Pregnancies can feel like a almighty blessing in normal of circumstances. For one English woman, however, the feeling must have been extraordinary. As if all of her birthdays, Christmases, and all other holidays had occurred on the same day that her lottery numbers came up. Because when she went for an ultrasound she couldn’t quite believe what it revealed.
Charlene Connaughton, 25, from the small town of Telford in Shropshire, central England, was dealt a tough blow as a teenager. Aged only 15, she was diagnosed with a life-changing condition – she was told she had polycystic ovaries. Doctors informed the teen that she would never be able to conceive children naturally. Any dreams she had of one day starting a family received a rude awakening right there in the doctor’s room.
There are three main adversities for those who suffer from polycystic ovaries, all of which impede fertility. For one, the organs become enlarged and develop blister-like sacs around the eggs within. Second, there is an overload of androgen, a male hormone, leading to a chemical imbalance. And thirdly – and the main obstacle to Connaughton being able to reproduce – is the problem of irregular ovulation.
If Connaughton ever wanted to have children, her doctors said, the only way would be via in-vitro fertilization, commonly known as IVF. Four years later, when she was 19, however, the teenager received some overwhelmingly good news she never expected to hear. She was pregnant. What’s more, she had confounded medical expectations – the pregnancy was a natural conception.
“I was so shocked when I found out I was pregnant,” Charlene admitted to her local newspaper, the Shropshire Star, in March 2014. In fact, she was almost at a total loss for words when she broke the news to her then fiancé, Mark, who is now 31. She continued, “I rang Mark and it went to voicemail so I just said, ‘You’re going to be a dad,’ then hung up.”
And if the conception itself wasn’t miraculous enough, an early ultrasound revealed something even more spectacular and surprising. The doctor present broke the news that Connaughton was actually carrying twins, and instantly the joy and wonder were doubled. However, a later scan showed a different and even more astonishing picture.
In the follow-up ultrasound scan, peeking out from behind the twins’ heads, was another pair of features. Connaughton had to face a new reality – she wasn’t expecting twins at all, she was expecting quads. This was quite the revelation for a young woman who up until recently had thought she would never conceive. Amazingly, from believing herself to be barren, the teen was now bearing a brood of four babies.
The quads’ father, retail worker Mark, also spoke to the Shropshire Star. He said, “It was a big shock to the system. To find out you’re having one is enough of a surprise, but four is very different.” Any sense of delight and happiness at the unexpected news, however, was soon tempered by another development. A piece of medical advice which would present the young couple with an agonizing decision.
Connaughton’s obstetricians were not confident that all four of her babies would survive the full term of the pregnancy. As a consequence, their professional advice was to have two of the fetuses terminated, in order to give the remaining pair the best possible chance of life. An impossible dilemma to be presented to anyone, much less a teenaged mom-to-be and her 20-something fiancé.
“When the doctors said I should abort two of the babies I was devastated,” she recalled in her interview with the Shropshire Star. But for Connaughton – then a trainee neo-natal nurse herself – there was simply no question to answer. The pregnant patient had her own, very definite idea about the proposal. “I said ‘No, just no. It’s murder. I don’t believe in abortion.’”
So it was that the resolute 19-year-old defiantly carried all four of her babies for as long as she could. Several months – and one 20th birthday celebration – later, the expectant mom saw out the final six weeks of her pregnancy in hospital. At the end she was transferred to the specialist Liverpool Women’s Hospital in the north of England. After an understandably grueling labor, Connaughton gave birth to four girls on December 11, 2011.
Sisters Gracie-Lou Anne, Rosaline Anita Mae, Amalia-Rose Rachael and Evelynn Lillian Julie Connaughton came into the world some nine weeks ahead of schedule. Consequently, the girls only weighed between two pounds and six ounces and three pounds and six ounces. But, although the quads were very premature, and despite the difficult labor for their mom, all five females proved to be fighters.
The four sisters were swiftly despatched to the hospital’s neonatal care unit immediately on arrival. Due to being delivered two months early, the quads all experienced problems with their lungs. But after a relatively short stay of only a few weeks, the babies were healthy enough for mom and dad to take their instant family home to Telford.
When the girls reached six months old, they were christened in honor of their devout paternal great-grandfather. More than 100 family members and friends attended the ceremony at St. Michael’s Church in the nearby town of Madeley. But, although the quads were dressed in identical christening gowns, the sisters wore distinctive individual hairbands. It wasn’t just the gowns which appeared identical. Without the headwear it was just too difficult for most attendees to tell the quads apart.
For others, identifying the individual girls was all pretty straightforward. “Gracie-Lou has a chubbier face and Amalia-Rose has a smaller face,” Connaughton explained to the Shropshire Star. She continued, “Rosaline has a longer face and Evelynn is the smallest and has a little scar on her head.” Mother, it is quite clear, knows best after all.
Charlene and Mark Connaughton were told by doctors that the girls were born as two batches of identical twins. As the mom explained to the U.K. national tabloid newspaper the Daily Mail, “I had a scan at six weeks and it looked like there were two different sacs, which meant I was going to have two sets of twins.”
As time went on, however, distinguishing one girl from her three siblings didn’t seem to get any easier. “I just know, but Mark has trouble,” Connaughton joked with the Shropshire Star about the confusion when the quad sisters were two years old. To seek some clarity, the proud parents requested a DNA test for their girls.
When the results came back, Charlene was gobsmacked – what she read made her a potential record breaker. In turned out that in fact the four girls are identical quads. She told the Daily Mail, “After looking on the internet, the only other youngest mum of identical quadruplets was 27. I was 19 when I carried them and 20 when I had them. I’m sure I must be the youngest.”
If having quads wasn’t enough of a surprise after being told she could never conceive naturally, the girls have propelled mom into medical history in the process. As dad Mark admitted to the Shropshire Star, “It feels extremely special now we know they’re identical.” Charlene and Mark eventually got married in 2013, with four very special guests at the ceremony.
“I absolutely love having quads,” the history-making and medically confounding mom gushed to her local newspaper. “I wouldn’t have it any other way now.” Four kids, however, is enough for Connaughton, who suffered complications delivering the girls. She said, “I’ve been told if I have any more it could kill me. But I think we’re fine as we are.”