Having a first child is a life-changing event—but having a first, then a second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth all in the space of a few hours? That's the enormous, and exciting, challenge facing Bryan and Jenny Masche of Lake Havasu, Ariz., who are expected to deliver America's 14th set of sextuplets in the next few days." Bryan took a break from tending to Jenny to speak with NEWSWEEK's Mary Carmichael. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: How are you and Jenny feeling?
Bryan Masche: I feel wonderful. Jenny, on the other hand … From a clinician's standpoint, she's doing really well. All her lab tests, blood pressure, everything they measure are coming back fine. From a patient's standpoint, she's exhausted and miserable. You know that ninth month of pregnancy when all the mom wants is to get the baby out of there? She's been like that for six weeks. She can't breathe well because her belly is pressing up against her diaphragm. Even when she's sleeping, she's not totally comfortable—she's about as uncomfortable as you can get. She's been on bed rest in the hospital since 19.5 weeks, and I'm sleeping in the room with her on a futon. The first couple of nights it wasn't bad, but now it's starting to wear on my back and neck. But the last thing I want to do is cry to her about that, since she's liable to jump out of the bed and slap me.
And how are the babies doing?
From what the doctors can tell from the ultrasounds, all the babies are doing really, really well. They have an eight-point scoring system for movement and breathing and heartbeats, and all the babies have either gotten six out of eight or eight out of eight. They'll probably need to be in intensive care for six to eight weeks after they're born. They need to be able to do certain things before they can leave the hospital—maintain homeostasis, eat on their own, breathe own their own, pee and poop on their own, and grow.
Have you settled on their names?
Yeah, but we can't reveal them yet. We do know about boys and girls. In the very beginning, the doctors told us they'd be four boys and two girls. In the last month and a half, though, they've been saying three and three. I'm holding out for four boys and two girls. Obviously, if they're three and three and they're healthy, that's all that really matters. But with three and three, I have only one boy to watch each girl when they're in school. It'd be better to have two brothers watching over each girl.
You'd hoped for a big family when you got married, right? But six all at once is a lot more than you bargained for.
We used to joke years ago when we were dating that we wanted to have a baseball team—we got engaged at a Diamondbacks game—but we were just kidding around, thinking maybe we'd end up with four.
Was Jenny on fertility treatments when she conceived the sextuplets?
We did not implant six embryos; we did not do in vitro fertilization. We did a process called intrauterine insemination, so we gave her shots of a fertility drug called Follistim to help her ovulate more. Then they took my contribution, and in layman's terms, it's basically like a turkey baster—they stick the thing up there and squirt out the stuff and voila: six of the little guys made it to the destination.
Doctors talked with you and Jenny about aborting some of the babies, but you decided to go ahead and have all six. Tell me about making that decision.
Both of us knew that wasn't an option. We found out a week or two after Thanksgiving that the procedure had worked, and her lab tests were coming back with estrogen levels that were sky high. There are a few physicians in our family, and they were like, "Oh, wow, maybe you've got triplets." Then we got word on December 29th that it was six. My wife just completely lost it. She was crying and crying, and we didn't understand how in the world we would deal with this. The doctors spoke to us about "selective reduction" right away. They recommended that we reduce three of the embryos. But at that point, there were already heartbeats, and there was just no way we could do it. We'd been trying for three years, and my wife had had two miscarriages. And how do you choose which heartbeat you want to stop? The doctor told us about the procedure, and it's sodium pentathol they inject into the heart—it's the same thing they do to death-row prisoners. We're both born-again evangelical, and due to our faith and our beliefs, there was never any doubt about what to do.
What would you say to other families who do choose selective reduction?
Each person is entitled to his own opinion in this world. But I wish that there was someone there to minister to them and explain to them that God doesn't make mistakes, that he creates all life for a particular reason. And it would be nice if there were a counselor to tell the moms, "You can do this, you can get through this." The physician who talked to us about the selective reduction—we didn't know anything about this woman's faith, but three months later, after we made our decision, this doctor actually called Jenny at the hospital here and said, "I just want to tell you I am amazed by you. I have been praying for you every day." The next time she talks to a family, in the back of her mind she'll know that Jenny gave birth to six babies and that they're healthy. I feel like in a way, Jenny is in the ministry right now.
Have you talked with other multiple-birth families to get ready for the next few years?
This has only happened in the U.S. 13 times before, but we've been able to chat a couple of times on e-mail with three of the other sextuplet mothers. They've given us some really good advice. They've been very frank that this is the hardest thing you'll ever do in your life, but also the most rewarding. And they've told us to take it one day at a time. Each stage in this process sort of prepares you for the next stage. When you're not in the hospital, the doctors' visits prepare you for bed rest. And when you're on bed rest that prepares you for spending you a lot of time in the NICU [neonatal intensive-care unit] sitting around, watching the babies grow. It's preparing me to be more patient.
You're going to be going through a lot of diapers, and let's not even think about the college fund. How are you preparing, financially?
We've been relying on the support of perfect strangers, actually. There's a church in Scottsdale [Ariz.] doing a diaper drive. It's estimated that it will cost about $1,000 a month for just the diapers. The church has raised a little over 16,000 [diapers] and they have a week to go, so that's almost the first year. College, I have no idea. Maybe someone will step up to the plate and donate some scholarships. And regular day-to-day bills have been interesting—somehow, and I don't know how, we've been managing to keep the bills paid. We were DINKs before—dual-income, no kids—and my wife is a physician's assistant. To lose her salary was a tough thing to do. But we can't worry about tomorrow, because there is more than enough to worry about today.