Couple wanted 2 kids; 6 on way

Big sister Zoe will have plenty of company when sextuplets arrive.

Published June 1, 2007

WESLEY CHAPEL - Karoline Byler is just four months into her pregnancy, and already the first stretch mark appeared.

A little early for most pregnancies - but not when you've got sextuplets.

With her 3 1/2-year-old daughter, Zoe, she didn't get the marks until about month six, she said Thursday.

But with sextuplets, she said, "Everything is multiplied by six."

Six times the morning sickness. Six times the exhaustion. And six times the anxiety of any parent-to-be.

As with many parents of multiples, Karoline and Ben Byler used infertility treatments to get pregnant. She had always planned on having just two kids, and since they already had Zoe, this pregnancy would be it.

But an early sonogram found two heartbeats. Twins would be neat, Mrs. Byler, 29, thought.

A more sophisticated screening confirmed those two heartbeats.

Then two more. "I got nervous."

And two more. "Of course I was floored. I was screaming, the whole thing."

She was overwhelmed with the logistics: "How are we going to afford this? Where are we going to put them? We only have a three-bedroom home."

But when doctors suggested selective reduction - removing a couple of fetuses to improve the odds for the remaining ones - the Bylers declined.

"I felt if this was what was going to happen, this was what we were going to go with," Mrs. Byler said. "People have done this before; it's rare, but it obviously can be done."

Becky Dilley of Indiana gave birth to the first surviving set of sextuplets in 1993. Experts pin the likelihood of naturally occurring sextuplets at about one in several billion. But with the popularity of fertility drugs, the rate of children born as higher-order multiples - meaning in sets higher than two - has increased almost fourfold in the last 20 years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Mrs. Byler has some local company in that category: Kathy Somoano, also of Wesley Chapel, gave birth in 2000 to the first quintuplets delivered at Tampa General Hospital.

So far Mrs. Byler and her progeny are all doing well.

"They're growing really good," she said. "Their heartbeats are really strong. It doesn't look like there are any stragglers."

The stay-at-home mom is on moderate bed rest now - only short errands and no lifting, no housework. Mr. Byler, who owns a Pepperidge Farm bread route, has stepped up at home. Family and friends have offered to help.

In July or early August, Mrs. Byler will be hospitalized for the remainder of her term. If this were a regular pregnancy, her due date would be Nov. 13. But with six babies, she will likely deliver in September.

The Bylers will turn their master bedroom into the nursery, with later plans to turn an alcove and part of the garage into additional bedrooms. The big worry is figuring out how to fit the entire family in the car.

"There is no vehicle that holds nine people," Mrs. Byler said. "The only things are passenger vans or conversion vans." And even then you need enough trunk space for two triple-strollers and a fleet of diaper bags.

At least the couple has come up with some baby names: Hannah Arline, Mackenzie Margaret, and Brady Christopher.

Only three more to go.

Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Rebecca Catalanello contributed to this report.