Raising 4 premature babies creates some panicky moments

The Macon TelegraphMay 19, 2013 

Editor's note: This story was originally published April 30, 1995.

With four babies and a 2-year-old in the house, a good night's sleep is rare at the Lineberger home these days.

But beyond the fatigue, taking care of four premature infants is presenting some frightening challenges for Houston County's Angela and Kerry Lineberger.

"I can't even keep water running in the kitchen for too long, because I can't hear the heart monitors beeping," Angela Lineberger said.

The Lineberger quintuplets were born on March 7, two months premature, at The Medical Center of Central Georgia. One boy was stillborn with a congenital heart defect, but the other four were healthy, considering their early birth. They went home after spending a few weeks in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit.

The two smallest boys, Ben and Luke, have been on heart monitors because of a fairly common, premature baby condition called bradycardia.

This periodic slowing of the heartbeat can be a precursor to other problems, including Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, in which an infant dies for no apparent cause. SIDS usually occurs in babies less than 6 months old and is more common in males.

Last week, Ben turned blue during one of those episodes.

"He pinked right up when I picked him up," his mother said. "But it was scary. Now we have oxygen in the house in case we need it for an emergency."

The heart rate returns to normal and the beeping that signals a problem usually stops as soon as someone picks up the baby, she said. When it doesn't, however, panic sets in.

"That happened last week, too," she said. "I picked up Ben and it kept beeping. All I kept thinking was, `What do I do now?' "

The beeping finally stopped, though, and she returned to her other tasks of taking care of the infants: feeding them every four hours, burping them, changing their clothes and diapers, bathing them as well as worrying about her first child, Tully, who still needs attention, too.

"I'm doing well with very little sleep," Angela Lineberger said. "If I didn't have those heart monitors, I'd be a basket case for sure, trying to check on them all the time. But a lot of it is just your attitude, I've decided. I have the rest of my life to sleep, you know?"

Kerry Lineberger, who has been getting up with the boys to feed them at 4 a.m. and then going to work, is tired, too. But both parents know it will eventually get better, Angela Lineberger said.

Another recurring, risky health problem is a spitting up response that all four boys experience after eating. They often have to have formula suctioned out of their noses to prevent them from choking or suffocating.

Home healthcare nurse Mitzi Collins, who visits the Linebergers twice a week, is concerned about the reflux response. She said the boys should grow out of it, though some premature babies don't.

The Linebergers are maintaining their positive attitude despite the problem.

"I think of it more as a nuisance than anything else," Angela Lineberger said. "I know they are going to be fine. You have to remember their actual due date isn't until May 7. They have all these goofy problems because they're premature."

But those "goofy" problems can pose risks, and the family hopes that insurance will pay for a night nurse to help out a few times during the week.

"They need the help," Collins said. "I'm worried about getting some help for these parents. Because the babies are premature, they may be developmentally delayed and need extra stimulation later on."

Right now, though, the medical problems need to be monitored. Taking care of one premature infant can be difficult, but four is "extremely hard," she said.

The family hopes to qualify for 20 hours a month of respite care through the state-funded early intervention program for developmentally delayed children. If they qualify, someone will come to help the Linebergers for a few hours each week. They are still waiting to hear if and when that will start.

But a night nurse once or twice a week to relieve some of the nighttime worry and pressure would be among the most welcome additions right now.

"Even when I'm getting some sleep, I'm still listening for every baby noise," said Angela Lineberger. "I've called every place I can think of to see if we qualify for a night nurse.

"A woman with Super Twins (a national organization for parents of triplets and quadruplets) said Georgia is one of the worst states when it comes to giving help to families in our situation. I just hope insurance will help for a while."

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