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Nine for now

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By Tom Wilmoth

In 2001 Mike and Pam Poff were ready to take over a youth group at their church.

But the night before that announcement was going to be made everything changed. Pregnant with what she believed was twins, Pam suffered complications late one night and went to Bedford Memorial Hospital. An ultrasound technician was called in.

“As soon as I saw her face when she did the ultrasound, I knew something was wrong,” Pam said, fearing that maybe there had been a miscarriage. The tech turned the screen around, stating she had never seen anything like what she had observed. That’s when the couple got the news: there weren’t just two heartbeats, there were four.

“I was very excited,” Pam said.

“God decided to do something pretty fancy,” added Mike.

That news changed their lives forever — all for the better.

With two older children already — Meagan and Rachel — the Poffs began to prepare for the quadruplets that were on the way. They were encouraged to reduce the quadruplets, but would have nothing of that. “If God wants us to have four, then they’ll come and everything will be fine,” Pam said of their decision. Though she was told she would face bed rest from 12 weeks on, Pam didn’t actually begin that until 25 weeks.

Six years after the births of Jonathan, Matthew, Franchesca and Nathaniel, the Poffs are now a family of nine living in Sedalia. Alexandra, their youngest, was born 20 months ago. “He (Mike) definitely wanted three (children) and I definitely wanted four,” Pam said. They each got their wish.

A day in the life of the Poff family takes plenty of planning, patience and teamwork.

Mike describes his wife as the American version of Margaret Thatcher. “She’s an iron lady,” he says of Pam.

The quadruplets were born at 32 weeks ranging from 2 pounds 15 ounces to 3 pounds, 8 ounces. Franchesca didn’t require any assistance after birth, but the boys needed forced air. “The whole thing was a miracle,” Pam explains of the births.

“Our girls tell everybody the four of us prayed for a baby...and we each got one.”

When they first found out the quads were on their way, Mike and Pam asked the question: “How are we going to make this work?” The answer: Everyone will be involved.

It took all four to carry one of the infants when they left the hospital, and it’s still a family effort.

“We never would have made it the first couple of years without Meagan and Rachel,” Mike points out.

Adds Pam, “There were days, especially when they were in diapers, that we felt we were on an assembly line.”

Pam was running her company, P.R.O., Inc., so Mike, who had worked in radio for 10 years and had received a theological degree, decided to leave his job at that time and stay home. Within three months after he quit that job, Pam’s position had more than covered that lost salary.

“We had to really rethink some of the things,” Mike said. That also included calling the pastor of the church to tell him they weren’t going to be able to take the youth pastor position.

After Pam was discharged from the hospital following the quads’ births, much of their lives surrounded getting the girls off to school and then heading to Roanoke Memorial Hospital to see the new babies. “It was a lot to take in,” she said, of meeting with the doctors every day.

Pam is organized which became important to the family which had just doubled in size. “When they finally got home it changed our life tremendously at the beginning,” she said.

That meant regular three-hour feedings with 30 to 45 minutes for Mike and Pam to sleep in-between.

Other than one friend who would come to the house on Wednesdays to help, the load of the work rested with Mike, Pam, Meagan and Rachel.

But they didn’t let the quads change how they lived their lives. Prior to their arrival the family enjoyed trips and they continued to do that.

“We didn’t change the route, we just added more cars to the train,” Mike said.

Scheduling is key in this family.

“It makes it good for them and it keeps us sane,” Pam said.

Mike has used this experience to share with others. He writes regularly for Twins Magazine with his most recent article on time management.

The quads do everything at the same time including eating, napping and going to bed. “There’s going to be a group dynamic, no matter what you do,” Mike explains. “They’re individuals, but there is going to be that. We try to harness the group dynamic and keep its focus.”

By doing that, they can go to any restaurant and have a meal. “People will actually come up and comment how well the kids are behaved,” Mike added.

The schedule actually started while the quads were in the Neo Intensive Care Unit after they were born. That helped set the feeding schedule, which the Poffs continued once they were home.

Meagan and Rachel helped out during the day after the quads came home and Mike and Pam took care of the night duties. They also kept the two girls’ extra activities going.

“We never wanted them to resent this group of brothers and sisters...or to think they were less because of them,” Mike said. “It would have been all but impossible without their help.”

The two girls have certainly had plenty of practice to become Moms themselves.

“They’ve seen it all,” Mike said.

One time after the quads turned 2, the family went to New York City. They went to Chinatown. Mike was left on the street corner with two double strollers while the others went shopping. Within 15 minutes, Mike said some 300 people had gathered around them, speaking lots of different languages.

The Poffs often draw mixed reactions — from being called “blessed” to “you poor people.”

Some folks are bold enough to say: “I hope you’ve had your tubes tied now or you’ve had him fixed.”

The Poffs simply shrug those off. They know they’re blessed.

For Pam, running her business and helping care for her family means starting early in the morning and ending late.

She owns a case management company for worker’s compensation and major medical that covers five states and the Washington D.C. area. Her day begins around 4:30 a.m., as she wakes up early to get work done for the business before family duties begin. Her work schedule is better now than when the quads were born. Back then she was working 70 hours a week.

On some days, Pam might even get up at 3:30 a.m. to complete work for her business. “I try to get as much done as I can before we start our day,” she said. She’ll also work some in the afternoon and in the evening, putting in 50 hours per week. Once a week, she has to go into the office and she also travels occasionally.

But when she can, Pam works from home.

Mike gets up about 5:30 a.m. and by 6 a.m. he’s waking up all the children except the youngest. Between then and 7:30 a.m. they will eat breakfast and Mike will prepare six lunches. There will be up to eight showers, everyone gets dressed and the table is cleared. By 7:30 a.m. they’ll step into their customized 12 passenger van to head to the bottom of the driveway to meet the school bus.

Once the children are off to school, Mike and Pam, if possible, take a trip to the Jamerson YMCA. That will include a couple of miles on the treadmill and some work on the weights.

Next up might be a trip to Sams to load up three carts of food for the next several weeks. Usually the next day includes a two-cart trip to Wal-Mart.

“We’re such a good customer that if I go in there and buy anything less than one hundred bucks I get a survey,” Mike said.

By 1 p.m. they’ll get home and put Alexandra down for a nap. They’ll unload the car, get lunch and by 3:15 p.m. the children will be back home from school. Meagan is a freshman at Liberty High School, Rachel is in sixth grade at Big Island Elementary and the quads are in kindergarten at Big Island. They make up almost half of the nine students in their class.

There are also the five dogs, six cats and seven horses that have to be cared for and fed as well.

Depending on the day, some of the children might be taken to dance class or preparations made for a women’s Bible study. Wednesday night is church.

Homework is also a priority. Some of that is completed before dinner at 5:30 p.m. and some after. Mike has always been the cook of the family. The quads go to bed at 8 p.m., Rachel at 9 p.m. and Meagan at 10 p.m. Chores have to be completed before they go to sleep.

After the children are down, Mike and Pam try to take time to look back over the day and plan for the following morning, before going to bed themselves.

Pam has a calendar that lists each child’s weekly chores. The children earn “Poff bucks” for their work which they can exchange for money or a privilege such as going skating.

Mike said the birth of the quads made them have to look at what was really important in life.

“God’s going to hold me responsible for these relationships more than any other,” Mike said.

Pam sets aside time to spend individually with each child. That child gets to pick where they want to go out to eat, one activity to do and something, within reason, to buy. “It strengthens our relationship,” she said. They also urge each child to take ownership of their own things such as their bed, clothes and toys. They celebrate the quads’ birthdays together, but each gets to pick out their own type of cake. Homework is done one-on-one individually.

“They have different personalities and temperaments,” Mike said.

The first year with the quads was the hardest for Pam. She was still traveling at the time for her job as well as supervising the company’s employees. “It was crazy,” she said.

The quads starting school has helped calm life down, both for Pam and Mike. But with homework and activities, there are still new challenges to tackle, such as filling out 18 valentines for each of the children. Everything that is done must be multiplied by four.

“It can still be exhausting, but it’s not as bad as it was then,” added Pam. “There are times I feel like we are running, running, running all the time.” When she wants to regroup, Pam rides one of their horses.

For Mike, it’s writing.

Mike enjoys contributing to Twins Magazine and as well as to other publications. He shares encouragement and insights of their unique perspective of parenting and relationships gleaned from the couple’s experience on the frontlines of domestic multi-parenting.

“We have a healthy family situation. It’s healthy and it works,” Mike said.

Like any family dynamics, there are dips and valleys that they must go through. Sickness can always be a problem, as it’s passed from child to child. But the Poffs couldn’t be happier.

“It’s grace and mercy,” Mike said of handling this large of a family. “We’re working with what God gave us. It’s worked unusually well.”