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Alabama sextuplets turn one

The arrival of sextuplets turned one young family's world upside down, emotionally and financially. Babies are not cheaper by the half-dozen.
/ Source: NBC News

Anyone with a new baby in the house knows it can be wonderful and exhausting. And that's with just one baby. But imagine a six-pack! The arrival of sextuplets turned one young family's world upside down, emotionally and financially. Babies are not cheaper by the half-dozen.

One hot Alabama night in the summer of 2002, Birmingham had a baby boom. Perhaps no two people were more amazed than parents Chris and Diamond Harris, who were prepared for a bundle, but got afew more than they bargained for.

After all just two and a half years ago they were newlyweds, working hard to get ahead. Chris, a third grade teacher, had a second job as a tutor, and Diamond worked two nursing jobs. They'd bought a comfortable home, where they were raising five year old Dewayne, Diamond's son from a previous relationship, and were ready for a second child.

Diamond Harris: We were praying to get pregnant and couldn't get pregnant at first.

Sara James: ”How long did you try before you thought, hey, wait a minute, maybe something's not right?”

Chris Harris: “It had been maybe two years.”

They consulted a fertility doctor, who prescribed a hormone for Diamond, but warned them not to expect much. Nevertheless, Diamond soon learned she was expecting not one child, but twins.

Diamond: “We were like okay, this is fine. We're through. Two babies, okay.”

As it turned out, the situation was far from okay.  Diamond developed a blood clot in her lung, and had to be hospitalized for the rest of her pregnancy -- even as the couple learned their family would be growing more than they ever imagined. Diamond had an ultrasound, which showed not two babies, but five.

Diamond: “I'm scared. I'm only planning on having one, have two. And you're telling me five? I told them go check that screen, something's wrong with it.”

As it turns out, that sonogram was wrong, as the couple learned on July 8, 2002, almost four months early on D-day, delivery day. A nurse held up one finger as each baby was born.

The Harris family had exploded by a half dozen -- two girls, four boys -- making Chris and Diamond the parents of the first ever surviving set of African American sextuplets. At birth each weighed between a pound and three ounces and a pound and 12 ounces, normal for such a premature birth, but so small that Chris' wedding band could fit over each baby's thigh. The babies' first neonatologist warned the Harrises the early days were the most dangerous.

At first they needed machines to help them breathe, but amazingly, after two days, all the babies were off their ventilators -- although Chris still worried about little Kaleb.

Chris: “Kaleb worried me. because he was like transparent almost. I could see his organs. I could see his veins and I was really, really worried.”

Once assured that Kaleb wasn't in immediate danger, the Harrises headed home, where they hurried to get their house ready for the invasion.Every day, they visited Kiera, Kaylynne, Kaleb, Kobe, Kyle and Kieran at the hospital. The Harrises had budgeted for a larger family, but they'd never expected sextuplets.

Diamond: “We moved from home, from out of the wings of our parents, up here by ourselves, working two jobs, as a nurse and a teacher, one child. Add one more. We thought we had it all planned.”

James: “You guys got in pretty serious straits, didn't you, Chris?”

Chris: “We had depleted our savings account.”

Diamond: “So bad we were pinching pennies just to have food in the house.”

In fact, things got so bad with the Harrises finances, that they received an alarming notice from the bank, warning them they were about to lose the roof over their heads -- even before they brought the first of the sextuplets home.

Chris: “We get to the point where, next thing you know, we got a letter saying your house will be foreclosed in 30 days.”

James: “What were your feelings when you got that letter?”

Diamond: “I wanted to cry. I was like, we worked so hard, before the babies, we worked so hard to get ourselves, by ourselves, through school. No help from anybody.”

Chris: “Years of building.”

Diamond: “Years of building. What it took years to build it took six months to almost tear down.”

James: “Meantime the babies are coming home.”
Chris: “They're coming home to a house that we didn't know we were going to own anymore.”

By mid-October, with five of the six babies home, the clock was ticking. But just a week before the Harrises’ house was to be sold at auction on the courthouse steps, the local press got hold of the story. The response was immediate and overwhelming.

Parishioners of the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church -- a church that Chris and Diamond had never even attended -- presented them with a check for $10,000, enough to stave off the threatened foreclosure.

Chris: “I must say we were very surprised when we heard this news but we were extremely thankful.”

Diamond: “I couldn't believe it. I said just when you think humankind is just so rude, something like this happened. When you say ‘baby’ they just pitch in. Nobody wants to see a child out on the streets.”

It seemed everyone in Birmingham, and others from as far away as Britain, wanted to help out. The Harrises received two years of groceries from the local supermarket, formula for one year from a pharmaceutical company, a brand new van from a car dealership, cribs, bouncers, baby baths, and clothes, not to mention diapers, baby food and donations totaling $99,000. The Harrises were able to accomplish the unimaginable.

James: “So, this house.”

Chris: “We own.”

James: “Is free and clear.”

Chris: “That's right.”

Diamond: “I told Chris, I said we're in our 20's and we own our own home.”

James:” What does that feel like after everything you went through?”

Diamond: ”It wasn't in my plans, I'll tell you that much. But okay, I'll take it.”

One month after the first babies came home, baby number six, little Kyle, the boy who'd hidden from everyone, finally left the hospital.

James: “What's it like having all six at home?”

Diamond: “Whoa honey!”

LastNovember, when the babies were just four months old, Dateline stopped by to see what 24 hours in the Harris home was really like. It's something like this: 60 disposable diapers a day, two cases of formula daily. Diamond estimates she spends about $1,100 a week in groceries, does 20 loads of laundry a week, and takes out the trash 5 times a day.

Diamond: “Work would probably be a vacation for me right now.”

All that, plus caring for seven year old Dewayne who, Diamond says, loves his baby brothers and sisters, but hasn't been himself since they came home.

Diamond: “Dewayne is doing great. We're having to lean on him a little bit harder. We're trying to handle him and also the babies at the same time, which has been very, very hard.”

In those early days,  scores of volunteers from all over Birmingham, including the mayor of their suburb of Centerpoint helped ease the load on Diamond and Chris, who still had his elementary school children to consider.

Diamond: “We had a whole bunch of volunteers in the beginning. They were there at the time in the beginning when they were waking up every three or four hours at night. Every three or four hours in the day. And when I wasn't getting any rest, it go so bad, I would shake trying to mix their bottles because I was just so sleep deprived.”

James: “Well it's exhausting with one. People have sleep deprivation with one. But six.”

Diamond: “Yeah it was bad.”

By February, the volunteer shifts were tapering off and Diamond and Chris were on their own with the help of Chris's mom, Diamond's sister, and a few close friends. Before the sextuplets even reached their first birthday, Diamond had grocery shopping down to a science. The little ones still didn't know they were local celebrities.

James: “I'm guessing that you've got six kids with six different personalities.”

Diamond: “Totally different.”

At 10 months old each baby was making his or her mark of distinction. Kobe, the born leader, was first to crawl.

Diamond: “Kiera, she found her fingers, these two fingers she loves to suck. We call her Grandma because she looks like my mother. Kyle is the baby and he's number six and he acts like the baby, like he knows he's the baby. He cries, he's very sensitive. Kaylynne is nosy, very nosy. She has been nosy since day one in the hospital. Kieran is a loner. Kieran rather not be bothered by anybody. He sits by himself.”

And Kaleb earned the nickname  "the old man." With all the babies weighing more than 20 pounds, dad already had plans for at least one.”

Chris: “I had Kyle in the chair sitting next to me the other night and he looked over to me and smiled and I said ‘boy, you a big boy, go get a job!’”

All six babies are big and healthy, with none showing any signs of the neurological or developmental problems common with multiples.

Diamond: “After a while something might show up, but so far all the doctors are amazed that they're doing so well.”

Chris: “It's just a miracle. That's just the biggest joy that I could ever think of.”

This past summer,the Harris sextuplets reached a major milestone: they turned one. And when mom and dadget a spare moment, which is rare, they can only wonder what the future holds in store for them and their history-making children.

The Harris kids are part of an exclusive group. There are only six surviving sets of sextuplets in the United States. Not surprisingly, the Harrises are bursting out of the modest house they worked so hard to hang onto. Their goal now is to figure out how to add a new wing to accommodate seven growing children.