Aww, cute babies: Couple welcome quadruplets after suffering decades of childlessness

Justin Clark is a man who will have to do a  lot of queuing up outside his own bathroom for at least the next 18  years.

He may have Toby the labrador and Sox the cat  as male allies, but there’s no doubt the 43-year-old is well and truly  outnumbered by women these days. And he couldn’t be happier.

Just over a month ago, he and his wife  Christine, 36, brought home their now three-month-old quadruplets – all girls –  from the special care unit at Rotherham Hospital.

Proud parents: Justin and Caroline Clark brought their four three-month-old daughters home from a special care unitProud parents: Justin and Caroline Clark brought their  four three-month-old daughters home from a special care unit last month- and  they’ve had their hands full ever since


Miracle babies: Caroline, Darcy, Alexis and Elisha were born at 30 weeks after their mother was hospitalisedMiracle babies: Caroline, Darcy, Alexis and Elisha were  born at 30 weeks after their mother was hospitalised

Caroline, Darcy, Alexis and Elisha were born  prematurely at 30 weeks and they are very special babies  indeed.

After nearly a decade of trying, the couple  had almost given up hope of becoming parents and had resigned themselves to  being childless. It was their first round of IVF that proved successful — quite  spectacularly.

And that is not the only reason the quads are  extraordinary. Incredibly, they are also the result of just one embryo after it  split into three and then one of those embryos split into two.

The odds of one embryo creating four babies  have never been calculated. ‘People have quoted odds of two million to one and  even 70 million to one, but it’s simply not quantifiable as it’s never happened  before,’ says Justin.

‘We’re the first people it’s happened to and  even some doctors find it hard to believe.’

To say the couple are shell-shocked is an  understatement. Mothers of multiples often say parents of single babies ‘have  absolutely no idea how hard it is’.

Having given birth to identical twin girls 11  months ago, I’ve said it myself through gritted teeth lots of times.

So it’s with a mixture of profound  admiration, curiosity and a tiny bit of commiseration for the sleep they will  never regain that I meet Justin, a lorry driver, and Christine, a  nurse, at  their three-bedroom ‘but one’s only a box room’ semi-detached  home in the South  Yorkshire village of Brinsworth.

The only evidence of the babies’ presence are  the dark circles under their  parents’ eyes. But echoing from upstairs there’s  no mistaking the  fragile bleating of a newborn demanding  attention.

‘Excuse the mess,’ says Christine needlessly  as she leads me into a room strewn with baby paraphernalia.

Long-awaited: The precious babies were the result of the couples' first round of IVF. They are the result of just one embryo after it split into three and then one of those embryos split into twoLong-awaited: The precious babies were the result of the  couples’ first round of IVF. They are the result of just one embryo after it  split into three and then one of those embryos split into two

All four tiny girls, still weighing only  around 5-6lb each, are snuggled up like dormice in one cot.

Three are fast asleep, but Alexis is testing  her lungs to full capacity. Gently, Christine picks her up, cuddles her and she  calms down. Mum’s clearly a natural.

But then she and Justin have waited a long  time to become parents.

‘You wait nine years for one baby and then  get four at once,’ smiles Christine. ‘We’re just so lucky.’

Justin and Christine met in a pub 12 years  ago and married three years later. Like most young, married couples, they longed  to start a family.

‘I’d always wanted to be a mum,’ says  Christine. ‘I don’t come from a big family, but children were always on the  agenda. We started trying before we got married, but nothing  happened.

‘I was only 25, so I didn’t panic.  But after  two years we went to our GP who did lots of tests. It turned  out I had  polycystic ovaries and would probably need help to get  pregnant.

‘It was very  upsetting. Friends were getting  pregnant and while I was always happy  for them and never jealous, I would be  thinking: “Why isn’t it happening for us?”’

The couple tried several treatments,  including the ovary-stimulating drug Clomid, but the side-effects made Christine  ill.

‘IVF was really a last resort because we knew  what a rollercoaster it could be,’ she says.

‘People don’t understand unless they’ve done  it, and we discussed whether we  wanted to put ourselves through it. It was our  final hope.’

Justin and Christine were referred to Care  Fertility in Sheffield, and were offered two rounds of IVF on the  NHS.

The couple’s fears were realised when only  two of Christine’s eggs were  collected for fertilisation. Sadly, one of those  eggs turned out to be  too immature to be used.

Wedding day: Justin and Caroline married in March 2004. After a nine-year wait and discovering Caroline has polycystic ovaries, they turned to IVFWedding day: Justin and Caroline married in March 2004.  After a nine-year wait and discovering Caroline has polycystic ovaries, they  turned to IVF

‘I was devastated,’ says Christine. ‘I  couldn’t believe that I’d put my body through so much to get only one chance. I  know women who get about 12 eggs and I had only one shot at it.

‘There was a moment where I really did think:  “What’s the point?” But as our midwife told us: “You only need one  egg.”’

Once the embryo had been implanted, Christine  was told it would take 12 days before a pregnancy test confirmed whether it had  worked. Perhaps inevitably, she couldn’t wait that long.

‘I cheated and took the test on day ten, and  was absolutely shocked when it came out positive,’ she says.

‘In nine years of trying, I’d never had a  positive pregnancy test. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

‘I took the test downstairs to Justin, who  said: “What does that mean?” I  told him to read the box and when he had, he was  speechless.’

By this point, the couple dared to believe  they were finally going to be  parents — to one baby. It was seven weeks later  that they were given the most astonishing piece of news.

‘I was lying on the scanning bed and the  sonographer was looking at the  screen, but not saying a word,’ says Christine.

‘I felt sick thinking  something had gone  wrong, but she quickly reassured me that I was  definitely pregnant. Then she  said: “I can see three sacs — you’re  having triplets.”

‘I was in total shock. So was Justin. The  sonographer wanted a second opinion, so she asked us to go to the waiting room  and she’d get a consultant to  confirm it.’

Justin says:  ‘We sat outside and all we  could hear were the staff buzzing around us,  saying: “It’s triplets, it’s  triplets!” It seemed to be an eternity  before we went back in that  room.

‘As the senior consultant Dr Shakar scanned  Christine, he looked closely at the screen and then said: “You’re not having  triplets — it’s quads.” We were gobsmacked. And so was he!

‘We all saw four little heartbeats. I kept  counting them in my head “One,  two, three, four”, but it was too much to take  in. We’d gone from having no babies to four babies in one go.’

Any multiple pregnancy is fraught with risk,  but four foetuses meant four  times the danger to mother and babies. The medical  experts confronted  the couple with a stark decision.

Fatherly love: Mr Clark dotes on 11-week old Alexis. He has stopped working as a lorry driver to care for his daughtersFatherly love: Mr Clark dotes on 11-week old Alexis. He  has stopped working as a lorry driver to care for his four daughters

‘We were offered selective termination on  several occasions – where the doctors would have aborted two of the babies to  help the remaining two survive – but we were against it,’ says  Christine.

‘We wouldn’t have had to choose which babies  were terminated – the doctors would have done that for us  – but Justin and  I don’t believe in abortion.

‘Even if there had been something seriously  wrong with the babies, I don’t think I could have lived with getting rid of two  of them.

‘That’s also the reason why we didn’t take  the test for Down’s syndrome. We knew it carried a risk.

‘I’d waited too long for children and didn’t  care what happened to me. I was prepared to risk it.’

The pregnancy was far from easy and Christine  suffered from severe morning sickness.

‘It was horrific,’ she says. ‘People said to  me after my 12-week scan “You should be full of energy now”, but I was being  sick morning, noon and night. I’d even wake up in the middle of the night and  throw up.

‘Justin wanted to find out the sex of the  babies at 20 weeks, but I said: “No way.” If the pregnancy was going to be this  hard, I wanted to have a lovely surprise at the end of it.

‘By this point we’d got our heads around the  fact we were going to have four babies. We had no idea how we’d afford it. But  people have been so generous and donated clothes, pillows and even a rocking  chair.’

Christine was admitted to hospital for bed  rest at 24 weeks and the twins were delivered by Caesarean section at 30 weeks  on March 25, weighing between 2lb and 3lb each.

One in two million: The miracle babies get through more than 200 nappies a weekOne in two million: The miracle babies get through more  than 200 nappies a week

‘We had more than 42 staff and took up two  surgical theatres,’ she says. ‘Everyone wanted a front-row seat. When the babies  came out, they were whisked into a side room and Justin went with  them.

‘It was upsetting for me as I was desperate  to see them, but I didn’t get anywhere near them for 24 hours. That was  hard.

‘Justin took 253 pictures of them to show me  because I went straight to high dependency. The babies had bruised my lungs  because they’d been kicking me so hard.’

Christine left hospital a week later, but her  daughters remained in special care for nine more weeks until they came home at  the end of May. ‘I couldn’t wait to have them home,’ Christine says. ‘I wanted  to be their mother and look after them here.’

Now they have been home for more than a month  and life has changed beyond all recognition.

Justin has left his job to help care for his  daughters and plans to be a full-time house husband.

‘It’s pointless me going back to work because  my wages would not even cover the childcare,’ he explains.

‘I’m looking forward to it. After all, being  a long-distance lorry driver and a full-time carer of quads is very similar.  You’ve got to work long hours, the work is very monotonous and you can’t take  your eyes off the ball for a second in case there is an accident!

‘I’m chief nappy changer anyway — I changed  more than 25 yesterday — and it doesn’t faze me.

‘I know which girl is which because I  memorise what they are wearing in the morning. But sometimes Christine tricks me  by changing their top. I’ve been caught out a couple of times.’

The couple are not relying on state benefits  apart from the statutory £60 a week child benefit.

After a year’s maternity leave, Christine  plans to go back to work part-time because her salary is higher than her  husband’s.

Today, they are surviving on snatches of  sleep, the benevolence of family and friends and hand-me-down  clothes.

Volunteer nursery nurses are helping them  care for the children, too. The babies get through more than 200 nappies a week  and at least one box of formula milk every 48 hours.

Admirably, Christine managed to express  breast milk for the first seven weeks before an infection prevented her from  continuing.

‘The babies feed every four hours, but it  takes at least an hour to feed all four of them, so by the time you’ve finished  you’ve only got two or three hours until the next feed,’ says  Christine.

‘It’s tiring, of course, but it’s not the  kind of tiredness that comes from work. It’s really worthwhile.’

Logistically, it’s a nightmare. Anyone with  one baby will know that leaving the house can take for ever. What’s it like with  four?

‘If we go out, we take two tandem prams, but  if we have to drive I take the four girls in the car and Justin has to walk or  get the bus! We went shopping the other day, and managed to get out of the house  in just two hours!’

The comments the couple receive from  strangers will be familiar to any mum of twins or triplets –

‘You’ve got your hands full there’ or ‘Oooh,  double/triple/quadruple the trouble . . .’

‘I love the fact that people come up to us  and say nice things, but I do feel like saying: “Yes thanks, I know!” ’ smiles  Christine.

‘Someone asked me the other day if we were  going to have any more children. I think the answer to that is absolutely  not!’

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