January 23, 2014

Two by two they were carried into an empty room in the birthing wing of St. Anthony's Regional Hospital, tucked into car seats and surrounded by love.

There were seven sets of twins born at the hospital in 2013, three sets almost back to back in the month of August. The numbers are highly unusual for Carroll County, confirmed SARH executive assistant Deb Porter.

Seven sets of twins in one year is the highest number employees have found in the hospital's records. Typically, two or three sets of twins are born at the hospital each year, said Porter. Nurses saw another high number in fiscal year 2008, when five sets of twins were born between June 30, 2007 and July 1, 2008.

On a cold Saturday afternoon in early January, six of the seven families made the trek back to the hospital. The reunion of sorts was organized by Porter and Birth Place Nurse Manager Pat Hogan.

First to arrive was Nick Hildreth of Rockwell City and 1-year-old twins Holden and Hayden, dressed in purple and lime green athletic outfits. Mom, Kylie Hildreth, couldn't come, but big brother Kolten accompanied dad to help with his younger siblings.

The Hildreths were followed shortly by Nicole and Kaleb Silbaugh of Jefferson with their 5-month-old twin girls, Addison dressed in pink shirt that proudly proclaimed she had a big brother while sister Aubree's outfitted starred two purple birds.

Chas and Ben Badding of Carroll arrived with 4-month-old identical twin sisters Brynn and Macy, decked out in matching pink costumes with white lace and gray fuzzy material trimming their hems.

Angie and Mike Tomka of rural Carroll brought the only twin boys, 4½-month-old Parker and Cooper, named for Texas cities and wearing matching blue and red plaid shirts.

Marisa Merkel of Manning brought the youngest twins, 2-month-old Jace and Bailey, he sporting a navy sweatshirt with a neon green elephant and she with a cupcake shirt and rainbow bow in her hair. Dad, Jared Merkel, was unable to attend, but both babies settled down comfortably, one in each of mom's arms.

Last but not least came Lisbeth Barragan of Denison with the oldest set of twins, 1-year-old Crismaris and Damaris, dressed in matching plum coats, but sporting different bows. Grandma Carmen Sotelo helped carry the twins since dad, Israel Rodriguez, was unable to attend.

The camaraderie between the parents was immediate as they compared the shock they felt when they first heard the news that they would have twins.

The Hildreths were originally told to expect triplets, while the Merkels' were told to expect one. Marisa told her husband to stay home for the second ultrasound appointment, leaving her to deliver the surprising news to Jared.

"I didn't realize what we were in for until I saw their faces," she said.

The Tomkas, who already had five children, said their jaws dropped when they heard their last child was actually two.

"It's not as busy as people would think," Angie said with a laugh.

"They always have somebody to play with," added Mike.

The parents also agreed that their children's first smiles are one of their most vivid memories.

"Seeing their little smiles makes up for all the sleepless nights," said Chas Badding.

As they waited for the photographer to set up his final preparations, some of the babies began to fidget or cry. Chas quickly swapped babies with Ben.

"That's how it is in our house too - Dad gets the crabby one," Marisa said with a smile.

The trick is to quiet the unhappy baby quickly, before the other baby can join with a sympathy cry said Mike Tomka.

"Once they start it's like surround sound," added Chas Badding, as the parents laughed and nodded in agreement.

Both cases were displayed a few minutes later as the parents laid their babies down in a circle on a blanket on the floor. One baby started to cry, and the cries quickly carried around the circle, until the room was full of unhappy sounds.

Except for little Bailey Merkel in her cupcake shirt and pink pants - a natural in front of the camera, she matched each camera flash with wide eyes and a wide grin.

As the photographer conceded defeat to the crying collection of children, their parents moved in to pick them up. The room returned to its previous silence in less than 30 seconds, sending off another round of laughter from the parents.

Most of the adults have twins in their family lines. Angie Tomka's grandfather was a twin and Mike Tomka has twins aunts and twin cousins. The Hildreths also have twins are both sides of the family. Marisa Merkel has an aunt and uncle who are twins, and Kaleb Silbaugh has twins throughout his side.

As the parents bundled their twins back into their car seats, they left the nurses in the Birth Place smiling.

"It was fun for us to see them all again," Hogan said of her nurses and the twins.

They chuckled as they reflected on this winter's string of storms, highly anticipating 2014's flock of newborns. They have already seen their first set of twins.

"It won't be long now," Porter said cheerfully.