Margaret Jovita Ratcliffe, always called Peggy Jo, had a comfortable middle-class upbringing in an eight-room house in Westfield. She drove her own car at age 17, and went to Europe at 21. Attended Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs N.Y. for one year, but was having too much fun to study. Worked before her marriage, but never held a job longer than 6 months.
Peggy Jo was 22 years old when she meat William Gordon Kienast, who was 8 years older than her. They met on a blind date, and went skiing together the following weekend. On October 14, 1961, Peggy Jo and Bill were married.
Shortly after the wedding Peggy Jo received some terrible news. She had a tumour of the pituitary gland. This might not only make her blind, it could also kill her. But luckily the tumour was discover at an early stage, and Peggy Jo received treatment. Her eyesight and life was saved - but Peggy Jo would not be able to have children.
The doctors recommended the drug Perganol, which was an unpleasant treatment of daily injections for several weeks. Peggy Jo was informed of the “risk” of multiple birth, but she and Bill decided to take their chances.
In 1966 Meg was born, and two years later John. Bill and Peggy Jo decided to try for a third - and last - baby, in 1969. This time Peggy Jo was also given a rare and expensive luteinizing hormone, which would reduce the risk of a multiple birth. But at her eight-week check-up the doctor discovered she might be carrying more than one baby, and Peggy Jo was told to expect twins - at least. In November X-rays revealed four, possibly five, babies. Although most likely shocked by this news, Bill and Peggy Jo were also very happy to be expecting as many as four (and later five) babies! Although they knew of the risks of multiple babies not being born healthy, or even surviving, this was not something they discussed. On the other hand they didn’t buy any cribs or clothes before the babies were born either. They decided to wait.
In January 1970 Peggy Jo moved into a room in the hospital (the Colombia-Presbyterian Medical Center, New York), with the promise that she would be allowed to go home for a weekend later the same month. But a new X-ray showed the Peggy Jo was indeed pregnant with quintuplets - and she was no longer allowed to promised weekend at home.
For Peggy Jo, a very active woman, it was not easy having to stay in hospital for so long, but she tried to pass them time with mystery novels, and jigsaw- and crossword puzzles. She also got almost daily visits from Bill.
On February 24 the babies were finally ready to be born, only six weeks prematurely. A team of 12 doctors, 3 nurses and a nurse’s aide handled the delivery. Between 10:08 pm and 10:18 pm, Peggy Jo gave birth to Amy, Sara, William Gordon Jr, Abigail and Edward. None of them were identical. For a quintuplet birth this was considered to have gone extremely well. Amy was born feet-first, without any problems. Sara was born almost the instant after, head first, without any aid. But with the birth of the third baby, Gordon, the situation was a bit alarming. He was coming out head first, but with his umbilical cord around his throat, while sister Abby was coming feet-first, trying to get out before him. But the doctors acted quickly, deep anesthesia was used to relax the uterus, and the cord was pushed back, and Gordon was turned around completely and born feet first. Soon after Abby and then Ted were born without any problems.
All five babies breathed on their own. Abigail’s heart rate slowed down, but she received cardiac message, and it was soon back to normal. Amy, Sara and Ted developed respiratory distress syndrome, which causes the lungs to become stiff, thus making it hard to breathe, but were helped by oxygen being pumped into their incubators.
On their third day in life, Sara had trouble breathing and she also got an infection. The same day three of the babies got jaundice. After these health problems were solved, the only issue that remained was their weight loss. All five babies had lost at least 10% of their birth weight, but after three weeks they had all regained that loss.
When the babies were about nine weeks old Peggy Jo and Bill were allowed to take them home, and start their life raising seven children.
As a child Peggy Jo was considered a tomboy. As an adult she loved the outdoors, and her favourite hobbies were playing golf and tennis. During the 1970s women all over the world would regard her as the perfect mother, but Peggy Jo had barely held a baby before her daughter Meg was born. She wasn’t what she herself considered a “baby person”, and even when after the quints were born she admitted to looking forward to them getting a bit older. But with her easy-going, warm, and efficient ways and a good sense of humour she obviously did a wonderful job raising her seven children.
The family seemed to be very happy, and the children only appeared in a few commercials, ads, and television appearances. Peggy Jo and Bill had no intention of exploiting the kids.
But in the late 1970s the family got financial problems, and tragedy struck when Bill killed himself in 1984. Peggy Jo never remarried, and in 1992 she sold the family house and moved to Virginia, to be closer to Bill’s family. She started working in the real estate business in the early 80s, and now has a real estate licence for Virginia.
February 2009:Peggy Jo has lived in Virginia since 1992, and spends her time restoring old houses, playing golf, and visiting her grandchildren.