I must begin by saying that Four Before Their Time is not the creative title that this book deserves. The “Four” is a miraculous set of quadruplets born at not quite 25 weeks of gestation. Their fight to survive is riveting and heart wrenching, but the title falls flat and the story is slow to begin as Timothy Spillane, the quadruplets’ maternal grandfather, seems to have struggled to find a starting place. Once started, Spillane shares the precious story of his daughter Anne and her four tiny babies.
With seven children of my own, you may guess that I love babies. I do! So much so that I have also worked as a Newborn Care Specialist with babies that are not my own. One such family for whom I volunteered was finally able to bring home their quintuplets (5!), and I was so blessed to be a part of the team that helped them to adjust from the hospital’s NICU to life at home. Between the feedings, changes, cleanups, and ushering Mom and Dad off to get some rest, I did not get to hear too much about what it was like for them and their babies before they were able to bring their babies home. Needless to say, I was very interested to read about the Schlender quadruplets in order to get a clearer perspective on what families with high order multiples, and preemies in general, go through.
As slow as Four Before Their Time may be to get off the ground, Spillane quickly finds a good groove wherein he works to develop a picture of his family, especially his relationship with his daughter Anne, and the roller coaster experience surrounding the pregnancy and birth of their first… second… third… and fourth grand-babies. In the midst of the story of all that these precious babies and parents went through due to their early birth, Spillane does a great job explaining different developmental points for babies during a healthy gestation, the health concerns and procedures that his grand babies faced as a result of being born too soon, the technology that has been developed to give the babies a chance to fight, and how so many of the outcomes for this family can be credited only as miracles.
Our personalities are often shaped by our past experiences. In turn, our personalities often determine how we handle our current experiences. With this in mind, Spillane has done a great thing for this story by sharing some of their family background as he interweaves what the babies were facing in the NICU.
The mother, Anne, is a twin. She herself born a bit too early. She and her twin are both doctors, Army doctors, who not only know the medical side of what these babies are going through, but also a bit of the bureaucracy that plays in from time to time at the military hospital where they are being cared for. Rob, Anne’s husband, is one to take extended amounts of time to make just the right decision, but is now faced with making fast, life saving decisions for the care of his fragile babies. The stress is unimaginable to me. Anne and Rob are not alone, however, as it is a very tight knit family.
Throughout the book, I found myself not only marveling at the fight these babies put forth in order to survive, but also the relationships between the Spillane family. I tried to imagine what my family would be like if we were facing such a difficult time, but I couldn’t. Would my parents fly down to visit so many times? Send out emails to update family and friends for me? Rent a second home to be there for us when our babies came home? Obviously, for some of that there must be a financial backing, but for other things, it seems, this family’s support simply grew out of the strong and intertwined relationships that they all already shared. How much of that strength went in to those babies to cause them to fight that much harder to get home to their family?
I do wish that I had not flipped through the book at the beginning and so caught a glimpse of the picture at the back of the book which shows who of the four babies survived all of their complications – that is your forewarning. Perhaps flipping through and finding the picture gave me that bit of a push that I needed to get past the slow start to the meat of their struggle. At any rate, the story that plays out is so full of ups and downs that it cannot continue slowly for long, so hold on!
Four Before Their Time is a touching story that is as much about a father’s supportive relationship with his daughter as it is one that centers on that daughter’s preemie quadruplets.
Alyssa Katanic is a wife and homeschooling mother of 7 children under 11 years old. She loves reading and collecting great books to share with others and knows that one can never have too many!
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by SkitterBird, LLC. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.