Justin Clark is a man who will have to stand in line in front of his own toilet 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 that the 43-year-old is vastly 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 three-month-old quadruplets, all girls, from the Special Care Unit at Rotherham Hospital.
Caroline, Darcy, Alexis and Elisha were born prematurely at 30 weeks and are very special babies.
After trying for almost ten years, the couple had almost given up hope of becoming parents and had resigned themselves to not having children. It was their first round of IVF that proved successful – quite spectacularly so.
And that’s not the only reason why quads are extraordinary. Indeed, they are the result of a single embryo splitting into three, then one of those embryos splitting into two.
The probability of one embryo creating four babies has never been calculated. People have quoted probabilities of two million to one and even 70 million to one, but it’s just not quantifiable because it’s never happened before,” says Justin.
We’re the first people this has happened to, and even some doctors find it hard to believe.
To say the couple is in shock is an understatement. Mothers of multiples often say that parents of only babies “have absolutely no idea how difficult the situation is”.
Having given birth to identical twins 11 months ago, I’ve often said this myself through gritted teeth.
So it’s with a mixture of deep admiration, curiosity and a little commiseration for the sleep they’ll never get back that I meet Justin, a lorry driver, and Christine, a nurse, in their three-bedroom terraced house “but one of them’s just a box”, in the South Yorkshire village of Brinsworth.
The only evidence of the babies’ presence are the dark circles under their parents’ eyes. But upstairs, it’s impossible to mistake the fragile bleating of a newborn crying out for attention.
Excuse the mess,” Christine says unnecessarily, leading me into a room littered with baby accessories.
The four little girls, still weighing only 5 or 6 pounds each, are snuggled up like dormice in a single bed.
Three of them are sound asleep, but Alexis is testing her lungs to the limit. Gently, Christine takes her in her arms, cuddles her and she calms down. The mother clearly has a gift for this.
But she and Justin have waited a long time to become parents.
We waited nine years for a baby and now we’ve got four in one go,” smiles Christine. We’re very lucky.
Justin and Christine met in a pub 12 years ago and married three years later. Like most young married couples, they were eager to start a family.
I’ve always wanted to be a mother,” explains Christine. I don’t come from a large 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 consulted our GP, who carried out a lot of tests. It turned out that I had polycystic ovaries and would probably need help to get pregnant.
It was very upsetting. Friends were getting pregnant and, although I was always happy for them and never jealous, I thought: “Why isn’t this happening for me? “Why isn’t this happening for us?
The couple tried several treatments, including Clomid, an ovarian-stimulating drug, but the side effects made Christine sick.
IVF was really the last resort, because we knew how much of a rollercoaster it could be,” she says.
People don’t understand until they’ve done it, and we wondered if we wanted to go through with it. It was our last hope.
Justin and Christine were referred to Care Fertility in Sheffield and offered two cycles of IVF funded by the NHS.
The couple’s fears were realized when only two of Christine’s eggs were retrieved for fertilization. Unfortunately, one of these eggs proved too immature to be used.
I was devastated,” says Christine. I couldn’t believe I’d put my body through so much to get just one chance. I know women who have about 12 eggs and I only had one chance.
At one point I really thought, “What’s the point?”. But as our midwife told us, “You only need one egg”.
Once the embryo was implanted, Christine learned that it would be 12 days before a pregnancy test confirmed that the embryo had worked. Not surprisingly, she couldn’t wait that long.
I cheated and took the test on the tenth day, and was absolutely shocked when it came back 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 to Justin, who said, ‘What does this mean? “What does it mean?” I told him to read the box and when he did, he was speechless.
At this point, the couple dared to believe that they would finally become parents – of one baby. It was seven weeks later that they received the most astonishing news.
I was lying on the scanner bed and the sonographer was staring at the screen without saying a word,” says Christine.
I felt sick, thinking something had gone wrong, but she quickly reassured me that I was indeed pregnant. Then she said, ‘I see three pockets – you’re going to have triplets’.
I was in total shock. So was Justin. The sonographer wanted a second opinion, so she asked us to go into the waiting room and she asked a consultant to confirm the news.
Justin recounts, “We sat outside and all we could hear was the staff bustling around us saying, “It’s triplets, it’s a baby” : “It’s triplets, it’s triplets!” It seemed like an eternity before we went back into that room.
When Dr. Shakar, senior consultant, scanned Christine, he looked intently at the screen and said, “You’re not going to have triplets: “You’re not going to have triplets, you’re going to have quadruplets.” We were stunned. 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 zero to four babies in one go.
Any multiple pregnancy carries risks, but four fetuses means four times the danger for mother and babies. Medical experts confronted the couple with a brutal decision.
On several occasions, we were offered a selective abortion – the doctors would have aborted two of the babies to help the other two survive – but we decided against it,” says Christine.
We wouldn’t have had to choose which babies to abort – the doctors would have done it for us – but Justin and I don’t believe in abortion.
Even if the babies had had a serious problem, I don’t think I could have lived with the idea of getting rid of two of them.
That’s also why we didn’t get tested for Down’s syndrome. We knew there was a risk involved.
I’d waited too long to have children and didn’t care what happened to me. I was ready to take the risk.
The pregnancy was far from easy and Christine suffered from severe morning sickness.
It was horrible,” she says. People told me after my 12-week check-up, ‘You should be full of energy by now’, but I was sick morning, noon and night. Sometimes I even woke up in the middle of the night to vomit.
Justin wanted to know the sex of the babies at 20 weeks, but I said, “No way”: “No way”. If the pregnancy was going to be that difficult, I wanted to have a nice surprise at the end.
By this stage, we understood that we were going to have four babies. We had no idea how we could afford it. But people were 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 2 and 3 pounds each.
We had over 42 employees and occupied two operating theatres,” she says. Everyone wanted a front-row seat. When the babies came out, they were taken to a side room and Justin accompanied them.
It upset me, because I really wanted to see them, but I couldn’t go near them for 24 hours. It was very difficult.
Justin took 253 photos of them to show me, as I went straight to the addiction. The babies had bruised my lungs from kicking me so hard.
Christine left the hospital a week later, but her daughters stayed in special care for another nine weeks, until they came home at the end of May. I couldn’t wait to bring them home,” says Christine. I wanted to be their mother and look after them here.
They’ve been home for over a month now, and life has changed dramatically.
Justin has quit his job to look after his daughters, and plans to become a full-time homemaker.
There’s no point in me going back to work, as my salary wouldn’t even cover childcare costs,” he explains.
I’m looking forward to it. After all, being a long-haul truck driver and looking after quads full-time are very similar. You have 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’s an accident!
Anyway, I’m a chief diaper-changer – I changed over 25 yesterday – and I don’t mind.
I know who’s who because I remember what they’re wearing in the morning. But sometimes Christine makes a mistake when changing tops. I’ve been caught out a few times.
The couple are not dependent on state benefits, with the exception of the statutory family allowance of £60 a week.
After a year’s maternity leave, Christine plans to return to work part-time, as her salary is higher than her husband’s.
Today, they survive on scraps of sleep, the kindness of family and friends, and second-hand clothes.
Volunteer nursery nurses also help look after the children. The babies need over 200 diapers a week and at least one tin of formula every 48 hours.
Christine managed admirably to pump her breast milk for the first seven weeks, before an infection prevented her from continuing.
The babies are fed every four hours, but it takes at least an hour to feed all four, so by the time you’re done, you’ve only got two or three hours before the next feed,” explains Christine.
It’s tiring, of course, but it’s not the kind of tiredness you feel at work. It’s really worth it.
Logistically, it’s a nightmare. Anyone with just one baby knows that leaving the house can take forever. What’s it like with four children?
If we’re going out, we take two tandem strollers, but if we have to drive, I put the four girls in the car and Justin has to walk or take the bus! The other day, we went shopping and managed to get out of the house in just two hours!
The comments the couple receive from strangers will be familiar to any mother of twins or triplets…
‘You’ve got your hands full’ or ‘Oooh, double/triple/quadruple the trouble…’…’
I love it when people come up to us and say nice things, but I feel like saying, “Yes, thank you, I know!”smiles Christine.
The other day, someone asked me if we were going to have any more children. I think the answer to that question is absolutely no!