Tales from the Crib

updated 12/08/1997 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/08/1997 01:00AM

BECKI DILLEY SPOTS A MINICRISIS in the making when her 4½-year-old sextuplets, Claire, Brenna, Quinn, Julian, Adrian and Ian, sit down to play with her 5-week-old twins—two adorable kittens. "Oh, no, Brenna, we don't put a leash around the kitty's neck," says Becki, 31. "They're not toys, they're animals."

Another calamity averted at the always frantic Berne, Ind., home of Keith and Becki Dilley, who, like other dazed parents of multiple-birth children, have no shortage of war stories to tell. Marathon feedings, sleep deprivation, financial crunches—all the good stuff that Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey can expect. Not to mention group potty training. "There were days when I was in the bathroom three straight hours," says Becki, who works at home for an HMO (Keith, 34, is an airline reservations agent). Becki's advice to the McCaugheys: Be creative. "With the last one, Julian, I told him Walt Disney World doesn't allow diapers," she recalls. "He trained himself in a day."

Another challenge to parents of multiples is keeping up their stamina. "We rarely got more than two hours' sleep at a time," says Michele L'Esperance, 44, who with husband Raymond, 37, a deputy sheriff, has raised 10-year-old quints Alexandria, Danielle, Erica, Veronica and Raymond. The L'Esperances, from Davisburg, Mich., relied on catnaps to avoid full-blown exhaustion and still need help to carve out time away from their five fourth-graders (and Michele's son Christopher, 14). "We take the kids to grandma's for a weekend," she says. "Then we enjoy having the house to ourselves."

Organization, says Norman Haner, 36, is "the key to everything. You have to figure out what the babies are going to wear, backup clothes if they get sick, doctors' appointments. You're always thinking days in advance." Haner, a state corrections officer in Chatham, N.Y., and wife Michelle, 29, have spent the past 20 months changing 45 diaper's a day for sextuplets Christian, Ryan, Joshua, Mary Ellen, Austin and Breanna—a demanding bunch for whom the Haners had to have baby formula delivered by truck, 25 cases at a time.

But even superhuman scheduling skills aren't always enough. For the Thompsons of Washington—Jackie, 32, a former waitress, and Lindon, 32, an electrician—financial pressures were the biggest hurdle in raising surviving sextuplets Richard, Octavia, Stella, Emily and AnnMarie (a sister was stillborn). The 6-month-olds share one twin stroller and only three cribs in a cramped three-bedroom apartment, which means that "when one baby cries, the others start to cry," says Jackie. Donations and offers of help have streamed in since the Iowa miracle—the kind of community support that seems essential to raising large sets of kids. That, says Jackie, and faith. "God gave me the strength to do this," she says. "I look at my babies and see them as blessings."

Albeit noisy blessings. Julie Kerr, 38, and husband Brian, 38, of Littleton, Colo.—parents of 2½-year-old quadruplets Clare, John, Catherine and Christine—cite bedtime as a big patience tester. "As soon as you think you have everybody calmed down, you walk out and they scatter," she says. "They have a party in there every night." And yet for every mountain of diapers, there is an equal measure of bliss. The McCaugheys "are going to have a lot of fun," says Becki Dilley, whose maternal drive has hardly been depleted by raising sextuplets—those two kittens help take her mind off having another child. Says Becki: "My husband told me, 'Honey, I think I'll get you all the animals you want.' "

ALEX TRESNIOWSKI
With bureau reports from GIOVANNA BREU, JANE SIMS PODESTA, VICKIE BANE and MARIANNE STOCHMAL

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