DANVILLE — Think of the excitement generated by just one child who celebrates a birthday and Christmas just four days apart. Multiply that by five to only imagine the level of excitement in the Ferrill home every year at this time.
Just six years ago, Jenny and Pete Ferrill of Danville received the most treasured Christmas gift they could ever hope for — five little bundles of joy that would positively change their lives forever.
Known as the “Ferrill Five,” the quintuplets include three boys — Landyn, Layne and Drayden — and two girls, Irelyn and Kieran.
All five children — dressed in matching purple outfits — lined up like little soldiers a couple of weeks ago for their group photo in front of the Christmas tree. After a few quick clicks of the camera, they were off and running — giggling and tickling each other, as they excitedly talked about their Santa Claus lists and their Elf on the Shelf, who spends considerable time in the boys’ room monitoring their behavior.
Jenny and Pete had always wanted a big family, and they opted for fertility treatments after suffering two miscarriages during their early years of marriage.
When Jenny learned she was carrying quintuplets rather than the twins that were first expected, she and Pete visited many physicians who thought none of the babies would survive.
“The obstetrician that we chose was the only one who had faith in these babies,” Jenny said. “We consider it a privilege and a blessing to be able to raise all five of them today.”
Jenny delivered the quints at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis at 31 weeks into her pregnancy, following 22 weeks of bed rest in the hospital. Theirs was the first set of quints born at the St. Louis hospital in its 92-year history. It took a total of 100 doctors, nurses and other staff members to ensure a smooth delivery for the mother and five babies.
The preemies remained in the neonatal intensive care unit for varying periods of time, but the Ferrills were able to bring all five of them home when they were exactly 8 weeks old.
The quints have always varied in weight and height, and they reached their baby milestones at different times.
“For example, they took their first steps at anywhere from 14 to 22 months,” Jenny said.
Each of the children also was born with serious medical issues that they will most likely have throughout their lives.
“Our hope is that eventually a cure will be found for some of their health problems, or there will be a better way to handle them,” Jenny said. “With all the issues that they cope with every day, these children are a real inspiration to Pete and me. We don’t take any of them for granted.”
At age 2, one of the little girls — Irelyn — was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes, which Jenny and Pete monitor very closely.
“We take all the children with us to Indianapolis for Irelyn’s doctor’s appointment,” Jenny said. “I want them to learn to be nurturing and supportive of one another.”
The family also might stop by a zoo or aquarium for a short outing after any of the children’s doctor visits.
Jenny is eternally grateful to her mother, Karen Butikas of Westville, and other relatives for helping out with the health challenges that the quints have faced during their first six years of life.
She added that the high cost of medical care for the children continues to strain the family finances.
“Everything we do for our children comes out of our own pocket or from family and close friends,” Jenny said.
Both parents agree they continue to face different challenges as the children get older.
“While they can do more things for themselves, they are also developing unique personalities that require different levels of attention,” Jenny said. “No two of our children are alike.
“They may look alike when their heads are just sticking out above the bed covers at night — but we can never get their personalities confused.” she added. When they were infants she had to label the children so other family members could tell them apart.
Pete and Jenny
Both Pete and Jenny have a degree in psychology. Pete went on to get his master’s in social work, but Jenny decided to put a second degree on hold for the time being. The couple met in 1999 when they were both working as counselors at the Center for Children’s Services in Danville.
“It’s kind of interesting that the first case we worked on together involved a set of twins,” Pete said. They were married three years after that.
After the quints were born, Pete started his own personal development company so he could work from his home office and help Jenny with the babies.
“Jenny and I don’t miss going out with friends,” Pete said. “We did plenty of that before the quints were born.”
Also, before they had children, Pete and Jenny always shared the household chores.
”So it’s only natural that we also share in taking care of our children,” he added.
So that each child feels special on their shared birthday, Jenny provides five personal cakes for the quints, as well as a large cake to share with family and friends.
”Between their birthday on Dec. 21 and Christmas, we have a week of continual celebrations,” Jenny said.
Jenny and Pete often get questions about the Santa Claus procedure at their home. This is how it works: The parents and all five children spend an afternoon at Toys R Us several weeks before Christmas, and each child picks out two items from Santa Claus.
When they get home, they draw a picture of the toys on paper, and their artwork is hung from the living room ceiling. Then, closer to Christmas. one of Santa’s helpers pays them a visit at their home to personally record their Christmas wish list — which this year includes such items as a Darth Vader mask, a stuffed lion and cheetah, and a purple and pink mother horse and her colt.
Jenny said the boys and girls all play together, whether it is with dolls or Star Wars action figures.
“From the start the boys played rougher,” she added, “but over time the girls have learned to keep up with them.”
“Sharing is what it’s all about,” Jenny said. Sometimes the parents resort to using a timer to signal when a child needs to pass on their toy to a brother or sister.
“They play well together,” Jenny said. “It’s when they are quiet for a few minutes that we must absolutely check on them. They’re all fabulous about telling us the truth, which makes us very proud.”
The Ferrills do regular calming and affirmation exercises with their children, using yoga, tai chi and meditation. They also read books aloud to them every night before bed.
The parents find one of their biggest challenges is providing the quints one-on-one attention. They try to remedy this by taking a different child along each time one of them goes to the grocery store or runs other errands.
Now that the quints are of school age, Pete and Jenny have decided to home school them for the time being.
“With all their assorted health problems, it works better this way,” Jenny said.
The kids all love spelling and science in particular.
“Right now we’re learning about the planets and the food chain,” Jenny said. Their other favorite pastimes are drawing, painting, writing, and helping Mom and Dad.
The Ferrill family typically begins their day at 5:30 a.m. — when one or the other of the children wakes up. From that point on, Jenny considers their time with the quints to be a learning experience that she will always treasure.
“Our children have certainly taught both of us more about life than we will ever be able to teach them,” Jenny said. “We have definitely learned to be prepared for anything and to make the best of every situation.”
In addition to their five children, the Ferrills have a 110-pound malamute dog and a 75-pound Labrador that share their love.