Kiwi quads turn one: 'It's been a crazy experience!'

Joanne and Brett Wills have survived a challenging but rewarding year

By Fiona Fraser
Twelve litres of milk purchased each week. Five loads of washing per day. And until recently, two full wheelie bins of dirty nappies hauled out onto the street for Wednesday rubbish collection.
But not any more – because mum of Napier quads Joanne Wills, 36, says she and husband Brett, 41, have just made the switch to reusables.
Many would call it madness, but Joanne says it's working well for them.
"Yes, it's a hard thing to do," she begins, taking a break from parenting four one-year-olds plus a toddler to speak exclusively to Woman's Day. "But it's so much more affordable with reusables – and we've reduced our waste by half. Also, we switch back to disposables on Sundays so we can give ourselves a day off!"
From left: Oliver, Esther, Jonathan and Lucy.
Having quads during a cost-of-living crisis is certainly a challenge, admits Joanne, but she and Brett are both completely in love with their personality-plus babies, Esther, Lucy, Jonathan and Oliver, who celebrated their first birthdays in August.
Big brother Peter, two, is never far from his siblings and to mark the quadruple occasion, 18 of the children's 19 cousins were also on hand. "On their actual birthday, we had a quiet day at home with just a couple of friends, but the following weekend, we threw a party that included 45 members of our family," Joanne shares.
Always ready with a parenting hack, Joanne eschewed the idea of baking individual cakes, instead cutting one large homemade cake into four, and icing and naming each segment for her delighted babies.
Other tips and tricks she's picked up over her first 12 months as a mum to Aotearoa's newest fraternal quadruplets include buying sleepsuits with zips, not buttons – "so much easier in the dark!" – and only taking two sets of spare clothes when the family goes on an outing, rather than four. "It's very unusual that more than two of them would need a change," she explains, "so we take our chances!"
One year ago (from left): Oliver, Esther, Lucy and Jonathan.
Joanne, who works full-time as an IT sales consultant, and Brett, currently a stay-at-home dad, agree that the last year has been deeply rewarding but hugely challenging.
"The first four months of the babies being at home was the hardest time of both our lives," says Joanne with candour. "We were seriously sleep-deprived, everything was new, and there were so many people coming and going that we didn't ever have a moment to sit down and chat.
"What we learnt, though, was to have a lot of patience for each other," she continues. "We accepted there would be times when the other was grumpy and learnt to communicate really well. We got through knowing that if it was getting too hard for one of us, the other would jump in and allow for some time out. And we survived!"
'If I sit down, within seconds I'm covered in happy babies'.
Encouraging the quads to sleep through the night has played a massive role in the babies' first year, Joanne confides. She was justifiably proud to have them all sleeping 12 hours at night just before Christmas, when they were still only four months old, sharing that a lot of her success came down to allowing the babies to self-settle, as difficult as that was at first.
"I spent all of November and December doing sleep training with them. There really isn't any other way to cope when you have multiples. I had to accept that as long as they were fed, dry and well, I couldn't be jumping up every time I'd hear a baby crying – not when I had four of them!"
Another lifesaver is the couple's live-in nanny, provided free of charge by the Ministry of Health for the first year. Also named Lucy – "we call her Lucy B", laughs Joanne – she helps with all five children's routines, so Brett isn't overwhelmed and Jo can continue to work.
"She's amazing," Joanne enthuses. "It's been so brilliant having her with us and it means that although I largely work from home, she and Brett can cope without my help – aside from mealtimes, when I'm sometimes called in from the office."
Stay-at-home dad Brett gets a helping hand from the quads' doting big bother Peter, who "likes to collect up all their toothbrushes
after their nightly routine".
Speaking of which, how does a parent of quads get on introducing solids to four babies at once? Surely a recipe for disaster, not to mention messy?
Again, Joanne and Brett have it down to a fine art. "We just bought four feeding chairs from Kmart, laid some big plastic sheets on the floor and got started," she laughs. "Obviously we couldn't afford to buy pouches of heat-and-eat baby food from the supermarket, so I'd cook up bulk batches of purée, we'd fill a bowl, grab four spoons and begin feeding them, one mouthful at a time until they were full."
Right now, the babies are eating about the same as two additional adults would each day – they all enjoy fruit, Jonathan gravitates towards meat and Lucy loves carrots.
And there are differences in how they're reaching other milestones too. Esther – the smallest baby when the quads were born – was first to crawl, but the others soon caught up.
"Now, they're cruising around the furniture and Lucy's even taught herself how to get safely down the stairs – I wonder if she might be the first to walk," muses Joanne. "Jonathan's learnt how to clap and he's so proud of himself! Oliver makes a lot of different verbal sounds, and he and Lucy love to play in the dirt, while Esther will always prefer to stay inside and clean!"
Big brother Peter is happy to roll with the punches – and the chaos – day to day.
Once the little ones are in bed, big brother Peter gets his time with Mum and Dad, Joanne says. Otherwise, he's happy to roll with the punches – and the chaos – day to day.
"He's very interactive with the quads. He likes to collect up all their toothbrushes after their nightly routine and he tries to comfort them when they cry. He's in his own room, but eventually I'd like to have the girls in one and all the boys in the other – once I know Peter won't try to climb into the cot!"
With Brett's parents just a couple of hours away but Joanne's folks based in Auckland – where the family was thankfully on holiday in February, when Cyclone Gabrielle ripped through Hawke's Bay – Joanne's been taking one quad with her during her monthly work trips north. "It's been lovely being able to travel with a different baby each time and allow them to get to know their grandparents."
As for the summer ahead, Joanne and Brett hope to introduce the babies to the beach and bring them to the park. Right now, when it takes 45 minutes to get all five children ready to leave the house, outings have been limited to swimming lessons and church.
But Joanne, whose only "me time" is taken up with volunteer Coastguard activities, wouldn't change a thing.
"It's a crazy experience, but such a privilege," she says. "If I sit down on the floor at home for just a moment, within seconds I'm covered in happy babies. It reminds me to enjoy my kids, to look for the little things that make me smile and not get stressed about unimportant stuff."

read more from