After applying my favourite pink lippy, I puckered my lips and looked in the full-length mirror.
Not bad, I thought with a small giggle.
As a single mum to my son Kurt, one, it wasn't often I had a night out, so I was excited to be heading to my friend Chris's house for a dinner party.
As soon as I arrived, he grinned wickedly and grabbed my hand.
"I've got someone I want you to meet," he said, leading me to the kitchen.
"Kim, this is Vaughn," he said, gesturing to a dark, well-built man with a kind smile.
"Hello," he said with an exotic accent.
We got chatting and I found out he'd grown up in South Africa.
Keen to hear more, I made sure we sat together at the dinner table.
Turns out, Vaughn was six years older than me, and he had an incredible sense of humour, keeping me in stitches all night.
When I revealed I was a single mum, he wasn't fazed, asking all about Kurt with interest.
"I've always wanted a big family – four kids," he smiled.
We hit it off so well that we made plans to go to the movies the following weekend.
It was the first time I'd been on a date since Kurt was born, so I was really nervous.
I was surprised when Vaughn said he'd bought us tickets to the Sex and the City movie, certain it wasn't exactly a flick he'd been dying to see, but I appreciated his thoughtfulness.
At the end of the night, he kissed me and it felt electric.
I'm going to spend the rest of my life with this man, I thought happily.
We continued dating and Vaughn was incredible, helping me with Kurt.
After a year, we moved in together.
One night, two years later, he suggested we go to the drive-in to see Robin Hood.
But when we pulled up, I realised it was actually a screening of Sex and the City 2.
"I figured you'd prefer to see this," he grinned, handing me a bag of sweets and chocolates he'd prepared at home.
His kind gestures never failed to blow me away.
As Carrie and the girls bantered on the big screen, I reached into the lolly bag and my fingers curled around something metallic.
Frowning, I fetched it out and held it up to the light.
It was a diamond ring!
Vaughn smiled and looked me deeply in the eyes.
"I love you and want us to spend the rest of our lives together. Will you marry me?" he asked.
"Yes!" I cried ecstatically, leaning in to kiss him.
Since Vaughn wanted a big family, we decided to start trying straightaway.
A few weeks later, I discovered I was pregnant.
"Are you serious?" Vaughn shouted, picking me up and twirling me around in delight.
Dreadful morning sickness kicked in and continued until I went into labour with our daughter Ava.
Ten months later, I walked down the aisle to marry the love of my life.
We danced all night with family and friends, before heading off to Bali for our honeymoon.
Lying on a banana lounge by the pool with a cocktail, I grabbed Vaughn's hand.
"I hope life will always be this perfect," I sighed.
"It will," he replied, giving me a big smooch.
A year later, our daughter Indiana was born early at 36 weeks and then I started suffering terrible cramps and heavy bleeding.
The doc diagnosed me with polycystic ovary syndrome, which causes irregular menstrual cycles.
I also had endometriosis, a condition in which the lining of the uterus grows in other places.
I had surgery to remove some from my bowel, which helped ease the pain.
"You might not be able to have any more kids," the doctor warned.
Knowing Vaughn wanted four little ones, I was worried to tell him, but of course he was understanding.
"If it's meant to be, it'll happen," he reassured me.
Just before Indiana's second birthday, he came home from his job in the mines upset.
His dad, Keith, had been living with diabetes for years but it had taken a turn for the worse.
"I'd really like to move to Sydney so we can be there for him and Mum," he said.
I knew it would be hard leaving my loved ones.
But Vaughn would do the same for me in a heartbeat, so weeks later, we started our new life in Sydney.
Sadly, Vaughn's dad Keith passed away from diabetes complications three years later.
"I'd love another boy," Vaughn said one night. "We could name him after Dad."
I was excited to have another baby. We'd always planned to have four, but I was worried I couldn't fall pregnant again.
A year of trying passed and I was about to give up hope.
But then I vomited one morning. Could it be…?
My doctor confirmed I was pregnant and tests revealed levels of the pregnancy hormone were unusually high.
"It's probably a great sign the baby is strong and healthy," the doctor explained.
When Vaughn came home that night, I shared the good news.
He threw his arms around me. "That's brilliant!" he cried, touching my tummy.
A week later, I noticed blood on my undies.
Worried I was losing the baby we'd tried so long to conceive, I rushed to the doctors.
"Some light spotting's normal," she explained. "But let's run another blood test."
Thankfully, my pregnancy hormone levels were still rising rapidly, which indicated everything was fine.
When I was still spotting three weeks later, I was sent for an ultrasound.
"Call me with any news," Vaughn said before he headed off for work.
As the sonographer rubbed the wand over my stomach, she frowned.
"Umm… it seems there are multiple heartbeats, but we'll take you to another room to make sure the equipment isn't playing up," she said.
My own heart started thumping wildly. Was I having twins? It was a miracle I'd conceived one, let alone two!
During the second scan, the sonographer and an assistant started whispering and pointing at the screen.
"One… two… three… four…"
My mind started racing as I realised they were counting the number of foetuses.
"And that one there makes five," she said.
A wave of nausea crashed over me.
We'd only been planning for one more but now I was carrying five. What the hell were we going to do?
Lying down in the radiology clinic, I'd just had an ultrasound which had revealed I was pregnant with quintuplets.
I anxiously thought of my three older children, Kurt, nine, Ava, six, and Indi, three, who were all born early.
How would I carry five to full-term?
Feeling like I'd be sick, I sat up and phoned my husband Vaughn, at work.
"There are five babies. Five!" I stressed. "You're kidding, right?' He laughed. "I'll be right th…" and my phone went dead.
As soon as Vaughn walked in, he threw his arms around me.
"It'll be okay," he said, wiping away my tears. "We can do this."
Two days later I was having another scan.
"The odds of having quintuplets without IVF are one in 55 million," the doc told us, before explaining our options.
We could terminate some of the foetuses, to give the others a better chance at thriving, or continue with all five.
"How can we choose between our babies?" I asked Vaughn.
Since both choices carried risks, we decided to continue with all five.
At 11 weeks pregnant, my morning sickness was so bad, I was spending most of the day laying down on the bathroom floor.
Vaughn had to work and I felt so guilty not being able to properly care for Kurt, Ava and Indi.
"We need to move back to Perth, so Mum and Dad can help with the kids," I told Vaughn one night.
He nodded. "Our family is the most important thing to me," he agreed.
A week later, I headed over from Sydney with Ava and Indi and rented a house, then the boys joined us.
Preparing for quins was the same as any baby, only we needed five of everything!
There was hardly any room in the nursery once all the cribs were set up.
Heading to hospital for my 26-week check-up was difficult.
I was so huge that just walking had become uncomfortable.
Tests revealed my blood pressure had sky-rocketed.
"Sorry, but you're not leaving here until you've had those babies," the doctor said, ordering immediate bed rest.
I felt so guilty that I couldn't go home to the kids, but all our lives were about to change dramatically.
Two weeks later, the doctor warned I could go into labour at any minute and she ordered me a C-section to be safe.
Vaughn gripped my hand as I was wheeled into theatre, and I was shocked to see more than 25 staff in the room.
One by one, as she took the babies out, the doc held them up quickly for us to see.
"Meet Tiffany," she said, holding up a beautiful baby girl, until we'd met all the quins, Allie, Penny, Beatrix and Keith.
They were all taken to humidicribs in the special care nursery.
Keith was so small he was struggling to breathe so he was intubated.
I was allowed home a couple of weeks later but the bubs needed to stay until they got bigger.
"See you soon, little ones," I told them.
Every morning, I'd drop the older kids off at school and daycare, then head to the NICU to spend time with the bubs.
Four weeks later, the paediatrician had good news.
"Beatrix can go home with you today," she said, smiling.
I was thrilled to be able to surprise the big kids when they got home from school.
Ava excitably rushed over to hold her little sister but Indianna wasn't so keen.
"I don't like the babies," she huffed and I couldn't help but giggle. She was sure in for a shock!
Tiffany came home the next day, followed by Penelope, Alison and, two weeks later, Keith.
The babies were all very different so we never got them mixed up.
Tiffany was blonde while Beatrix had heaps of brown hair. Penny had a vein on the side of her head.
By the time all the quins were home, Vaughn and I were exhausted.
We took turns at preparing the formula and feeding the babies through the night, but once we'd finished all five, it was time to start again.
The government arranged for us to have 'home help', which I thought would be amazing.
When the first lady showed up, I greeted her at the door, looking a mess and bottle-feeding Tiffany.
"So glad you're here," I welcomed her. "It'd be amazing if you could finish sterilising the bottles so I can finish feeding the babies."
"Sorry, we're just here to help with the children, not to do domestic duties," she replied.
I was a little shocked, but handed Tiffany over to finish her feeding.
I spent the next few hours tackling the dishes and doing laundry, which was never ending. We were using 50 nappies a day!
While I was grateful for the help, handing the babies over to a stranger while I did the housework, really interfered with forming a proper bond with them.
I also felt like I was living in a fishbowl, with everyone watching and judging me.
"If you don't like what they're doing, tell them to stop," Vaughn told me.
But it wasn't that easy – they were childcare experts and I was always too tired to stand up for myself.
We started to get in little tiffs over it.
"Its fine, I'm really tired too," Vaughn told me, wrapping his arms around me in a big hug.
After 12 months, I decided it would be best to discontinue the home help and put the quins into daycare for a couple of hours a few times a week.
By then, Vaughn and I weren't talking unless we were having a dig at each other.
"What are we doing to the kids?" I asked him one night.
Vaughn admitted he was really unhappy.
"Whenever they're sick or hurt themselves, all they want is you," he confessed.
A few weeks later, he moved into a house nearby.
He's still a great dad and comes over to help every morning.
We work exactly the same, but with fewer fights.
I've realised now that when the quins were born, we made a big mistake by focusing all of our attention on them and the house, rather than making time for each other.
I'm trying to take at least half an hour just for me, taking a walk or having a bubble bath.
I think once Vaughn and I are happier within ourselves, I hope we can find a way to be together again. Our family deserves it.
- PuzzlesThe Australian Women's Weekly June Issue Online Entry
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