Nadia and Liz Harris were strolling in a mall in April when they got the word that Nadia was pregnant.
“I had just gone for the blood test to determine it, and we had to wait two hours to find out the results,” Nadia said. “We were anxious, so we went to the mall to take our minds off of it.”
When the call arrived, the couple learned that Nadia was not just pregnant, but “very pregnant,” as she described it.
“The word was it could be multiples and we thought maybe twins,” Nadia said. “I wasn’t all that surprised because twins run in my family — two of my sisters have sets of twins.”
Meanwhile, at the Hyatt where Liz works, the news was met with congratulations … and speculation.
“Everyone in the office was betting on how many,” Liz said. “But no one guessed as high as five.”
The couple had been trying to have children since they were married in Connecticut 4 1/2 years ago. After they moved to New Orleans in 2011 for career opportunities, they consulted Dr. Peter Lu of The Fertility Institute, who devised a fertility treatment for Nadia and performed intrauterine insemination.
“Dr. Lu was a lot more aggressive with the fertility treatment than doctors in other places we had lived,” said Liz. “We are just so grateful to him.”
As is the standard of care, Liu discussed with the women the risks associated with carrying five fetuses and broached the possibility of “selective reduction” — terminating one or more.
“But selective reduction was never an option for us,” Nadia said. “God blessed us with this pregnancy and through prayer and faith, we knew it would be OK.”
Dr. Stacey Holman was recruited to care for Nadia through the pregnancy and to deliver the quints. Luckily for both the babies and the moms, Nadia’s pregnancy went smoothly.
“I was only on bed rest for about the last month,” Nadia said. “Dr. Holman ordered me to stay home and ‘nest,’ and I did.”
“The goal is always to keep babies in the womb as long as possible so that their lungs can mature,” Holman said. “But when we performed an ultrasound and discovered that two of the babies had stopped growing, we knew it was time to deliver.”
The circumstances were harrowing: At just 27 weeks, the babies would be born more than two months early, meaning that neonatologists would need to monitor them and help them through the first difficult months in Touro Infirmary’s neonatal intensive care unit.
They would need assistance breathing and would need to be fed through tubes for many weeks.
“We rehearsed the whole delivery twice, far ahead of time,” Holman said. “We knew it was going to be complicated delivering five premature babies, not to mention keeping straight which was which. One of our strategies was a color coding system: The babies and their handlers would wear the same colored caps so we could make sure they were properly identified. There would be a team of 15 in the delivery room, not counting me and the mothers.”
The first rehearsal was “a disaster,” according to Holman, but the second went perfectly, like highly complex choreography. To make sure everything would go as planned, Holman insisted on total silence in the delivery room.
“Usually there’s chatter back and forth and people talking, but I wanted the room to be completely quiet so we could all concentrate and perform our roles exactly as we had rehearsed them,” Holman said. “Someone who watched from outside the room said they had never seen a delivery room that calm.”
Quintuplets are not a common occurrence and have never been delivered at Touro Infirmary, according to Holman. “To my knowledge, the last quintuplets delivered in New Orleans were born nearly 20 years ago,” the doctor said.
The Oct. 4 delivery by Caesarean section took just 40 minutes and, when it was over, there were five Harris babies in the world: Elizabeth Anne, Dawson Aidan, Maxwell Alexander, Micah Quinn and Joseph Matthew. They ranged in weight from 1 pound 8 ounces to 2 pounds 8 ounces — encouraging numbers for quintuplets. Today, they range from 3 pounds 15 ounces to 5 pounds 6 ounces. Maxwell and Dawson went home last Sunday.
“No word yet on when the others will be able to come home, but hopefully soon. Elizabeth just needs to gain weight, Micah needs hernia surgery, and Joseph needs to get more comfortable taking a bottle and not having the assistance of oxygen,” Nadia said. “They are otherwise doing phenomenally well.”
Having two babies to care for by themselves at home is a change for the couple, who had been able to rely on the expertise of the Touro NICU team.
“So far, we are sleeping in the nursery because we want to make sure the babies are breathing. We have a monitor but want to be sure they are OK,” Nadia said. “Touro’s NICU staff is so amazing and taught us so much that we feel confident that we’ll make it through these first nerve-wracking weeks at home. Without them, we would be lost.”
As for routines, the plan is to keep the babies on the same feeding schedule as Touro established, although Nadia realizes there will be little down time between feedings. Liz said that she and Nadia have hardly given a thought to the long-term future: If they’ll need a larger house, where the children will go to school, what vehicle to buy to transport them all, and the million additional decisions they will need to make.
“That’s just not where our focus is right now,” said Liz. “It’s on getting all five of them home and healthy. Then we’ll take it step by step.”