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DALLAS — Back then, she was an oddity — the first woman to give birth to quintuplets in Texas, the eighth in the U.S. and just the 11th in the world.
Now, 37 years later, Debbie Knox, remarried and reborn as a successful Southlake real estate broker, is ready to offer time-tested advice to a Duncanville couple who recently had quintuplets.
"The important thing I'd like to say is that every stage we were in, I thought it would last forever," said Knox, 57. "And it was like, you blink your eye and it's over."
"So it's important that they cherish the moments — the diaper stage, the hugging stage, the toddler stage, because they won't last forever."
Her ex-husband, Jerry Davis, quickly grew tired of all the attention the quintuplets drew to their doorstep. Now, he said, he doesn't know where the time went.
"It went by pretty quick," said Davis, 59, who owns a trucking company. "It doesn't seem like they're 37."
His advice to Carrie and Gavin Jones, the missionary workers whose quintuplets were born on Aug. 9, is part divine, part down to earth.
"The first thing is you need to have a lot of faith," said Davis, who also is remarried and lives in East Texas. "And you have to have a system and stick with it, because if you don't, everything gets turned upside down."
The Davis quintuplets are all grown up with kids of their own. Three live in East Texas, one in the Houston area and another in Little Rock, Ark.
They get together about three or four times a year — a feat that Knox said is getting more difficult to pull off now that they are juggling careers and kids of their own.
For now, the Joneses' biggest concern is getting all five of their babies home, which temporarily is Carrie's parents' place in Duncanville.
"We are a bit concerned about Seth .. He and Grace are on ventilators," said Gavin, 35, a helicopter pilot who does missionary work in Papua New Guinea for Orlando-based Wycliffe Bible Translators. "The other three — Will, David and Marcie — are doing really well."
He said all the newborns are in stable condition in the neonatal intensive-care unit at UT Southwestern Medical Center. It will be at least seven weeks before they can go home.
"It's wonderful to have my wife back from the hospital," said Gavin. "We can share the load and take care of our other (8-year-old) son. But we're kind of helpless because the babies are being monitored 24/7. So that's hard."
If there's one thing the Jones and Davis couples had in common before their quintuplets were born, it's impatience.
The Joneses, who had been trying to have another baby for five years, decided to take advantage of a nine-month furlough to the U.S. Carrie began taking fertility shots last fall.
In March, they got a surprise. Carrie, 34, learned she was getting a lot more than she'd bargained for.
"I'm still trying to get my head around it," she said last week.
But if you ask Debbie Knox and Jerry Davis, who were living in Lewisville when their quintuplets were born, the Joneses are much more prepared than they were.
"I married at 17, scared to death that I'd never get married," said Knox. "I wanted to have a baby the first year, and it didn't happen. So I went to a doctor at 19 to get hormone shots."
She was given a prescription for a fertility drug that "had never caused more than twins, ever — except with me."
The next month, she was pregnant. The doctor told her she could have twins, perhaps even triplets. When she went back later for X-rays, "all the nurses were staring at me like I'm a freak or something."
They sent her immediately to her doctor.
"He said you're not going to have one baby, you're not going to have two babies, you're not going to have three babies, you're going to have four babies," Knox said.
She was directed to Parkland Memorial Hospital, which boasted the first neonatal intensive-care unit in North Texas. On the delivery table on July 18, 1975, she was prepared for four newborns.
But after the doctor "pulled out four babies and went back in to make sure all my organs were OK, he pulled out a fifth," Knox said.
The smallest ones — Chanda and Chelsa — were identical twins. There were two more girls, Christa and Charla, and one boy, Casey, the biggest of the lot at 3 pounds, 10 ounces.
From that point on, the couple said, their lives would never be the same.
"I think back then I didn't know anything about anything," said Davis. "I was just a kid. People were always asking me, 'What's the difference between having one and five?' Hell, I have no idea. I never had just one; I had five at once."
"We were young," Davis added, "and we kind of grew up with the kids."
The radical change in their routines, including all the public attention they got, put enormous pressure on the young couple, who stayed married for about 18 years. They soon grew apart.
"If it wasn't for the kids, our marriage probably wouldn't have lasted past five or six years," Knox said.
To get away from all the attention, Knox said they moved to Winnsboro when the kids were teens and built their dream home. They were hoping for a fresh start.
Still, the marriage fell apart.
To make ends meet, Debbie got a job at Winnsboro's high school, where she met the freshly hired basketball coach, Bill Knox. They've been married for 22 years and now live in Haslet, near Fort Worth.
Davis also got remarried shortly after and lives in Mount Pleasant.
Those who know the Davis quintuplets and their parents — including the doctor who helped deliver the quintuplets in 1975 — say they did a tremendous job given all the pressures they faced.
Dr. Charles Rosenfeld, a professor of pediatrics and obstetrics-gynecology at UT Southwestern, said he's tried to stay in touch with both sets of quintuplets he's delivered, including the Zuniga quintuplets born at Parkland in 1998.
"She did an absolutely fabulous job raising those kids," Rosenfeld said of Knox. "If you want to put someone on the hero list, she deserves it."
Knox said people always ask her what, as a parent, she would change.
"I always taught my kids to think about what others would say if they saw them doing something," she said. "And one day, my son Casey said, 'Mom, I really don't care what others think; all I care about is the Lord.'
"I never said to my kids, 'Have you prayed about it? Have you asked God for guidance?' My mother never said that, and I never said that. And I regret that."
And, she said, with five kids, there's no such thing as a "do-over."
"You don't get to learn from your mistakes and be a better parent with your second or third child," she said. "Whatever decisions you make as a parent affects all five — at once."
Thirty-seven years after they were born, the Davis quintuplets offer advice to multiple-birth parents and tell us the best and worst parts of being a quintuplet:
CASEY DAVIS, medical-device salesman; married with three children; lives in Houston area.
Advice: "Pray for help. Laugh when you can't take the chaos anymore."
Best part: "All the laughs! Even simple, everyday tasks provided ample material for laughs and drama."
Worst part: "Staying close as adults has proven difficult because of our busy lives, big families and geography."
CHARLA KILLIAN, stay-at-home mom and former middle school teacher; married with two children; lives near Tyler.
Advice: "Don't dress them alike all the time. It draws too much attention."
Best part: "There was never a dull moment. My best friend was my brother."
Worst part: "Dressing alike, matching haircuts, modeling for numerous advertising agencies."
CHELSA WENICH, stay-at-home mom; married with four children; lives in Little Rock.
Advice: "Cherish every minute you have with them, even when it seems impossible. They grow up way too fast."
Best part: "The closeness of having so many 'friends' to bond with. My best friend growing up was my identical twin, Chanda."
Worst part: "Everyone taking my toys away when I was growing up, since I was the runt of the litter."
CHRISTA FELTS, assistant operations manager; divorced with three children; lives in East Texas.
Advice: "Enjoy them and try to spend one-on-one time with each. Give each one their own identity and don't compare one to another."
Best part: "There was always someone to play with growing up. Now that we're older, there is always someone to talk to and seek advice from."
Worst part: "Having to share everything when we were younger, not having your own identity."
CHANDA RICHISON, stay-at-home mom; married with five children; lives in East Texas.
Advice: "Assign a letter and color to each child from Day 1. This will be useful in your daily routine."
Best part: "Never had the chance to get bored as our siblings were our best friends.
Worst part: "The stares when we would go somewhere, because we were always dressed alike."
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com