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Few Answering Quintuplets' Needy Cries

By Courtland Milloy
Sunday, November 13, 2005

Eight packages of Pampers were on the kitchen counter. Not enough. Several containers of infant formula were in the refrigerator. Not enough. Five used car seats were stacked on the dining room floor -- but the family car is not big enough to hold them all.

Welcome home, Davis quintuplets.

"We're just taking it day-to-day," said Jennell Dickens, 22, their mother. Noval Davis, their 26-year-old father, gave her a supportive nod. "We're okay for now," he said.

Not really. Three of the infants have been released from the University of Maryland Medical Center, and the other two are due home this week -- "home" being a one-bedroom apartment in Baltimore. Hardly big enough.

In years past, the birth of quintuplets has generated an enormous amount of publicity and support. Caring for five infants requires roughly 85 cases of formula, 1,200 disposable diapers and, later down the road, 1,500 jars of baby food each month. The babies need feeding and changing 22 hours out of 24, in addition to hugging and burping. Companies usually donate all the baby products and volunteers step in to provide services from housecleaning to nursing care.

But none of that has happened for Dickens and Davis. Except for the help of a few family members and friends, they are pretty much on their own.

Part of the problem was the initial media coverage of the Sept. 21 births. A 22-year-old woman has five babies after taking fertility drugs. As word of the births spread, some bloggers who monitor births online -- supposedly for the purpose of helping to find resources -- began mocking the names that Dickens had chosen for the babies: JaMir Amare, a boy, and his sisters, Si'ani Ritay, NaRae Dimetria, Jade Na'Liyah and Rayne Anye.

Each weighed between 1 3/4 and three pounds.

But there was more to the story. Dickens had suffered from a hormone imbalance since she was a teenager. Her body could not produce estrogen. She could not get pregnant. But what bothered her most was the severe skin problem caused by the hormonal imbalance. Her doctors put her on several medications, which provided temporary relief, before coming up with what was supposed to be the cure: a fertility drug called Clomid.

"I was told there was a chance I could get pregnant, but I became pregnant almost instantly, after less than a week of treatment, which is not common," Dickens recalled during my recent visit.

She and Davis have known each other since junior high school. She was employed as an administrative assistant at the University of Maryland Medical Center, he had a job at a warehouse. They figured they could handle a baby, and, Dickens noted, their talks about getting married took on a new urgency.

During her first prenatal visit, she learned that there was more than one heart beating in her womb. A lot more.

"I was in shock. I was angry. I was so scared," Dickens said. "I cried and cried, and when I told Noval, he cried, too. How were we going to take care of five children?"

To make matters worse, Davis was laid off from his job at the warehouse. He wants to work, but to look for a job he'd have to leave Dickens home alone with the babies. The Davis Quintuplet Fund was set up by the University of Maryland Medical Center at M&T Bank, 22 South Green St., Baltimore, Md., 21201. But less than $1,000 has been donated so far, mostly by a small circle of family and friends.

Dickens and Davis are undaunted.

"Would I like more help? Sure, and a minivan, too," Dickens said, smiling as she looked up, her hands folded in prayer. "But regardless, I will never look at these babies and say, 'It's too much. I can't deal with it.' I chose to have them, and Noval and I, God willing, can take care of them."

They were sitting on a sofa, feeding three of the babies and changing their diapers. Davis held one baby in the cradle of his arm while using his chest to keep a bottle in the infant's mouth. He'd just fed and burped a second and was now balancing that baby in the palm of his other hand. When Dickens finished changing the diaper on a third, she took the baby from Davis's palm and placed the one she'd changed in a blanket next to her.

Two more infants will soon join the juggling act. The parents say they are ready. But they have only four hands.

Not enough.

E-mail:milloyc@washpost.com

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