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Sunday, July 20, 2014

‘Organized chaos’ is the norm as Headrick sextuplets turn 10

By Travis Heying
The Wichita Eagle

Ten years ago, Sondra Headrick had a decision to make.

After undergoing fertility treatment so that she and her husband could provide their three-year-old daughter, Aubrianna, with a sibling, Sondra and Eldon sat in a doctor’s office on Sept. 12, 2001, and were informed that the treatment had been a little too successful.

She was pregnant with sextuplets.

Sondra and her husband, Eldon, agonized for weeks over what to do. Proceed with a pregnancy that was risky and had little chance of success, or undergo a procedure to eliminate some of the fetuses to give the remaining ones a better chance of survival.

Sondra says she had a dream one night of six screaming, healthy babies, and when she woke up, decided to go through with the pregnancy.

On April 6, 2002, after a pregnancy that lasted 31 weeks and a day, Sondra and Eldon Headrick became the proud parents of three healthy girls and three healthy boys.

Ten years later, the screaming mouths of Ethan, Melissa, Grant, Sean, Jaycie and Danielle have never really quieted. And speaking of mouths, all six need braces.

By the numbers

To truly appreciate what it’s like to be the parents of six 10-year-olds and a teenage girl, one can simply look at the numbers.

Over 50,000 soiled diapers in the first two years, Eldon estimates, some of which were delivered by trucks and on pallets. Loads of laundry that to Eldon seem infinite.

The van that the family uses to haul the brood is on its second engine. When one kid needs a bike, so do five others.

Four hours of sleep is usually all that Sondra and Eldon ever get. Six is a luxury.

And then there are the braces, something Sondra didn’t dream about when she was pregnant. Not that orthodontic nightmares would have changed her mind, but Sondra and Eldon will pay more than $30,000 to straighten the teeth of all seven of their children.

Four are already fitted with braces; the three boys are waiting for mom and dad to finish paying for the first four sets.

“Half a house,” Eldon says of the cost.

Making sacrifices

Bicycles and braces are just two of the needs the Headrick sextuplets have.

Clothes. Food. Uniforms for sports teams, always times six. Sometimes times seven. Never easy when you gave birth to an entire basketball lineup, plus a substitute.

In order to meet those needs, Sondra and Eldon have made a lot of sacrifices, including time with each other.

Eldon drives from their home in Norwich for his job with the city of Wichita, often early enough to see the sun rise. Sondra gets the kids ready for school at Norwich Elementary and then follows them there, where she works as a para-educator from 7:45 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. She has a precious hour and a half at home with her children before she turns around and heads back to the school at 5, where she works until midnight as the night janitor.

Sometimes Eldon passes her on the road on his way home from work. They’ll wave at each other and that’s the extent of their interaction during the day. Eldon takes over the care of the children until they’re in bed.

Sondra says the night janitor job is out of necessity to pay for the braces. She also says she enjoys her jobs; enjoys working with kids, and, at times, enjoys the quiet and solitude the janitorial job offers.

Asked when the last time the couple had a date alone together, Eldon just lets out a chuckle.

“It’s a strain,” Sondra says. “But there’s no choice. We’re happy to do it for our children.”

‘Organized chaos’

Sondra and Eldon brought the six home to a double-wide trailer in Rago 10 years ago.

They upgraded six years later to a modular home with a full basement in Norwich. They’re closer to Wichita, and much closer to family members who are instrumental in helping the family with the task of raising seven kids.

At home, the sound of silence is something you hear only in the dead of the night.

“Organized chaos” is how Eldon describes it.

The crying of hungry babies has long since been replaced by the shouts of kids playing, and sometimes arguing. The television upstairs will occupy a few kids while the one downstairs occupies a few more with a video game.

Big sister Aubrianna, the only one of the seven kids with her own room, plays music behind a closed door. It’s rare not to hear the hum of a washer and dryer. Dogs bark for attention in a place where individual attention is hard to come by.

Sondra says they’re asked all the time whether it has gotten easier since the kids gave gotten older.

“I think every year presents a new challenge,” she says.

“It doesn’t get any easier, it’s just that what happens gets different,” Eldon adds.

“The only time you think ‘I have six kids,’ is when you have to buy them bicycles,” Sondra says.

Or when you go to a Chinese buffet, where even the cooks come out from the kitchen to have a look when you tell them that, in fact, six of your children qualify for the child discount.

But to Sondra and Eldon, the sextuplets don’t really seem like such any more.

“I rarely refer to them now as sextuplets,” Sondra says.

“They’re just our kids, and that’s how we see them.”

Normal kids

And they’re each their own person.

They say Grant is helpful. Sean is sensitive, Ethan loves to sing but would die if you knew that.

Jaycie is the mother hen. Melissa is a social butterfly at school, and Danielle loves animals.

Nothing but just normal 10-year-olds, which is all Sondra and Eldon ever wanted.

No regrets, both parents say without a moment of hesitation. Even on four hours of sleep.

“Whenever you need a hug, there’s always someone there willing to give you one,” Eldon says.

Reach Travis Heying at 316-268-6468 or theying@wichitaeagle.com.

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