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Welcome to the world, America's newest sextuplets

A week after their birth at the Texas Children’s Hospital, the latest set of sextuplets is making big progress with five breathing on their own and just one still on a ventilator.

Their parents gave TODAY  an exclusive first look at the “six pack,” as doctors have dubbed them. The tiny pink babies, three boys and three girls, are being cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit. Doctors expect the babies, who were born 10 weeks premature, to stay there for at least a couple of months. 

The babies were delivered by C-section on April 23 in just four minutes – much quicker than their parents, Lauren and David Perkins, expected.

“All of a sudden, they were like, ‘Baby A is out,’ and I was like ‘Oh, we’re starting,’” Lauren told TODAY’s Janet Shamlian. “Within four minutes, all six were out.” Andrew, Ben, Levi, Allison, Caroline and Leah are their names: The largest was just 2 pounds, 15 ounces.

Though the Perkinses are remarkably calm now as they survey their little six-pack, they were caught off guard by the whirl of emotions as the babies started to come.

“My heart was beating like crazy,” David told Shamlian. “Lauren was shaking like crazy. I did not expect that. They said that was perfectly normal.”

A team of about 35 doctors, nurses, and other specialists had rehearsed the delivery so that everything would go smoothly.

“When mom came into the hospital, we knew where the equipment was going to be,” Dr. Charles Hankins a neonatologist at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women told Shamlian. “We knew which teams would be at which bed with which baby. So it’s just being ready. You don’t want to do this dance the first time that night.”

Lauren described her first meeting with the babies on the blog the couple set up for family and friends.

“I officially met them on Tuesday and got to touch them!” Lauren wrote. “I couldn’t believe they all fit inside my belly. My favorite moment was getting to hold one of them this morning; she had been upset but calmed down when I held her. :) Two of the babies love their pacifiers and Dave got to put the pacis in their mouths yesterday.”

The Perkinses weren’t looking to create such a big family in one shot. They’d sought out the help of a fertility specialist after trying to get pregnant for a year and a half.  Lauren was given fertility drugs and doctors inseminated her with David’s sperm.
David described the process on their blog.

“That involved two weeks of shots and a couple turkey bastings,” he wrote. “There was a 25 percent chance the procedure would work at all, and if it worked, a 25 percent chance of twins. The odds went down from there on multiples, with a 1 percent chance of sextuplets. After ‘the 2 week wait’ we found out Lauren was indeed pregnant, but with really high hormone levels, so an ultrasound was recommended to see what was going on. We knew something was up when we saw the doctor's jaw drop... he had seen 6 babies!”

The Perkinses were offered the option of selectively reducing the pregnancy to make it safer for both Lauren and the babies, but the couple rejected the suggestion.

“You see your six babies and heartbeats and there’s no sign of problems,” she told Shamlian. “And how do you choose?”

While five of the six babies are now breathing on their own and seem healthy, one, Leah, is still on a ventilator and is facing greater challenges. She had surgery this past Monday and seems to have come through it well.

Leah’s dad is hopeful that everything will turn out all right.

“I don’t think we’d be taken this far just to have some of them not go home with us,” he told Shamlian. “We’re very confident in that.”

Linda Carroll is a regular contributor to msnbc.com and TODAY.com. She is co-author of the new book "The Concussion Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic.”

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