Part II: Six Christmas Miracles

<B>Peter Van Sant</B> Reports On The Perry Sextuplets

Now, if the thought of raising six babies sounds overwhelming, imagine coping with six teenagers.

The Coleman sextuplets, 17, live in the village of Stoke Orchard, England. But they provide an extraordinary glimpse into the Perry's future.

48 Hours visited the six-pack as they went out on the road for their first driving lesson. These new drivers are the children of Arthur and Susan Coleman.

Stuart is the first behind the wheel. He's a little nervous about his first lesson. Gary is the so-called oldest and James is the youngest. Jayne is quiet and reserved, unlike her sister Hannah. And finally, there is no-nonsense Nic, who has to wait all day for her turn at the wheel.

If sextuplets are rare today, they were virtually unheard of back in 1986, when Susan became pregnant at 32. A doctor told her she had a problem with her gallbladder. But against all odds, six healthy babies were born, and they made headlines around the world.

The parallels between the Colemans and the Perrys are startling. Both sets of sextuplets have three boys and three girls. Both sets of parents had one child and then turned to fertility drugs for one more baby.

Sam Coleman, just like Parker, was an only child until she was 3. "I couldn't understand why they were special. They were just my brothers and sisters," recalls Sam. "Seven, eight, but it was very hard – the green-eyed monster of jealousy definitely appeared."

But if anyone seemed equipped to handle this family, it was Susan and Arthur Coleman, who were both police officers. Susan quit the force and moved the family to the countryside. Arthur stayed in London, and for 11 years, he saw his family only on weekends.

The Coleman's advice to the Perrys is to be sure to acknowledge your children for who they are, instead of what they are – because their children have grown weary of constantly being referred to as a "sextuplet."

But what's it like to always be referred to as a sextuplet? "It just gets frustrating sometimes, because you don't feel appreciated for you," says Jayne. "You feel appreciated for something that's different."

Through the years, they've had to battle each other for time and attention. "I don't think we fight as much now as we ever did," says James. "I think we're probably closer now than we ever were."

"I think because we've learned to share," adds Nic. "Seventeen years of sharing does do a lot for you."

The Colemans also have a little bit of bad news for the Perrys. "It doesn't get any easier, ever," admits Susan. "It just gets different," adds Arthur, laughing.

The only time the Coleman house is truly peaceful is 6:58 a.m. But the quiet won't last. Susan and Arthur Coleman have teenage sextuplets to send to school. Sam, 20, heads off to her work-study program on her own. And Stuart has the earliest class, so he gathers his things and is ready to go. But the others haven't budged.

In Pittsburgh, Pa., Erin and Joe Perry have the opposite problem. They can't wait until their kids fall asleep, and stay asleep, all night long. So far, that's been a dream. In the early days, Erin and Joe took turns sleeping during the days. They were lucky to get three hours in a row.

But there are six hungry babies to feed every four hours, morning, noon and night – 36 bottles a day, 252 bottles a week, 1,018 bottles a month – and just as many diapers.

And at the Colemans, nine people fight over two-and-a-half bathrooms. A major problem there is privacy. There is none.

"You can't exactly go into a room and just lock yourself away. There's always someone in that room or there's someone in that room," says Hannah.

At the Perrys, there isn't any privacy either. And on any given day, as many as 20 volunteers are in and out the door. But the Perrys are not complaining. "It's keeping me sane," says Erin.

But can it get any louder in the Coleman household? Apparently it can. "Their taste in music is abysmal," says Arthur. "Of course, they have to play it so loud the world can hear it."

What does having all these children at once do to the family finances? "Just vanishes, you know," says Susan. "We haven't got it," adds Arthur.

The Colemans did, however, get one big break. A college education is free in England, as long as the children attend state schools.

In past years, families of multiples received lavish gifts. But that isn't the case for either the Colemans or the Perrys.

Joe Perry has an MBA, but even he can't figure out how to stretch one income nine ways. So the family is very grateful for the help they have received. The nursery was set up with the help of Babyland, a Pittsburgh institution that rounded up cribs, changing tables and car seats for the Perrys.

Giant Eagle Grocery stores donated baby food, formula, diapers and groceries. And St. Francis University promised six college tuitions.

But the most precious gift has no price tag. It's the help given by the volunteers – 60 total – who feed, diaper and play with the babies day in and day out.

Nobody says it's easy raising sextuplets, but the Colemans are living proof that it can be done.

"It's been joyful," says Susan. "An experience that I wouldn't have lived without."

It's been a year since the Perry six-pack was born. And in March, seven small celebrities arrive at a Pittsburgh hotel for a special photo shoot. It's difficult to line up the sextuplets for their photo. The lights and cameras are ready, but the stars are not.

But first, an update on the Perry family. The sextuplets are down to just 18 bottles a day. And far fewer volunteers are needed. And now, tiny Madison, the baby who fought so hard to survive, is walking with a little help from a push toy.

How is life for Joe and Erin Perry? "Hectic, chaotic, stressful, lacking leisure, should I continue," says Joe, laughing.

With six babies on the move, the Perry house is now the Perry prison. "We had to gate off the house, because they can't be free," says Erin, who adds that they need extra space, too. "We have six high chairs, but we can't set up the sixth one, because we don't have anywhere to put it."

As a result, one child always has to wait to eat. And since six cribs still won't fit in the bedroom, the babies still have to double up in three.

"We have to have a bigger house. I don't know how we're gonna do it, but we have to," says Erin.

The Perrys are bursting out of their small home and hope to build a new one. But they are not certain how they will manage to do this.

Yet even as the house shrinks, Erin and Joe have abandoned a plan to build a bigger one. They just can't afford it. It's one of many obstacles faced by the family this year.

"We're just really cramped, you know, that's it," says Joe. "It's been hard…it's been really hard," says Erin.

At Christmas, Santa brought six cases of chicken pox, ear infections and a bout of pneumonia. But Erin admits the hardest part has been not having time for anyone but the sextuplets.

"[It's been a] really long year," says Parker, who fights for the spotlight now and then. But he's found an adoring audience of six to help make up for lost attention. In fact, Parker genuinely seems to enjoy the role of big brother. And he says he loves his brothers and sisters "a lot."

Erin and Joe have also worked very hard to make sure Parker is included in everything. They steal every minute they can to give him individual time and attention.

Three hundred people turn out to celebrate the six-pack's first birthday party. "Thanks to all our family and friends that helped us get to this point because our kids would not have made it this far without everyone's help," says Erin at the party.

How do Joe and Erin feel, looking back on their first year as parents of sextuplets? "I guess lucky. Lucky the way it turned out the way it did," says Joe. "It's a very difficult life, but it could have been a much more difficult life if they had not been as healthy as they were. That's how I look at it. We're lucky to have them."

When 48 Hours went back to check up on the Perry family, the sextuplets were nearly two years old. All of them are happy, healthy, and right where they should be developmentally.

But there's more good news. This family of nine no longer has to squeeze into their 1,000-square-foot home. Three months ago, they moved into a 3,000-square-foot house, bought with help from family, friends and their community.

And it's a good thing. Because, as 48 Hours discovered earlier this month, the sextuplets, now 21 months old, are into everything.

"They've become a little more vocal, a little more curious," says Joe Perry. "They're not afraid to open a door or grab something or knock something over."

And as Parker has discovered, there's an endless supply of playmates. "He plays with them a lot now," says Erin Perry. "He runs around with them. He likes that."

The Perrys say they have absolutely no regrets, but there is one question Joe thinks about every now and then.

"I've often said, if we could just go back to that first question, when Erin said, 'Honey, what do you think about fertility drugs?' And I say, 'Whatever. Whatever you want to do.' That goes through my mind every once in a while," says Joe, laughing.

Part I: The Perry Sextuplets