The Mathias Girls
Allison and Steve Mathias - Lexington, South Carolina
Steve and Allison Mathias were married in 1997. They live in family-friendly Lexington, South Carolina and like many other young couples they longed for a baby. With no history of multiple births in the family and no use of fertility treatment there was no reason to expect what came next. Allison recalls "We didn't find out we were having multiples until I was about nine weeks pregnant and at that point we were told we were having triplets".
Triplets are classed as a complicated pregnancy, so Allison was referred to the Palmetta Hospital in South Carolina's state capital, Columbia. There the specialist in high risk pregnancy and delivery is Dr Charles Shipley. He had even more shocking news for her, the ultrasound found a fourth baby.
After the shock of expecting quads had subsided, Allison and Steve Mathias had to take onboard the complications involved in a multiple birth. Allison explains "I got upset because my background is in maternal and child health and I knew that the risks increase exponentially with every baby that you add". Dr Shipley adds "Triplets, for example, carry a fairly high risk of one of the foetuses having a major disability. Quads carry an even higher risk, sometimes up to 60%, of one baby having a defect".
But the health issues are not only worrying for the babies, an expectant mother of multiples experiences an exaggerated pregnancy. Dr Carol Cooper the author of 'Twins and Multiple Births' says "A mother who's carrying multiples often has much more morning sickness, she feels much more uncomfortable, the pregnancy starts showing at a much earlier stage, she is more likely to be constipated or get varicose veins and all those other little delights of pregnancy".
As Allison's pregnancy progressed, her body struggled to cope with the dramatic pressure it was under. She tells us "At fifteen weeks I was measuring like a typical forty week pregnancy. From twenty weeks until about five days before the girls were born, I was on complete bed-rest. I gained 80lb".
It's Crowded in There
The bigger Allison became, the greater the risk of preeclampsia and other life-threatening complications. It was a fine balancing act between Allison's survival and the prenatal development of the babies.
Dr Shipley recounts "She was growing faster, had more baby weight, more placenta, so she became a very complex patient very quickly. She got into some pulmonary oedema and was in danger of going into heart failure. Then the risk to her became much greater than the risk of putting the babies in the nursery. It made the decision to deliver very easy".
The medical team could wait no longer to perform the caesarean.
After a nerve-wracking caesarean deliver, twelve weeks premature, their four girls survival was in doubt. They were rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit where they were hooked up to life-support machines.
The quadruplets spent weeks in the intensive care unit, their health monitored around the clock. The probability of complications arising in a premature baby is high. With quadruplets the risk increases to a 60% chance of one of them having a major defect.
Allison remembers "They were in very precarious health when they were born. The biggest was Grace and she was 2lb 12oz, Anna was the smallest at 2lb 6oz. They were so tiny and so red, their skin was almost like gelatin, you could almost see through it".
Two months after they were born, eldest, Grace, and third-born, Mary Claire, were the first to be discharged from hospital. They were joined, at home, by second-born, Emily, and the youngest, Anna, two weeks later. Against all the odds, all four have been given a clean bill of health.
The chance of giving birth to quadruplets, naturally, in 1 in 800,000. The odds of those quads being identical are then one in eleven million. Unlike fraternal multiples who do not necessarily look alike and can even be a mix of sexes, identical quadruplets can only come from the same egg.
The Mathias Babies
The Mathias girls were officially tested at six months old and were confirmed as possessing identical DNA. Even though they are, effectively, human clones of each other, as the girls have grown up, each one has developed a unique and individual character as well as their own slight physical differences.