I remember meeting Michelle Seals for the first time. She was laying in a hospital bed rolled on her side gripping a couple of extra pillows.
“Hi, I’m Craig,” I said, as I walked in. “Can you I get you anything?”
The East Texas first-grade teacher was already on bed rest, admitted to the hospital because she was a high-risk case and was trying to carry her five babies as long as she could.
“Naw, I’m doing fine,” she told me with that thick southern accent.
“I sound like a hick,” she added, because she wanted me to know she didn’t like the way she sounds.
We both started laughing and it broke whatever tension there might have been from a first encounter between strangers.
The Long Wait
The days leading up to the birth of the quintuplets were long and tough for the Seals. I would visit with her on a weekly basis and check in.
“Twenty-eight weeks,” she would always say. “Twenty-eight weeks.”
That’s how long she was trying to hold on to those babies. After 28 weeks gestation, 90 percent of babies will survive. At that point, they are less likely to have complications later in life.
Seals made it to 29 weeks.
To keep her sane, every once in a while the nurses would roll her bed outside to let her breathe fresh air and see other people. One time, we rolled her bed down to the labor and delivery department and showed her where everything would take place and where her children would go after they were born.
“It’s going to take close to 30 people and three of these operating and recovery rooms,” a nurse told her.
I got the text message from a nurse early on the morning of March 18th.
“Today’s the day,” is all it read.
There was no question what it meant. Hours later, Michelle Seals was being wheeled into an operating room. Her husband, Steven, looked nervous in his scrubs. He held her hand the entire time.
Then, one by one, Rayleigh, Mia, Tessa, Gracie and Brant all came into this world. The family allowed me to be there to document it all. The babies join made a big brother out of 2-year-old Brady.
A New Life
The children spent the next four months nursing back to health in the Baylor Dallas Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. They were long days for both parents, spent rocking, feeding and changing five children.
It’s a lifestyle that is hard to prepare for. You need incredible flexibility, and the patience of, well, a first-grade school teacher.
I was there the first time Michelle Seals held all five babies at once. It was a photo shoot close to Mother’s Day.
She joked at the time, “This is the closest we’ve all been since you were inside my tummy.”
Over her six-month stay, I never saw Michelle Seals cry once.
Maybe I just wasn’t around for it. But the gravity of her situation and the uncertainty of her children’s health never seemed to overwhelm her. The family is strong and very spiritual and it has guided them down this unique road.
But before leaving the NICU, both Michelle and Steven broke down in tears while talking about to the media on Thursday.
“They’re like family, [the nurses] befriended us,” Michelle said. “They were just wonderful and I’m just glad I get to keep in touch with them and continue our friendship.”
Some of the nurses were in tears as they helped load the children into the car.
“Taking care of the quints might be a once in a lifetime experience for a nurse—what an honor,” one said.
Good luck, Seals family. We will miss you. Safe travels heading back to the small town of Maud, Texas, population of about 1,000 — plus five.