Identical quadruplets are very rare, occurring in only one out of every 11 million pregnancies. Identical quadruplets are the result of one fertilized egg that splits into four separate embryos. Since the four embryos are genetically identical, all the babies are the same gender.
Four growing babies put a lot of strain on a pregnant woman's entire system, making a quadruplet pregnancy extremely high-risk. Once doctors identify a quadruplet pregnancy via an ultrasound, the woman's obstetrician orders a more detailed ultrasound and a consultation with a perinatologist, a doctor who specializes in monitoring high-risk pregnancies. While it is possible to identify quadruplets on an ultrasound image, it's impossible to tell whether the quads are identical without genetic testing.
Both mother and quadruplets are monitored closely throughout the pregnancy. MOST states that the typical weight gain during pregnancy for moms of quadruplets is 70 to 100 pounds, with 20 to 25 pounds of the gain occurring in the first 20 weeks. Women pregnant with high order multiples like quadruplets are at a much higher risk for preterm labor due to the increased stress on the uterus.
The extreme stretching of the uterine muscle tissue during a quadruplet pregnancy can irritate the uterus, causing preterm labor and the eventual premature birth of the quadruplets. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, triplet pregnancies last an average of 29.3 weeks, or just over 7 months. Babies born at 29-week-old are extremely premature and are at a high risk of developing a variety of problems related to their prematurity after birth.
Real-Life Identical Quadruplets
Although the CDC's most recent statistics state that only 355 sets of quadruplets are born in the United States annually, with identical quadruplets even more rare, many parents of identical quadruplets have shared their story with the media or on the Internet.
The Jepps Quadruplets
One such family is the Jepps of Calgary, Canada. Karen Jepps gave birth to her four daughters Autumn, Brooke, Calissa, and Dahlia on August 12, 2007. Karen Jepps' perinatologist, Dr. Tom Key, was quoted as saying that the Jepps quintuplets were not conceived with the help of fertility drugs, making their conception and birth particularly extraordinary.
One article about the Jepps puts the chances of the birth of identical quadruplets at one in 13 million, and the Jepps were even more fortunate since Mrs. Jepps' pregnancy lasted for 31 weeks and three days. The Jepps use a color-coding system to help friends, family members, and volunteers identify the quads, dressing them each in a specific color, but even Karen Jepps confesses to the occasional moment of confusion.
Another set of identical quadruplets has had a bit more media exposure than the Jepps quadruplets. Pregnant mom Allison Mathias was shocked to learn from her doctor that she was expecting triplets, and even more shocked when her doctor found a fourth baby during an ultrasound a month later. Grace, Emily, Mary Claire, and Anna Mathias were born by C-section on February 16, 2000, in Columbia South Carolina. Their parents actually didn't know that the girls were genetically identical until they were tested at six months old. The Mathias had no family history of multiple births and were not using fertility drugs. The Mathias quads have been in a special on Discovery Health, entitled Superquads, and have made appearances on Oprah and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Raising Identical Quadruplets
The challenges of raising multiples go beyond the simple logistics of feeding, diapering, and caring for many babies. Parents of multiples also have to respond to questions about how the babies were conceived and decide whether to share their story and their struggles with the media.
Unlike fraternal high order multiples, identical quadruplets are not the result of fertility specialists implanting multiple fetuses, but usually are simply a chance splitting of a fertilized egg. Regardless of how quadruplets are conceived, the parents and their children deserve support, privacy, and a normal family life without the scrutiny or judgment of the media and general public.