And it terrified her.
The biggest splash of sobering reality came pretty early, the evening of Jan. 23, 1996, when she flipped on the evening news still lying in her hospital bed after a particularly busy day. There on the screen, one of her longtime icons, Peter Jennings, led a story: "Tonight, in Los Angeles . . . Patty and Scot Shier gave birth to what is believed to be the healthiest set of quintuplets ever born in the United States. . . ."
"We had had meetings with the publicity people at the hospital before I gave birth. They told us that we probably needed to prepare a statement. That it would be better than having an orderly or janitor on the news telling the story," remembers Patty. "But we couldn't figure out how they knew. So fast! I mean I look up and there was Peter Jennings on the news talking about us. . . . 'The healthiest quintuplets born in U.S. history.' "
In recent years, like many families of high-multiple/fertility treatment-related births, the Shiers found themselves in the center of a whirlwind of floodlights and flashbulbs; questions and judgments, love and admonishments.
Dizzying? Wouldn't even begin to describe it. The Shier five have made the cover of Smithsonian magazine. They've been featured in local news segments as well as international newspapers. In the beginning, people sent checks, shoes, hand-sewn garments--the items arriving from all over the country and beyond.
Now on the eve of the quints' third birthday, we joined Patty and Scot Shier at their Westchester home for a typical day--from sunup to "nighty-night"--to gain a ground-level (literally) view of what it might be like to raise a healthy and happy brood of five--in order of birth: Sarah, Joshua, Rachel, Hannah and Jonathan. What is life like after the crazed frenzy has departed and life resumed its--relatively speaking--normal course?
This is what we found.
About three dozen little shoes spill out of a blue clothes basket near the tile entryway. The house is whisper quiet. The cats--Lucy and Linus--each doze at opposite ends of the blue La-Z-Boy couch like regal bookends.
"The rule," whispers Patty Shier, still in her night shirt, "is we take our shoes off and leave them in front to keep the house clean. But I don't know if it makes a difference . . ." Another rule--and there are many--is pinned both to a living room sideboard as well as emblazoned on a plaque hanging in the sunny kitchen: "No whining." The unifying force that runs this house.
That said, Patty walks purposefully to the back of the house to put on her face and change out of her bedclothes into something--by all means--comfortable. The playroom, which adjoins the kitchen, is neat and sun drenched with a view of the backyard covered with mounds of plastic toys faded by the sun. The white walls are dotted with a Noah's Ark motif. There are Legos and Duplo, a little wood and rattan table--atop which a fabric edition of "Book of Children's Prayers" sits as centerpiece, and plastic baskets and stackables full of brightly colored toys, all in their place.
Scot Shier emerges from the master bedroom, dressed in gray slacks, a crisp white shirt and tie. He slips on his jacket, and through the closed white doors come the first quiet squeals.
Miriam DaMatta arrives. She steps in to help the Shiers two days a week, the only paid help Patty has. The two met at church, Hope Chapel, a few years back, and she has been a steady presence in the Shiers' lives ever since.
"I rely, as Scarlet O'Hara once said, 'on the kindness of strangers,' " says Patty, bending the cliche, but underscoring it at the same time.
Miriam is a slight woman with wide, hazel eyes and a kind, soft voice and an equally serene demeanor. She immediately goes to work. Shucking off her brown lace-ups, busying herself in the kitchen.
"Five more minutes!" Scot calls out to the children, who have begun to audibly squirm and converse. With toys at hand, the morning rule is not to get out of bed without permission.