Married to a Mob

You can't help it. Chat with Valley moms Susan Fitzgerald and Lori Drinkard, and all you can think is, "There but for the grace of the fertility gods go I."

As you may have noticed, I spend a lot of time bellyaching about the difficulties of raising one kid. Just one. And although there have been times when I was sure I'd made a mistake in my addition, he's remained singular since birth. He never fouled more than one diaper at a time. He's never thrown more than one blubbering fit at a time. And when it comes to messes that have caused visitors to mistake our home for postwar Hiroshima, those appear one at a time, too.

Still, the lad is a handful. But he seems like a much more manageable handful now that I've swapped war stories with Susan and Lori, who are, respectively, the co-producers and primary caretakers of triplets and quadruplets.

When Susan and her husband Lynn first laid eyes on their now-twenty-month-old heirs, she recalls, "They were black blobs on the ultrasound screen. I was thinking, `I've got tumors! I've got cysts!' I asked the doctor what we were looking at. He said, `I'm not quite sure.' I thought, `He doesn't want to give me the bad news!'"

Susan laughed when the truth was revealed. Her husband, however, was not amused. "He kept staring at the screen. His face was very red and sweat was dripping down. He nearly fainted." Sounds like a healthy reaction to me.

Once the Fitzgeralds brought Chelsea, Lydon, and Shawna to their Tempe home, there was serious adapting to do. "For the first six months, I slept three hours a night. I was a walking zombie. It would take each one an hour to nurse, and each one had to be fed every three hours around the clock." She was, in other words, a human Denny's.

Once Susan worked out a reasonable eating and sleeping schedule, she swears that multiple motherhood was a snap for the next nine or ten months, as her babies limited their waking-hour activities to gurgling and looking adorable. "But suddenly, they were up on the tables, up on the kitchen counter, fooling with the stereo. All I'd have to do was turn my back for a second. And I wouldn't even be preoccupied with something else. I'd be preoccupied with another baby!" (If you can't imagine the scene she describes, see the movie Gremlins.)

Whenever Susan thinks she's got a handle on the situation, it's chow time. "Right now, the hardest thing is cleaning up three children and three highchairs and the three puddles of food under them. By the time you finish lunch, it's time for dinner."

Incredibly, the woman who laughed when told she was carrying triplets is still laughing.

"That's what makes it all worthwhile," she says. "The laughs. When they chase and tackle each other, when you walk in the door and they all come charging at you wanting a hug and a kiss. There's just no better feeling in the world compared to that."

I don't know about you, but I'm willing to take her word for it. Lori Drinkard and her husband Otis were hoping for twins and expecting triplets. But five months ago, the childless Buckeye couple found themselves managing half an all-girls softball team: Jillian, Melissa, Sarah, and Rebecca.

"We thought we could handle three," Lori recalls, "but four? That extra one blew us away." And only partly because the news was not broken gently. "The doctor looked at the ultrasound and said, `How big a house did you say you have?'"

At first, she says, "The responsibility was just overwhelming. We had to hire outside help. I almost felt I was lacking as a parent because I couldn't take care of them myself. But there was just no way."

For Lori, the toughest part of quadrupling is "not being able to just sit and hold a baby. You're always racing to get one taken care of so you can go to the next." The second toughest part is "finding private time where my husband and I can just be together. And when we do, it's hard not to talk about babies. We have to force ourselves to talk about something else."

And then there's the Quad Gawkers--those awestruck rubbernecking gabbers in malls and supermarkets who form crowds whenever the Drinkards show up. "I understand their curiosity," Lori says, "but it does get tiresome if you're in a hurry. And when you have four babies, you're always in a hurry."

Have the Drinkards caught their limit? Lori needs no time to mull the question over.

"THIS IS OUR FAMILY," she vows. "When I was pregnant, we knew we had three girls, but we didn't know what the fourth one would be. My mom said, `I hope it's a boy so you won't want to try again.' But she doesn't have to worry. We're DONE."

If you've ever assumed otherwise, there's fairly reliable proof that quadruplets do not make you insane.

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Michael Burkett