A first Christmas for quadruplets Amelia, Lily-Grace, Mollie and Lucas

Mother Grace Slattery was shocked when she was told there were four heartbeats

Grace and James Slattery with their quadruplets Amelia, Mollie, Lucas and Lily-Grace. Photograph: Paul Dorrell/Caters News

Grace and James Slattery with their quadruplets Amelia, Mollie, Lucas and Lily-Grace. Photograph: Paul Dorrell/Caters News

 

There won’t be many families loading four high chairs into the car on Christmas Day for the trip to relatives for the festive dinner. But Grace and James Slattery never travel light; not since the arrival of their quadruplets in May.

“It never stops,” says Grace (32) who, although exhausted, wouldn’t have it any other way. But she’s glad she has been spared cooking duties for the family’s first Christmas and that her parents are hosting the dinner.

It’s a Christmas the Co Limerick couple could never have imagined. For a few years after they married in 2010, they despaired of ever having children together.

They lost four babies through miscarriage before Grace became pregnant for the fifth time towards the end of 2013. Going in for a scan at six weeks, they were bracing themselves for more heartbreak.

“When she told us it was good news – but there were four heartbeats – I think my own heartbeat stopped,” Grace, who worked as a childminder, posted that evening on social media.

 

Eleven weeks pregnant

By Christmas Day last year, she was 11 weeks pregnant. “We were sitting at Christmas dinner and everyone was saying: ‘Could you imagine next year, having four little babies sitting there?’ And I was saying: ‘Shut up, shut up – I don’t want to talk about it’.”

“Every Monday we went for a scan, and every week we were told: ‘Don’t get your hopes up, more than likely you will lose one or two or all of them’.”

She puts the quads’ survival down to bed rest. She took to her bed at home in Caherconlish, 15km outside Limerick city, in January, with James (33), who has a son from a previous relationship, leaving lunch beside her each day before going to work.

“I just watched TV and was in bed all the time, and then in March they took me to hospital anyway.”

She stayed in Limerick Regional Maternity Hospital until being transferred in April to the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, where the babies were to be delivered.

Every week that passed was a bonus for the growing quads, but medical staff said they couldn’t let her go beyond 33 weeks and scheduled a Caesarean section for May 27th.

However, Grace’s waters broke at 12.15pm the day before. Thanks to a Garda escort, James made it up from Limerick just in time for the 3pm delivery, by Caesarean section, of Amelia (4lb 3oz), Lily-Grace (3lb 4oz), Mollie (2lb 15oz) and Lucas (3lb 10oz).

 

'She came out screaming'

The Slatterys have only recently started talking about how, 26 weeks into the pregnancy, Amelia was diagnosed with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. This causes a hole in the diaphragm and allows abdominal organs to go through into the chest cavity, which prevents the lungs developing.

“We were basically told she wouldn’t survive,” says Grace. They were warned she wouldn’t cry at birth and would need to be ventilated, but, as she was so small, that might not be possible.

“But she came out kicking and screaming,” says Grace. “They were able to ventilate her but she pulled all the tubes out – she was fighting from day one, thank God.” She was also the heaviest of the four, which improved her odds.

A week later, Amelia had surgery in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, and has thrived since. “She’s fantastic now and there is nothing in her care that is different from the other babies.”

The one plan the Slatterys have for 2015 is to do a fundraiser for the hospital’s Ronald McDonald house, where they stayed while Amelia had her life-saving operation.

Mornings in the Slattery household start at 5.30am. James does the first feed, and Grace is up by 7.30am so he can get ready to leave for work at 8am. “We put them to bed together,” says Grace.

The quads are fed together, have their nappies changed together and nap three times a day together – the only time Grace can have a cup of tea.

Her parents come around every Tuesday and another helper helps for a few hours on Fridays.

Grace has not yet ventured out of the house alone with the babies, although she is looking forward, when the weather improves, to trying out a quad buggy that was donated to them.

 

The wakeful one

“There are days when they are all crying and screaming at you and all they want is to be picked up,” says Grace.

Lifting one may momentarily pacify that baby, but then the others are likely to protest even louder. When they start moving, “I will have to get a cage or something”.

The three girls usually sleep through the night, but Lucas is the wakeful one. “Three out of four isn’t bad,” remarks their mother.

Despite the challenges, Grace is revelling in this very full-on motherhood.

“It really is amazing,” she says. “We wished for one and we got four.”

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