Five Times the Fears

When Adwai Malual, of Sudan, first learned she was pregnant with multiple children she thought it would be easy. She was in for a daunting surprise.
By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 23, 2009

There are days when life for Adwai Malual looks like an endless wheel. Already she has lived through much: growing up in Sudan as war tore apart her homeland, discovering in the midst of it that she was pregnant, coming to this strange land of America.

Then, weeks later, she gave birth to quintuplets.

Now, in a small, crowded apartment in Laurel nearly two months after the babies' delivery, Malual's life is dominated by another kind of chaos. It begins every day at 3 a.m., as she wakes up to take over feeding duties from her mother, visiting from Sudan. One by one, she tends to her five babies in 40-minute shifts. By the time she has changed the last one's diaper, the first is crying for food again. And so it goes for 12 hours straight, until she hands them off to her mother so she can sleep for a little while before waking do it all again.

Life is now confined to this second-floor apartment and to the most basic of human needs: eating, peeing, pooping, burping and sleeping.

"I am grateful for the blessings in my life," the 28-year-old said recently during a rare break from her babies. "And I am tired."

All day long, her mind alternates between those two states. She thanks God for the people -- many of them complete strangers -- who donated diapers, time and money to help her through her grueling first few weeks out of the hospital. Then she prays for some way to survive the weeks ahead.

When Malual, who had been working as a branch inspector of a bank in southern Sudan, first learned that she was pregnant with multiple children -- three or four, her doctors in Sudan guessed -- she thought it would be easy. "It was my first time as mother," she laughed.

She traveled to Minnesota when she was 16 weeks pregnant to seek the blessing of her mother-in-law, a family figure who plays a large role in a Sudanese woman's pregnancy. When they met, her mother-in-law placed a hand upon Malual's head and then on her belly, anointing both with water.

Later, after she left to visit her sister in Prince George's County, she was rushed to the emergency room with complications. Over the next 11 weeks, a team including more than 30 doctors and nurses was put together to handle her case.

And last month, as her successful delivery of four girls and one boy was announced, television crews and newspaper reporters rushed to Anne Arundel Medical Center to cover the first quintuplets in the hospital's 106-year history and the first in Maryland in more than three years. Calls poured in to the hospital from people asking how they could help the children, Deng, the boy, and his sisters, Nyantweny, Nyandeng, Abyei and Athei.

In the days that followed, however, many of the offers faded away. The hospital has said it will work with the uninsured family to pay for the costs, but no avalanche of outside support has materialized, nor have companies like diaper manufacturers stepped in to help as sometimes happens in such births.

"I think part of it is the economy," said the Rev. Barbara Sands, a hospital chaplain who has been trying to coordinate help for the family. "It's just the times we're in right now."

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