Our Fall 2014 issue featured the Coutts family, of Tiverton, who were celebrating the first birthday of their quadruplet boys Lincoln, Owen, Easton and Dylan. This is their story.
Balloons. Cake. Presents.
Burgers sizzling on the barbecue.
Smiling grandmothers. Laughing aunts and uncles. Face painting, fake tattoos and girls in flowing sundresses running through, what would appear to be, your ordinary first birthday party.
But, for the past year, life has been anything but normal for Tiverton’s Coutts family. On July 27, 2013, Shannon and Adam became the parents of quadruplets – four healthy baby boys – who were the guests of honour at this birthday bash.
Lincoln, Owen, Easton and Dylan Coutts sit on a blanket at their party, being doted on by both their biological relatives and their many adoptive grandmas – the local ladies whose own kids have long flown the coop, most of them strangers before showing up on the Coutts’ doorstep with offers to feed, change and soothe four newborns at all hours of the night, so the exhausted parents could function when the sun’s up.
“I had the Thursday, 2-6 (a.m.) shift… you were Wednesdays?” the Coutts’ angels say at the party, while swapping stories of late-night feedings, babies in each arm.
“We had so much help with the babies in those early days,” Shannon said, before the first birthday party that was held primarily as a thank you to those who supported the family over the past year. “It was hard with them, but it would have been miserable without them.”
‘Miserable’ may seem like a strong word for the joys of parenthood, but if you have kids you’ll remember the sleepless nights with a fussy baby, the hours spent cooing and shushing and rocking a child that Will. Not. Stop. Screaming. The teething. Days piling on days with little sleep for anyone, yet still trying to meet the unrealistic expectations from the Facebook world that life is all bliss, sunshine and unicorns.
Now times that by four.
“There were ladies I knew, but never met,” said Adam, Electrical Account Manager at Ideal Supply, in Kincardine. “They’d come to help Shannon in the middle of the night, so I could get enough sleep to allow me to work the next day. I knew all about them but never actually met them.”
Strangers would show up at the door of the family’s relatively new home – having moved to Tiverton in 2011 – hot meals in hand and a knowing smile on their face. Thousands of dollars in gift cards were donated through community drives and local businesses, and about six months worth of diapers – of the 40,000 they’ll go through before the boys are potty-trained – came from neighbours and random people up and down the Lake Huron shoreline. Shannon’s brother bought 1,600 diapers himself, though he managed to avoid changing that many.
“We went through 24 bottles and spent $30 a day on formula, so we financially could not have made it through the first year without the generosity of the community,” Shannon said. “There are just no words to express how grateful we are and how much we appreciate the help of friends, family, businesses and perfect strangers who donated time, money and resources to our family. We really don’t know how we would’ve gotten through this first year without their assistance.”
Congrats! There’s… four of them
Shannon and Adam will never forget their 12-week ultrasound at Saugeen Memorial Hospital. This pregnancy was different than Shannon’s first, which resulted in blonde and bubbly Delaney, now 5, who was excited to have a younger brother or sister. Shannon was sicker than she had remembered, and she was bigger earlier. Twins run in both their mothers’ families, so two babies may have shocked but wouldn’t have surprised.
The ‘Don’t Pressure Radiologist’ signs in the ultrasound area are meant to keep expecting parents from asking questions better suited for a doctor, so the Coutts were understandably worried as the radiologist performed her duties and realized just what she was seeing.
“You could see her whole body language change… she just went pale,” said Adam, adding what was on the screen was an understandable shock, even for medical professionals. “Naturally, you think there’s a problem.”
Concerned, Shannon broke the code and asked what was wrong.
“I’m seeing more than one sac,” the radiologist said, excusing herself to get the doctor.
“I was relieved, because I just thought it was twins,” Shannon laughed.
After the doctor explained to the increasingly shocked parents that everything was normal except they were looking at four babies, they sat in stunned silence.
Shannon then burst into tears, and not of the joyous kind. Adam, still trying to process the future of his family, laughed nervously, though likely as a defense mechanism to the same reaction as his wife, he confessed a year later.
“There’s nothing that can prepare you for news like that,” Shannon added.
The coming days and weeks were filled with a lot of uncertainty. Are the babies healthy? Is Shannon at risk? How to provide for four more mouths?
Question after question after question, and so few answers.
Shannon found solace in an online community for families with or expecting multiples. A private Facebook page and the new local non-profit group Multiples in Bruce (MIB) provides a forum for mothers to support each other through the medical, logistical, financial and emotional struggles that come with expecting multiples. Now a seasoned pro, Shannon still finds time to lend her new-found expertise to expecting mothers both online and through MIB, and tell them everything they’re feeling is normal, despite their abnormal situation.
“I talk to a lot of Moms who just found out and I just tell them to stay active, stay positive and keep their stress level down, because it’s a big mental struggle,” she said.
After that initial ultrasound, the Coutts were referred to the London Health Sciences Centre where they were told, under the circumstances, both Shannon and the babies looked healthy. Over the next 35 weeks, the family made 20 trips to London to ensure all was well and, three weeks before the quads finally arrived, Shannon was in London to stay.
On July 27, 2013, within a four-minute span and via caesarean section at an impressive 35 weeks, Shannon, Adam and Delaney Coutts welcomed Lincoln, Owen, Easton and Dylan to the family. Amazingly, the smallest (Easton) weighed a hefty 4 pounds 3 ounces, while the others weighed 4 lbs 8 oz, 5 lbs 9 oz, and 5 lbs 11 oz.
“There was a team of nurses and a doctor for each baby,” Adam said, recalling the precision of the medical teams. “There was probably 20 people in the operating room. They’d show us the baby and then whisk them away.”
Shannon had to wait a while in recovery before she was finally able to hold three of her boys, though she’d have to wait to embrace Dylan because he was on breathing assistance for a short time.
“It was so overwhelming for me after recovery,” Shannon said. “There were nurses all over the place, babies everywhere, crying when being pricked…”
The doctors were impressed with the size and health of the quadruplets, she added.
“It’s rare quads would all be so big. The doctors thought it was exceptional that I carried them for so long and they were all in good health.”
Although there were no real health concerns, the hospital kept the boys for observation in the intensive care unit, while Shannon quickly moved to the Ronald McDonald House close by. The next 10 days were a blur of running back and forth to the hospital to feed and see the babies, with Dylan being the first released on Day 6, with Owen being discharged the next day and finally Lincoln and Easton soon after.
Thus began the Coutts’ new life as the parents of five children, and feeding, changing and soothing four babies every three hours.
“The early days were crazy,” Shannon said. “There would be four babies crying, so you’d feed two quickly so you could get to the next two, and by then one of them would have puked…”
“I don’t think we made it through a feeding without at least one of the boys spitting up,” Adam laughed.
There were nights Shannon felt grateful for 1 ½ hours of sleep.
Soon though, the community adopted this suddenly large family as its own. Although Shannon and Adam’s own mothers did a lot to keep the family functioning, volunteers were also needed on the night shift, feeding, soothing and changing the babies so the exhausted parents could get some rest. Soon there were enough volunteers for an official schedule to be made.
“We couldn’t have gotten this far without them,” Adam said.
One of their best helpers has been Delaney, who has wholeheartedly embraced the role of big sister. When asked how her first year as a big sister has been, her answer was all of two words: “Pure joy.”
The parents are especially proud of Delaney and her ability to adapt to the family’s new situation.
“It’s tough for some kids to have one little sibling, let-alone four,” Adam said. “She’s never once felt sorry for herself.”
Although always on the edge of exhaustion, the Coutts have made sure Delaney remains a priority and have her enrolled in soccer, dance, gymnastics and swimming. She even had a recent getaway with Mom and Dad in Toronto, while the boys stayed at home.
Now, the one-year-olds are hitting milestones – at print deadline, they appeared to be just days from walking – and developing their own personalities. Dylan thinks he’s an only child. Easton – who was born the smallest but is now the biggest, ranking in the 98th percentile for his age – is very laid back. Owen is the smallest but a fearless go-getter, climbing anything he can get a grip on, while Lincoln, the thinker, is the oldest and usually first to meet milestones.
“There are many wonderful things about a family this large,” Shannon said.
“Watching the boys hit their milestones is amazing, like the first time you hear ‘Mom’ and ‘Dada.’ The interaction between the boys and their sister is also so exciting that I can’t wait for the future. I am so proud of them all.”
Despite their uniqueness, they will most likely have one thing in common – height. Adam is about 6 ft. 2 in., while Shannon stands six feet. Meanwhile, her father, a mountain of a man with hands the size of baseball gloves, is 6’5, while her brothers are 6’7 and 6’9.
“I’m going to have to turn the whole backyard into a garden when they’re teenagers,” Shannon joked.
Despite its challenges, it has been a rewarding year for the family. “It has been tough but it gets easier every day,” Shannon said. “We’ve gone through the craziest, most stressful situations but just one little smile makes you realize it’s all worth it.”