Watch: Life with quads for childhood sweethearts
A couple who endured six miscarriages and thought they’d never realise their dream of having a big family, now have the seven children they’d always hoped for, after welcoming a set of quadruplets.
April and Phil Gardner, from the US state of Utah, met at school and discovered they were expecting their first child, Rilee, now 24, when April was 18.
“We started young,” said April, now 42. “Back then, I never dreamed fertility would be something I’d have to think about. I’d fallen pregnant with Rilee easily enough, after all.”
But shortly after Rilee was born and the family moved to Germany with Phil’s job in the Air Force, April began to experience painful cramps and nausea.
She was diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition where tissue usually found in the lining of the womb grows in other parts of the body and can cause fertility issues.
Despite this, doctors were confident that April would be able to have more children, and with no immediate plans for more children, this didn’t become an issue until six years later, when April had her first miscarriage.
“I had some bleeding and saw the doctor who said I’d miscarried,” she said. “I hadn’t even known I was pregnant.”
Conceiving again shortly afterwards in 2002, the couple were delighted when their daughter, Whitlee, now 18, was born.
“That reassured me that, hopefully, the miscarriage was a one off and not the start of fertility problems due to my endometriosis,” April added.
But in 2005, when April and Phil began discussing growing their family, they had no idea that it would be 11 long years before they would welcome another baby.
April fell pregnant in around August 2005, soon after they began trying for a baby, but, just eight weeks later, she miscarried again.
“I can’t explain it. I just woke up one day with a weird feeling that something was wrong – like a dread deep inside me,” she recalled.
“I went to the loo and there was a tiny spot of blood there. I knew right away what it meant.”
Tragically, later that day, an ultrasound confirmed April had miscarried for a second time.
Six months later, in early 2006, April found out she was pregnant again, but heartbreakingly, at just six weeks, she began cramping, later discovering she had lost the baby.
“After that, I felt like I needed a break for a while,” she said.
“We didn’t try again until the end of 2006. By then, I had picked myself back up and told myself, ‘Maybe your body just needed a chance to rest.’”
The couple started trying again, but this time they struggled to conceive.
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“I’d gone from not being able to stay pregnant to not even being able to get pregnant,” she explained.
After eight months of trying, April sought advice from her doctor in mid-2007, who discovered she was having a severe endometriosis flare-up.
Doctors performed a laparoscopy, where a tiny telescope was inserted into April’s abdomen, before surgeons made small incisions to cut out the patches of endometriosis.
“Doctors thought the flare-up was the reason I’d been struggling to conceive,” she said. “Thankfully, my ovaries were unaffected, so I figured I would be able to start trying for a baby again soon, once my body had recovered.”
But sadly, April suffered two more miscarriages between 2008 and 2010, one at eight weeks and the other at 10.
“The 10 week one – my fourth – was very tough. That really took me down,” she said. “I’d been so close to my second trimester. I was almost out of the scary zone and then it all went wrong.”
Over the years, April also tried various fertility treatments including clomifene – a drug that encourages the release of an egg every month – but nothing seemed to work.
Investigatory tests discovered she had low levels of the hormone progesterone, which prepares the body for potential pregnancy after ovulation.
She was also diagnosed was polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – a hormonal condition, which can make natural conception difficult.
“I almost got a false sense of security out of it, convincing myself that, if doctors knew what was wrong, they could solve it, which isn’t always the case,” she said.
In 2010, the family moved to Alabama for Phil’s job, and April visited a fertility centre for more tests.
One of the tests involved having a dye injected through April’s reproductive system and revealed that the left side was weakened and damaged by endometriosis and that the PCOS had left some cysts on her ovaries.
“Essentially, my body couldn’t prep itself for pregnancy,” she said.
Prescribed Follistim and progesterone injections to help stimulate her ovaries, after three months, April once again fell pregnant before miscarrying for a fifth time just six weeks later.
“Oddly, I felt as if that one wasn’t the right time – although I don’t know if I was just me telling myself that as a coping mechanism,” she said. “I put my faith in the specialists and knew we were in good hands.”
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Resuming the injections, April fell pregnant once again three months later, only to have her sixth miscarriage at eight weeks.
“The miscarriages were obviously very hard to take. There were times when I blamed myself.
“I’d had children before, so I didn’t understand why I suddenly couldn’t. I’d say to myself, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ But something in me told me to keep going.”
In 2012, following injections at the fertility clinic, April discovered she was expecting again. This time, she carried her baby to full term, with little Jaxton arriving in February 2013.
After that, the couple did not think they would have any more children. But, in early 2015, they became aware of the huge age gap between Jaxton and his sisters and decided they wanted to give him a sibling to grow up with.
So, returning to the same fertility clinic, April began Follistim and progesterone injections again – conceiving after just two months, only to discover at her six-week scan that she was expecting more than one baby.
“I remember looking up at the screen and seeing two little blobs,” she says. “I cried out, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s twins!’ The sonographer told me she could see more than two. She fetched a doctor to check and they counted six.”
Four of the foetuses were doing well, but two had no heartbeat, leaving April with a difficult decision.
“Doctors told me about something called selective reduction, which would basically be lowering the number of foetuses to give the others the best chance at survival,” she continued. “I understand why they asked, but it didn’t feel right. I had been through so much that even to hold one baby at the end of it all would be a miracle.
“Besides, how could I have chosen which ones to keep? Phil and I talked things through and decided we would roll the dice and leave it all up to fate.”
As predicted by doctors, two of the foetuses still had no heartbeat by 10 weeks and their tissue was absorbed by the others.
Thankfully, April’s closely monitored pregnancy progressed very well and in October 2015, she finally delivered her non-identical quads – three boys and a girl - by caesarean section.
First came Ryker, weighing 3lb 1oz, followed by Tallon at 2lb 12oz, then Bowen and finally Berklee – both 2lb 8oz.
As they were premature, the babies initially required oxygen and had to stay in hospital while they grew stronger, but after five weeks they were well enough to go home.
Now, they are thriving four-year-olds, and while April’s family life is undoubtedly chaotic, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
She hopes that by sharing her story she can offer some hope to other couples facing fertility issues.
“Life now is absolutely crazy,” she says. “The house is like a circus – but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Additional reporting PA real life.