- Associated Press - Thursday, September 1, 2016

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - It’s not unusual for young mother Danesha Couch to vacuum her living room three times a day. She’s constantly changing diapers, heating up bottles and making sure her children are safe and comfortable. With a new set of twins born in June, she’s twice as busy as a typical new mother, The Kansas City Star (https://bit.ly/2c9pTZo ).

Actually, make that five times as busy.

Within 26 months, Couch gave birth to three sets of twins through completely natural means. She’s the proud mother to Danarius (age 2), Delilah and Davina (age 1) and newborns Darla and Dalanie. (Danarius’ twin, Desmond, died shortly after birth). A Kansas City, Kan., native, Couch is navigating her rare path of motherhood with her fiance, Jeffrey Presler, by her side.

Oh, and did we mention she’s planning a wedding for this month?

“You can be as planned as you want to for having kids, but you’re never truly ready,” she said. “Mainly I’ve had to learn myself, trial and error. . But I’ve learned to ask for help when I need it.”

Adjusting to a new life

For a mother of five little ones, Couch has her life remarkably in order. Everything is down to a routine: Get up at 8 a.m. with the kids, make breakfast, change diapers, have snacks, juggle entertaining the older three while keeping an eye on the newborns, clean up messes during the day, make dinner and have the kids in bed by 9 p.m.

“It’s complicated when it comes to sharing attention, because all three of them are like, ‘Hey, love me, love me, give me kisses.’ And those two,” she said, nodding at the newborns, “they’re just like, ‘Whenever you want to pick me up, that’d be great, Mom.’ “

Her living room is full of children’s books, car seats, hampers of laundry and shoes - all neatly stacked in their corners. This leaves plenty of space for her to cozy up with her kids on the carpet.

She has her 30 diaper changes a day down to an assembly-line process. Danarius, ever the helpful older brother when he’s not too busy taking his own diaper off at random times, brings his mother an empty plastic diaper bag for trash.

“It’s a lot of work, but it will pay off when I’m old and crinkly and have them change my diaper,” she said with a laugh.

But Couch, who turns 21 on Sept. 5, has a long way to go until then. Darla and Dalanie were born June 17. On maternity leave, Couch expects to return to her job as a cashier at Phillips 66 once the newborns reach their first birthday, but in the meantime she gets help from her parents, her future-in-laws and, of course, her fiance.

Presler, 26, works days as an aquatic technician - installing and maintaining home aquarium systems and ponds - but as soon as he comes home at night, he’s put to work as a father. He said he has had to figure out how to share time among the children, but it’s all worth it to hear the kids say, “Daddy! Hi, Daddy!” when he walks through the door.

“It makes me feel really special,” he said.

As if there’s not enough work to do, Couch is planning their Sept. 25 wedding - and seems remarkably unfazed. She wants a simple ceremony for family members, in a nearby park. She wants Danarius to be the ring bearer and, if Davina and Delilah can really walk by then, for them to toddle down the aisle.

“I ask (Presler) for his input and he says, ‘I don’t really care. That’s just our special day,’ ” she said. “He’s a dude about it. But he says he’s excited, and he keeps calling me Mrs. Presler out of nowhere.”

Wedding planning, however “epic” she thinks it is, comes second to taking care of her children.

One-year-old Delilah is the attention-seeking diva of the family. During lunchtime, she throws a fit when she has to share her yogurt with her brother and sister, even as she holds a stick of string cheese in her hand the whole time. Her twin, Davina, is much more reserved, content to drink as much orange juice as she can get away with (Couch calls her the curious one of the family).

Danarius is like any energetic 2-year-old: running around, helping Mom and being a supportive (and at times bratty) older brother. His favorite thing to do is “burp” his siblings by patting their backs - and anyone else within reach. Describing her newborns in one word, Couch said Dalanie is cuddly and Darla is mellow, the most easygoing child of them all.

So how does Presler, who plans to adopt Danarius and has a 6-year-old daughter from another relationship, feel about being the biological father of five girls?

“My family makes fun of me, saying, ‘You better get a shotgun for when the boyfriends start coming around,’ ” he said. “I’m not looking forward to the teenage years.”

Twins times three

Her twin story began April 13, 2014, when Couch gave birth to her first set of twins, Danarius and Desmond. It was an unplanned pregnancy, and she was only 19 years old.

“I was excited, but I was also kind of nervous and scared,” she said. “They were my first kids, and I was like, ‘OK, I can’t just start off with one? That’s cool.’ “

At the time, she was living with her father and her stepmother, who had raised her since she was 2 months old. Rhonda Harrison, whom Couch considers her mother, helped her buy baby supplies - two of everything - and was a support system for the young expectant mother.

“I wouldn’t have wished that for her,” Harrison said, “but I was so happy I was having grandchildren. I was ecstatic.”

It was a difficult pregnancy due to placenta previa, a condition where the placenta covers the opening to the cervix. She had an emergency cesarean section at 26 weeks. Desmond died shortly after birth.

“It was a tough time,” she remembered. “It didn’t really sink in until after the medication went away. I was still talking to his brother like he was alive. I asked, ‘Why is he so cold? You guys should maybe put some more clothes on him; babies shouldn’t be this temperature.’ The whole time I was holding the corpse of my baby because I didn’t know that he was gone.”

She grieves especially hard on the boys’ birthday, the day when she tells Danarius about his brother and shows him Desmond’s ashes in an urn, clay sculptures of his hands and feet, and photos from the hospital. She said she’d rather be the one to tell him than have him experience the “twin sense” that something is missing.

Danarius’ father eventually left Couch and her son, but she found solace in Presler. The two met when she was moving into an apartment near Presler with her friends, and it was an instant connection.

“She came through the door, and the light was way brighter than before she walked through it,” he said. “I just thought, ‘Wow, what a gorgeous woman.’ “

The two started dating shortly after, and Couch became pregnant in 2014. They had planned to get pregnant but didn’t think that they’d get two for one.

“He was just, like, ‘I told you so,’ ” she said with a laugh. “And I was just slapping him with the pillow, like, ‘Really? That’s how you respond?’ “

She saw her second twin pregnancy as a message from God that she had done well with her first child and was now able to manage another set of twins - Davina and Delilah, born May 29, 2015. Presler proposed the next day.

Couch would receive another heavenly sign a few months later when she got pregnant again with her now-newborns. She was on birth control pills and found out she was pregnant when she went to the hospital for head pain.

“Me and their dad were giving each other mean glares, like ‘You did this.’ ‘No, it was your fault.’ We were acting like little kids,” she said with a laugh. “It took us a couple of months to just get over it and get it together.”

Presler has no history of twins in his family, although Couch does.

Family history does increase a woman’s chance of having twins, said Carl Weiner, chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology department at University of Kansas Medical Center. Usually, it’s because the women in the family have a genetic predisposition to release more than one egg at once - which is the case with Couch. This rate is also slightly higher in black women than other groups.

Women have about a 1 in 100 chance of naturally conceiving twins, Weiner said. That’s makes the odds of having three sets in a row about 1 in 100,000.

In other words, Couch might want to make a trip to Las Vegas.

So, is six children the limit for these two? Well, for at least another 10 or 15 years.

“Let’s wait until all of these grow up so it’s not too chaotic and she doesn’t go bald like me,” Presler said.

Life in the spotlight

When Couch had her twins in June, her story made international news, with coverage from the BBC, the French magazine Madame Figaro and the German website Web.de. She said she has been offered television deals from A&E;, Discovery and Lifetime and has thought about starting a family blog. But at the moment, she’s focusing on adapting to life with five children under the age of 3.

Although her employer gave her maternity leave, it’s unpaid. Before she gave birth in June, she applied for welfare and benefits from the government but was denied because both she and her fiance were employed. Presler is the household’s sole source of income at the moment, and while the family has found a budgeting process that works for now, Couch said a year is a long time to be unemployed. She plans to apply for benefits again and hopes that a television deal will provide extra funds while she’s still home with the kids.

In the meantime, she leans on her parents and future in-laws for baby-sitting help. Harrison, who has Tuesdays and Wednesdays off work, watches some or all of the children while Couch has doctor appointments or just needs a break. She said she loves being a grandmother, especially because her older son has never expressed interest in having children.

“Sometimes I go and (baby-sit) them just because I want them,” she said. “The only thing I wish is that she would have waited until I was retired so I could spend all my time with them.

“She’s really very smart . and I’ve seen her grow up right before my eyes,” she said of her daughter. “I know she loves her children with all of her heart, and she would do anything for them.”

Couch makes it clear she’s not afraid to ask for help - and not just from her family. After the twins were born in June, she created a GoFundMe page, asking for a modest $500 from the community.

“I try best I can as a mother but sometimes I need help, and honestly I’m not too proud to ask,” she wrote on the page, noting the money would help with diapers, food and wipes. The page has raised more than $4,000 since she created it.

But the publicity around her story has also come with negatives. Racist internet trolls have gone so far as to call her children “future gang-bangers and future drug dealers.” Some say she’s just another black single mother statistic.

“Of course, if you don’t understand something, you’re going to be scared of it, because you’ve never encountered it, never dealt with it yourself,” she said. “You’re totally entitled to your own opinion, but stuff like that you should probably keep to yourself. . If you peel my skin off, we both have the same flesh and we both bleed the same. I’m no different than you.”

But there has also been an overwhelming response from people who understand that parenthood is unpredictable, and financial emergencies do happen, Couch said.

“The only way this earth keeps functioning is because of the people who help each other,” she said.

In addition to leaving money through the web page, strangers have also offered baby-sitting services, old baby supplies and a shoulder to lean on.

She comforts herself by knowing her children will be raised in a loving household, even if she has to ask for help to do so. Much better that, she said, than be unwilling to ask for help and take the frustration out on the children. Taxpayers’ money goes to worse things than mothers trying to raise their children in the best way they can, she said. For Couch, that’s helping her children to be better than she is - to go to college and make the most of themselves.

“For the people who are naive,” she said, “if they could spend a day in my shoes, maybe they would understand.”


Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com

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