Marcella Quezada had cuddled her tiny babies one at a time since she gave birth three weeks ago, but for the first time Monday she gathered all five in her arms at once.
Breaking the reverie in appropriate infant fashion, one of the babies spit up on her.
But that did not spoil the moment for Quezada, who could not stop smiling. "It's a revelation of things to come," joked the nurse who wiped up the mess.
After doctors at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Woodland Hills told Quezada that two of the five will be healthy enough to go home today--and the other three within two weeks--she and her husband, Ramon, sat glowing in the neonatal intensive care unit with five little heads laying on her bosom.
For the Quezadas, the new family was a symbol of hope after tragedy struck a year ago. They are both restaurant workers who lost their condominium and most of their possessions in the Northridge earthquake and have struggled ever since.
The quintuplets--two boys and three girls--arrived almost two months prematurely and have been under intensive 24-hour supervision since Feb. 9, when 26-year-old Quezada gave birth to Andrew, Raymond, Kimberly, Tiffany and Patricia--the last named after Quezada's obstetrician.
"I want to take them home, but I'm worried about all of them coming home," Quezada said. They are her first children and certainly a trial by fire.
"What if they all cry at the same time? . . . I think it'll be a lot easier when they reach a year old," she said, anticipating the thousands of diapers she will use in coming months.
Ramon and Marcella Quezada had tried repeatedly to have a child, failing until Marcella began taking fertility drugs last spring. The drugs worked--and then some.
"These kids were a surprise because I didn't think that I could be pregnant, and it was an even bigger surprise when there were five," she said.
Andrew and Raymond, who will be the first to make the journey home Tuesday, were also the first two born.
The boys' health has improved considerably, hospital officials said.
"In order for the babies to go home, they must be at a point where the parents can make them comfortable," said Dr. David Braun, a neonatologist at Kaiser who takes care of newborns.
At this point, the girls are a little smaller than the boys and more reluctant to eat, he said. The infants must be able to breathe and eat on their own, show weight gains and no longer rely on incubators for warmth, he said.
Quezada had spent three months in the hospital since Thanksgiving, when doctors began trying to delay her from giving birth as long as possible, until the quints could be delivered by Cesarean section in the 32nd week. "We were able to keep her in until the babies got to an appropriate size," Braun said.
Help has poured in for the Quezadas, who are obviously concerned about how the quintuplets will affect their budget. They now rent a four-bedroom house in West Hills, which they have equipped with five cribs for the new arrivals.
Even the nurses in the neonatal unit have volunteered to baby-sit when Quezada returns to work at a Carl's Jr. restaurant in April. Her husband is a restaurant cook.
The family has received baby food from Gerber, diaper bags from Toys R Us and child safety seats from the staff at Kaiser. Now, all the family needs is a van to replace their old Datsun, which is too small, and a five-baby stroller, Marcella Quezada said.
Five will be enough, she said: "I don't want to have another baby."