luke were ready to go home.
This was another major learning moment for the Eastmans, who relied on hospital nurses to teach them how to care for their still fragile infants.
“They really helped us prepare to be parents and bring them home,” Kristin said. “They showed us how to change their diapers. We hadn’t really done much of that, especially with such little guys.”
At eight weeks old, Ellie came home. Then, one week later, Caroline was discharged from the hospital.
The family was finally united at home.
Many helping hands
During the first two weeks when just Luke and Wilson were home, Kristin and Stuart had no problem caring for the babies. They each simply held one child.
But when Ellie came home, that was no longer possible. And when Caroline arrived, things became even more difficult.
“There were times we kind of wished they were back in the NICU,” joked Stuart.
But friends and well-wishers soon rallied around the family to help. Every day, three shifts of volunteers arrived at their house to help rock and feed the children as well as do laundry and other chores.
Raising the young Eastman quads became a community effort.
“It takes a village,” Kristin said. “We learned that people are really willing to help. So we opened up and allowed them to come in and help us. There is no way we would have been able to survive otherwise.”
One of the family’s first goals was to get the kids all on the same routine of eating and sleeping together.
And when the kids slept, Kristin and Stuart were sleeping as well. But that wasn’t nearly enough.
Stuart found himself having to occasionally catch a quick nap at work. He’d put his head down on his desk for five or 10 minutes just to make it through the day.
“It’s just one of the things where I had to do that or else I was exhausted,” he said.
At home, baby items consumed their entire house. There were four swings, four play mats, four bouncy seats and four of everything else needed for a baby.
“It literally looked like Toys “R” Us at our house,” Stuart said.
One of their fond memories from this time was actually being able to sit down to dinner together in the evening after a long day.
They would put all four kids in their swings, rocking peacefully in dining room as Kristin and Stuart ate, everyone together.
As the quads grew from babies to toddlers and then into pre-school age children, the family needed less and less outside help.
“We are lucky enough to still have a few helpers who love the kids and want to be a part of the village,” Kristin said.
As preemies, the quads benefited from some special therapy and language development help, but now they’re on par with their peers and ready to begin kindergarten soon.
“It’s been amazing just watching them develop from stage to stage,” Kristin said. “From just holding the bottle on their own, to then walking and now running and swimming.”
As they’ve grown, they’ve also assumed four very different personalities with their own tastes and interests.
Ellie and Luke are high-energy children who thrive in environments where they can be around other kids. On the other hand, Caroline and Wilson are more independent and enjoy having time alone to entertain themselves.
But even with their different personalities, the four siblings are very close.
“They have a very strong bond,” Kristin said. “They stick up for each other, look out for each other, and they are very protective of each other.”
Kristin and Stuart often refer to their family as a team: Team Eastman.
This summer, they’ll be teammates in a new way as all four will be playing together on a tee ball team.
Looking back, the Eastmans are thankful for the care and education they received at Boone Hospital Center. They have four healthy kids, which is really all they can ask for.
“Every day is different. No two days are alike,” Kristin said. “But I don’t think we can ever imagine not having all four of them together; it’s been a true blessing.”