And Then Came Five: Following Up With the First Set of Quintuplets Born at Methodist Women's Hospital
Published: June 22, 2020
Bianca and Jose Garcia of South Sioux City, Nebraska, had always wanted four children – preferably each two years apart. When their second son was born two years after their first, their plan was taking shape.
After struggling to achieve a third pregnancy, Bianca was prescribed fertility medication, which she took regularly for nine months. It didn’t seem to be working – or so she and her doctor thought.
In January 2013, Bianca began feeling tired.
“I couldn’t do anything,” she said. “I just felt like I needed to sleep all day.”
While she remembered being somewhat tired with her two pregnancies, the thought of being pregnant this time around didn’t even register. This kind of fatigue was completely unfamiliar, and she wasn’t nauseous at all. A trip to her doctor’s office, however, confirmed it: Bianca was pregnant with what her doctor thought might be triplets.
“I actually saw four small circles on the ultrasound,” Bianca said. “But they were pretty sure there were only three babies. I was shocked. I didn’t know how we were going to handle three babies on top of our two boys.”
Still too early for heartbeat detection, Bianca was asked to return for another ultrasound in two weeks. When she did, the words of her doctor took her by surprise: “She said, ‘Oh, you’re not going to like me.’ I said, ‘There are four, aren’t there?”
But in fact, there were five.
“Five healthy babies and one healthy mom”
Based off previous pregnancy complications, Bianca’s doctor wasn’t sure she could carry five babies and encouraged her to consider reduction.
“They told us either one or two would make it or none of them would make it,” said Bianca, fully aware that carrying them all would also put her own well-being at risk.
Now that her pregnancy was deemed high-risk, Bianca’s care was transferred to Methodist Women's Hospital in Omaha – a nearly two-hour drive from home.
When the couple met Methodist maternal-fetal medicine specialist Todd Lovgren, MD, they made it clear that reduction was not in their plans. His response blew them away: “He told us, ‘Then I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure there are five healthy babies and one healthy mom at the end of this.’”
It was the reassurance Bianca needed. She knew she had an advocate in her corner.
A long-distance surprise
As she entered her second trimester, Bianca needed surgery – a cervical cerclage – and bedrest to ensure the babies stayed put for as long as possible. She returned to Women’s nearly two weeks later for some minor bleeding. Four months pregnant, that’s where Bianca stayed for more than 10 weeks.
She woke up early on July 25 with an unusual pain in her side. Thinking nothing of it, she tried to go back to sleep. A few hours later, the pain had escalated. She asked her nurses to help her flip onto her other side, but that only made the pain worse. Bianca called Jose, who – for three months – had been home, taking care of their 9- and 7-year-old sons. He and the two boys visited Women’s every weekend, but it was only Thursday.
“I told him, ‘I think something’s happening. I think you should come now,’” Bianca said. “But he didn’t believe me. He said, ‘No, don’t worry. Don’t think like that. The babies aren’t ready to come just yet. You’re going to be OK. We’ll see you soon.’”
Bianca was given a couple rounds of pain medication, but her discomfort steadily increased. She called her husband again. If anything, his voice helped keep her calm. A short time later, Bianca’s water broke. She was advised to call her husband.
Bianca laughed as she remembered that moment: “I told Dr. Lovgren, ‘Maybe you should call him. Maybe he’ll listen to you.’”
Dr. Lovgren called Jose but told him not to rush. Because no matter how fast he drove those 90-plus miles, the quintuplets weren’t waiting for anyone.
The mental break she needed
Jose never did make it in time to witness the cesarean delivery. But he was there when Bianca awoke from surgery.
“The first words out of my mouth to him were, ‘Did they all make it? Are they OK?’”
Jose was able to tell her they were. All five of them – Marah, Christobal, Arleth, Jimena and Rosalyn. The four girls and one boy weighed right around 2 pounds each. They made it, but they’d have a long road ahead of them. And meeting them inside the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Methodist Women’s Hospital was the scariest moment of Bianca’s life.
“They were so tiny,” she said. “So fragile. But there they were. They were ours to take care of now, and I didn’t know how we would do it.”
Bianca vowed to stay with her babies inside the NICU all day, every day, until they came home. That was, until Dr. Lovgren stepped in.
“He stopped by to visit us in the NICU on what was probably the hardest day,” Bianca said. “I had tears running down my face. I was trying to keep up with breastfeeding. All of it just hit me. It was too much. And he kneeled down beside me.”
Bianca paused for a breath. Through tears, she continued: “It still makes me emotional. I’ll never forget what he said to me. He said, ‘You need to go home.’ I told him, ‘I can’t go home. They need me.’ He said, ‘Yes, they do. And if you don’t go home and take some time to take care of yourself, you’re not going to make it for these kids.’”
It wasn’t a recommendation. It was a doctor’s order: two weeks. And Bianca headed back to South Sioux City.
“I see it all the time in NICU moms,” Dr. Lovgren said. “The biggest thing they neglect is their own mental and physical health. And I could see it in Bianca’s face. She was tired. She was tearful. She was sacrificing way too much of herself. She did her job. And now she needed to let our team do theirs. She needed a mental break.”
Bianca admits to being a totally different person when she returned to the NICU.
“I was in good spirits,” she said. “Oh, my gosh, I missed them so much! I didn’t even recognize them. They had grown so much.”
A different kind of homecoming
After three months in the NICU, it was time for the babies to go home. But rather than sending them all at once, the NICU staff knew it was important for Bianca and Jose to slowly acclimate to life with five newborns.
They sent Marah and Christobal home first. After a week had passed, Arleth went home. Jimena, a week after that. And a day later, Rosalyn joined the tribe.
“That was a big help,” Bianca said. “As much as we wanted them all home, that made a difference in sort of easing us into routine.”
With a rotating schedule that the couple’s church organized, Bianca and Jose had new people dropping in to help wherever and however they could. And since their older boys were in Scouts, a number of Scout parents also volunteered their time and efforts.
While the assistance was profoundly appreciated, it eventually ended. And it became more apparent than ever just how much the NICU nurses and staff did for Bianca and her babies while there. She sorely missed them. She still does to this day. That’s why she and her family make it a point to attend the annual Methodist Women's Hospital NICU Reunion. It’s a homecoming of a different kind – and one they look forward to every year.
Over the past six years, sweet and shy Marah, wild child Christobal, always-asking-why Arleth, little mother hen Jimena and last-one-born-first-one-to-do-everything Rosalyn have taught their mother that life doesn’t always go according to plan.
“When you want four kids, sometimes you get seven,” Bianca said.
They’ve also taught her patience.
“I’m very particular – very OCD. Or at least I was. I like things clean, organized, and … yeah, that all went out the window,” she said as she laughed.
When asked if raising five soon-to-be 7-year-olds is any easier than five newborns, it was clear that Bianca’s also learned to live in the present and savor each moment.
“Each age comes with new challenges,” she said. “It doesn’t get easier, but you learn to let go a little. And that makes it easier to just … enjoy them – to stop worrying about whether everything is in its perfect place.”
She’s learned that raising quintuplets takes a village – and that it probably always will.
“That’s been hard,” Bianca said. “I don’t like asking for help. I don’t like to bother people.”
But if she’s learned anything from Dr. Lovgren and the rest of the team at Methodist Women’s Hospital, it’s that accepting help and putting your trust in those who care are crucial to good outcomes.
“We couldn’t have been in a better place,” Bianca said. “From the first day we stepped foot in the hospital to the last. I was comfortable. The nurses were always right there. Dr. Lovgren was our angel.”