The juggle is real for mother of five Kendall Walker. She talks to Cloe Willetts about adapting to change and embracing a new family dynamic.
Then Timaru mum Kendall Walker found out she was pregnant with quadruplets, visions of dirty nappy mountains, a chorus of newborn cries and synchronised feeds nervously flashed in front of her. But as her stomach quickly grew with her four precious babies – Quinn, Indie, Hudson and Molly – the excited expectant mother never imagined she’d be raising five kids alone just a couple of years later.
However, after splitting with her children’s dad in the middle of last year, Kendall is now confidently mastering the role of solo part-time working mother, juggling the ins and outs of co-parenting with strict routines and weekly specialist appointments for her toddlers, who were born 12 weeks prematurely on August 15, 2018.
“If I was looking from the outside in, I’d think raising five kids alone would be impossible, but I just adapted and I make it work. I didn’t think I’d be able to manage it all, but I’m definitely surprised and almost proud by how much I can really do,” says the inspiring 29-year-old, who’s chatting to Woman during the quads’ afternoon nap, while her eldest son Brooklyn, six, is at school.
“For the first couple of years, the quads have needed ongoing appointments every week to check their progress – from optometrist and paediatric to hearing and physio – since they were born three months early when vital organs were still developing. This week we had four appointments, so I have to be really organised. Don’t get me wrong, some days are tough.”
For Kendall – who has amassed more than 28,000 followers on her Instagram page @quad_mum_plus_one – it was never going to be smooth sailing welcoming New Zealand’s first quads in two decades. Born as sets of fraternal and identical twins at just 28 weeks and four days’ gestation, the quads barely weighed a kilogram each and relied on machines to stay alive. It was touch and go for many weeks.
“Quinn needed air removed from her lung two days after they were born, and Molly and Hudson have had chronic lung disease from the start. Their first year was horrible and this year we’ve had a few hospital admissions, because when they get a cold they get really sick with asthma,” says the real estate administration worker, who almost lost Molly, the youngest quad, when her lung collapsed at five-months-old.
“The quads had only been discharged from hospital a week when Molly stopped eating and went downhill really fast and couldn’t breathe on her own. She almost died, and Josh [the kids’ dad] and I were talking about that the other day, and how scary it is knowing your child came that close.”
At the time, Molly was so tiny and sick she needed to be helicoptered out of Timaru to Christchurch, clinging to life, where she miraculously recovered after eight days. Kendall describes little Molly as a “firecracker”, and says her early fighting streak is a testament to her strongwilled nature today.
“We love her endlessly, but she’s definitely our most difficult child – only because she’s got so much sass and fierceness!” laughs the gym-loving mum, whose quads were born within three minutes of each other. “She’s a very free spirit and is dramatic and always has to have all the attention on her. She’d make a great only child.”
Molly is also about six months ahead of her brother and sisters in terms of milestones, and can already speak in sentences and ask questions. “This means Brooklyn has the closest bond with her, even though he loves them all.”
Hudson, Molly’s twin, is the smallest of the siblings, who were conceived after Kendall started taking the fertility drug clomiphene after difficulty conceiving. She sadly lost a baby before falling pregnant with the quads.
“Hudson is tiny compared to his sisters and so cute. He keeps to himself and is very patient,” Kendall says. “The girls know that if he’s playing with a toy and they want it, they can just get it and Hudson won’t do anything about it! He doesn’t seem to really care, and I feel a bit sorry for him sometimes. But he’s so happy in his own wee world and comes to check in with me from time to time.”
Her little boy is also the number lover of the pack, able to count down from 20 as well as recite colours, the alphabet and various songs.
Identical twin girls Indie and Quinn are good eaters and sleepers, and have the tightest bond out of the quads, says Kendall. But other than that, the dynamic duo are opposites.
“Quinn has been our easiest child out of all five, and takes care of herself.”
“She’s just so happy all the time and does what she’s told, whereas Indie is known for her cheek! She knows what she’s not allowed to do and just doesn’t care.”
“I’ll see she’s about to do something she knows she shouldn’t, so I say, ‘No Indie,’ but she just looks at me, smiles and does it. She’s also the furthest ahead in communicating, along with Molly.”
With four toddlers and a school-aged child to wrangle, family outings are scarce for Kendall, who relies on the love and support of a few close friends since her parents and siblings live two hours away in Christchurch. She recently bought her ex-husband out of the South Canterbury home they shared until nine months ago, and she’s happy there.
“A couple of times I took all the kids to watch me play netball, but they kicked up a fuss about being stuck in prams. It didn’t go very well!” Kendall recalls. “They want to be out running around and enclosed netball courts don’t really work out. When they’re older I’ll definitely get them there, when they understand they have to sit down. It’s usually only Brooklyn who comes along to watch, which he loves, as it’s one-on-one time for us.”
Taking the quads out to a park or indoor playground, with four sets of arms and legs to monitor, is near impossible for Kendall, who has two days to herself each fortnight while the kids stay with their dad, alternating depending on his work.
“All my family live in Christchurch, so when I separated, I did want to move because my whole support unit is there, but I couldn’t, obviously,” she shares. “At first, I really struggled to adapt to the fact that I wouldn’t have the kids for 48 hours, and although I never doubted their dad’s ability to look after them, I was just so used to them always being there. I felt like I was really annoying to him, checking in on them, but we’ve reached a point where it’s easier.”
During the week, between monitoring outdoor play at home and the quads’ favourite activities of colouring and building with blocks, one of Kendall’s bigger responsibilities is mastering their rigorous sleep schedule. “We have a really strict routine and they’re used to it. I say, ‘Bedtime,’ and they start walking into their rooms because ever since they came home from hospital, they’ve always gone to bed together,” she says.
“After one starts to wake up, I begin waking them all. I’ve always kept the same times they go to sleep, which is at seven in the evening, and then they usually wake about seven the next morning.”
Once the four tots are tucked in at night, Kendall has dinner and helps Brooklyn with homework, before organising the following day’s clothes for six and eventually laying her own head on a pillow around 10pm.
“If I’m having a tough day, I also make a point of getting to the gym and letting off some steam, because it’s my outlet – just an hour to myself doing what I like, which really helps me,” explains the busy mum, who was ten months postpartum when she started at the gym again, unable to do a single sit-up.
“My muscles and everything had just taken a beating from carrying the quads, but I was really determined to get my body back, because I played a lot of sports like netball, basketball and touch, and was very fit.”
Thanks to social media making Kendall a familiar face around town, as well as the sight of four cute toddlers in double buggies, people often stare when they’re out and about. “Someone can be walking towards us and they literally just stop in front of us without moving or saying anything, so we have to walk around them,” she admits. “It’s so awkward and it happens all the time!”
Before becoming a mum of quads herself, Kendall followed other mothers of multiples. “I used to follow people online who had quadruplets and think it was crazy, and that it’d never happen to me,” she says with a laugh.
“I’d also wonder what my life would be like if I had quadruplets and then it happened! It was crazy. I didn’t think people actually had quadruplets and I didn’t do IVF either, so it was a huge shock, but I love my kids and would do it all a hundred times over.”
I describe this whole experience as crazy. Crazy good and crazy hard, and I wonder how I made it
When it comes to changing her relationship status, Kendall admits it’ll take a special kind of person to embrace her home life. “After I separated, I saw myself as undesirable and didn’t give dating a second thought, but I was pleasantly surprised by some people showing interest,” she says. “I respect that my situation isn’t for everyone, so it’s nice knowing that being divorced and having five children isn’t an issue for everyone and I’m happy to see what happens.”
Looking back over the past couple of years, from meeting her miracle babies and seeing their distinct personalities flourish, to having them rush inside to greet her after time at their dad’s, Kendall accepts her unique family dynamic with positivity.
“I describe this whole experience as crazy. Crazy good and crazy hard, and I wonder how I made it through. Now I’m really excited to watch the kids grow and see where this whole next year goes for them as they turn three. It still blows my mind that I have quadruplets.”