The Shahbaz quadruplets, with comments about each from their dad (L to R): Cedar knows what she wants, and she isn't afraid to tell you. She's absolutely gorgeous, but don't make her mad! Jordan is always in search of adventure; it's as though he watches quietly, and then, once he's figured it out, he attacks. Jonah is a jolly, happy boy who's always talkative and playful. And Jeremiah loves people and is very extroverted; he loves to smile and be cuddled.
by Terry Rayburn Mitchell, '93
Think of it: four babies in one fell swoop. All are tiny, with typical preemie health issues; all are as helpless as, well, newborns. You have no parenting experience, and now you must do everything for four little beings whom you have brought into the world. Sleep becomes a stranger. Worry becomes a constant companion. Your debit card becomes paper-thin from overuse. And you've never, ever been more tired, more concerned, more strapped for cash, more filled with joy or more grateful for your family and for the many friends you've made over the years.
Welcome to the world of Phil, '96, and Amy Shahbaz. In 2006, after years of trying and some medical intervention, they discovered, to their amazement, that four little Shahbazes were on their way.
"The doctor told us at first that there was more than one baby," says Phil, who lives with his family in Southern California. "And we thought, ‘Twins! That would be amazing!'" After the first ultrasound, the doctor said that there were, in fact, four heartbeats. The Shahbazes were astonished, but thrilled. The doctor warned them of the problems that could accompany the pregnancy– among them, the high probability that one of the babies, who was very small in comparison with the others, would die before birth. Phil and Amy went home and prayed for the babies, nicknamed the smallest one (who turned out to be their daughter) "Little Man," willed that tiny being to catch up with its siblings, and embarked on their parenting adventure filled with hope and trepidation.
Little Man eventually caught up with the faster-growing sibs, and on March 28, 2007, after Amy had been in the hospital on bed rest for more than three months, four little Shahbazes made their way into the world. Jeremiah was born first; Jonah followed a few seconds later; then came Jordan, and, finally, Cedar. The babies weighed between 2 lbs. 4 oz. (Cedar) and 2 lbs. 13 oz. (Jordan), good birthweights for quads. All were capable of breathing on their own, and all scored well on the APGAR, which measures respiration, color, heart rate, reflexes, and muscle tone. "God gave us healthy babies!" wrote Phil in his online blog, shortly after their birth. "They have a long road to go, but so far we are nothing but thankful. This truly was a miracle given to us by the grace of our Father and as a result of prayer, faith, and, of course, hope."
Once the babies were born, things got really wild. For the first couple of months after the quads arrived, Amy and Phil ran back and forth in the endless SoCal traffic between their home, Phil's work, and the hospital. (Phil, who is now pastor of assimilation and small groups at Life Bible Fellowship, in Upland, also sells real estate and is a working actor; Amy is currently a stay-at-home mom.) Jeremiah came home June 1, 2007, followed at brief intervals by Jordan and Jonah; Cedar was released from the hospital July 4. In the midst of all this, the family moved to a bigger house that would accommodate "the Shahbabies," as their family and friends had taken to calling them. "In short, life has been crazy," Phil wrote. "Amy and I basically trade shifts taking care of the kids alongside family, friends, and dozens of volunteers."
So, who saved Phil and Amy Shahbaz from quad-induced hysteria? Phil's mom stayed with the family for three months. Amy's parents helped three times a week. Other family members offered time and assistance. Some of the students Phil had worked with at California's Azusa Pacific University, where he was director of student success, offered to help with the babies and set up a diaper fund. And Phil's best friends and fellow Whitworth alums came to the Shahbazes' rescue in ways that Phil and Amy had never expected. "The support we received is the most remarkable part of our story," Phil says. "Hundreds of people have carried Amy and me on their backs during this year.
"And the support of my Whitworth friends has been as humbling as it has been far-reaching," he adds. "Though they've been far away, they've found a way to be by our side."
One friend, Tim Hornor, '97, who recently moved to the L.A. area, has actually been able to spend a great deal of time with Phil, Amy and the babies. He proclaims himself "head-over-heels in love with all four of the kids."
"We can always depend on Tim," Phil says. "He has spent nearly every Sunday and many all-nighters by my side." Hornor says, "Phil and I hang out as much as his schedule allows. Most of the time we hang out, we are holding at least one baby each." Asked how Phil and Amy have changed since the quads were born, Hornor responds (with classic understatement), "They're more tired now."
Sheer exhaustion is a dominant theme in the story of the Shahbaz family. "I'm not sure anyone truly understands that this event has been both the most fantastic blessing and the greatest hardship that Phil and Amy have ever experienced," says Kevin Brady, '96, who lives in Seattle and has visited the Shahbazes a couple of times since the quads arrived. "I remember the first time I visited," he says, "sitting there and holding one of the quads at 5 a.m.; all four of the babies were screaming and pooping, and I looked at Phil and thought, ‘How ... is this guy going to do this every single night and not go crazy?'
It helps to have friends. Really good friends. Brady, along with Steve, '96, and Erin (Cole, '98) VerHoeven and Nick Brownlee, '97, were able to visit the Shahbazes and help out with the babies from time to time. The VerHoevens, who have two young sons of their own, passed on their boys' clothing, along with books and toys. Some of the gang called Phil each week to let him talk through what was happening in his life. One or two managed to get Amy or Phil out of the house now and again for a little "me time." And Brady, the VerHoevens, Brownlee and his wife, Kari McFarland, '97, along with Rachel Hornor Barach, '96, Clark Rider, '97, Rebecca Ricards, '97, Dan Kepper, '97, Nate Ulrich, '97, and a number of other friends set up a fund (see below) through which they continue to send a monthly donation to Phil and Amy in the form of a gift card, depending upon the family's needs. Over the past 15 months, the group has sent gift cards from Diapers.com, Target, Babies ‘R' Us and WalMart. They will continue to help as long as the Shahbazes need their assistance.
"There is no way we would have made it – just no way we would have made it – without the love and support of so many," says Phil. "And our Whitworth friends have truly been a reflection of Christ in our lives."
Learn more about the Shahbazes' journey at www.shahbazbabies.blogspot.com. And if you'd like to help the Shahbaz family, please e-mail Kevin Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos at top of page courtesy of Tira Young,
Tira J Photography.
Left: Hornor, Brownlee and Shahbaz take a binky break.
Middle: Shahbabies snooze (Tira Young).
Bottom: Shahbaz, Brady and Hornor admire one of the just-home-from-the-hospital quads.