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Insta-family: They hoped for one baby but got four

Published February 16, 2013 10:03 am

Life is never dull in the Sandness home, where an army of family, friends, neighbors converge to help care for babies.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sandy • It's 11 a.m. All four 3-month-old babies with thick black hair squeak, grunt and wiggle in their parents' arms. Two little boys wearing matching multicolored striped fleece jackets are quietly nestled, one in each of dad's arms. Two little girls wearing matching pink bows take turns opening and closing their eyes while their mom rocks them in a recliner.

This is the family's calm, peaceful moment for the day.

Moments later, one impatient scream sets off the rest — like a domino reaction ending in a barbershop quartet of wailing. With two boys and two girls, life is never dull at the Sandy home of Charlie and Kelley Sandness.

The first night at home with the babies was like a war zone. Diapers and wipes everywhere, spilling bottles, screaming babies echoing in double stereo sound.

"It was complete chaos, we had no idea what we were doing," said Kelley, while laughing in her sister's recently remodeled basement.

The couple, who are both 29, say between feeding babies every three hours and diaper changes every six, "Team Sandness," as a doctor called them early on, requires its own army.

"They say it takes a village to raise a baby. Well, it takes four villages to raise our babies," Kelley says wearily.

The troops arrive nearly every day in some form or another, whether it is offering baby-sitting or bringing meals in three times a week. The rule for visitors is simple: You visit ­— you do the chore of feeding or changing diapers.

"You are bound to be here when one of those things are happening," Kelley said.

On Tuesdays and Fridays, Kelley's mom and sisters cover the 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift and a friend covers the same schedule on Thursday and Sunday. On Monday, Wednesday and Saturday the couple alternate watching the babies.

On those mornings, Charlie gets up at 4 a.m. to watch the babies until he leaves for work two hours later. Volunteers from the East Dell LDS ward come by to watch the babies from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., so mom can get some sleep. Then, Kelley is back up and taking care of the newborns again until Charlie comes home and the couple spends some time together before going to bed — and the cycle starts all over again.

How it began • The Sandnesses were married in 2008 right before Charlie was deployed to Iraq with the Marines. After his deployment he became a drill instructor stationed in San Diego.

The couple bought a German shepherd named Lucy to temporarily replace the family that hadn't arrived yet. They were beginning to think they weren't meant to have a family after more than a year of no results and a recent unsuccessful round of costly fertility treatment in San Diego.

They decided to move on and not hold out for a miracle. They started taking scuba diving classes to occupy their minds and distract from the pain of not being able to conceive.

On the second round of Intra-Uterine Insemination (IUI), where a doctor injects the sperm directly into the uterus, everything worked perfectly. One night Kelley couldn't sleep and decided to take another pregnancy test. It was positive. A shriek woke her husband with the good news.

"I was in shock," Kelley said. "I didn't ever think it would become a reality."

When the couple went to the doctor for an ultrasound, they were expecting one baby. But the doctor started counting.

"When he was counting, I was like, 'Stop counting!' " Charlie recalled.

Doctors discussed the possibilities of aborting two babies to give the others a better chance at surviving.

"When they have quadruplets, often they all don't make it to survival," said University of Utah Hospital's Robert Silver, one of the Sandnesses' doctors. "The chances are so high of not having any babies to take home, it is something people consider if there are four or more [babies]."

Multiple pregnancies have increased over the past 20 years, because of assisted reproductive technology, he said.

The Sandnesses decided against aborting any of the babies.

"After we heard the four heartbeats, we decided 'we will do this and just take it one day at a time,'" Kelley said.

Life changes • She spent five weeks on bed rest at the hospital with pre-eclampsia and received medication to stop contractions. During that time Charlie spent every moment he wasn't at work living at the hospital.

"Kelley had a fantastic attitude and so did her husband," Silver said. "They had lot of optimism and excitement."

The babies, all weighing in at more than 3 pounds, were born Nov. 21 by Cesarean section. They spent about three weeks in the intensive care unit, and soon it was time to go home.

The Sandnesses relocated into the basement of Utah relatives after Charlie began a job training reserves at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City.

Nick Davenport, Kelley's brother-in-law, said the decision to bring six more family members into his Sandy home all came down to returning a favor and taking care of family.

"I feel blessed she was there for me and I could do it now for her," he said.

While Charlie was deployed in Iraq 3½ years earlier, Davenport and his wife, Jen, had a baby. During the delivery, Jen suffered a major stroke and lost all movement on the right side of her body. Kelley moved in with her sister for about a year to help with the baby, as her sister stayed in the hospital for therapy that included learning how to eat again. She can now walk, but still can't use her right arm or hand, and her speech is permanently impeded in many ways.

"Kelley was there every step of the way, so it was just my turn to pay it back," Davenport said.

Davenport remodeled the basement in two months to make it comfortable for the Sandnesses to live in when they arrived.

Adapting to having another family living underneath them isn't a big deal, Davenport said. The two families socialize daily and the Davenports have extended a welcome wagon for the Sandnesses until the family can financially get on their feet. The Sandnesses say they're grateful for the help, while the Davenports are enjoying the newest members of their household.

"A couple crying babies, it's not too much you can't handle," Davenport said.

cimaron@sltrib.com

Twitter: @CimCity Follow their journey online:

Visit: http://teamsandness.blogspot.com/