There was a time, in 2009, when there was just one baby in the Kirkland house, and Julianne Kirkland was afraid of the stairs. Never mind that the slick hardwood had been covered with low-pile carpet. She still worried that she’d slip while carrying her son, Campbell. So every time she took him up or down the steps, she’d first call her husband, Matt, at the tire shop and ask him to call back in two minutes to make sure she hadn’t fallen. Two years later Jack was born, and it was like one of those diaper commercials where the suddenly laid-back second-time mom gives her baby a pacifier off the floor, skips the organic quinoa for a damp Dorito, and blithely takes the steps two at a time.
Julianne got pregnant again in 2013 with twins, but miscarried at 12 weeks. Then her doctor diagnosed her with polycystic ovarian syndrome, a condition that can diminish fertility. She sold her maternity clothes. But at church she found herself spending more and more time in the nursery, cuddling the babies and praying that her family might not yet be complete. Matt agreed to consider infertility treatments, but insisted that they couldn’t try anything expensive like IVF. Julianne was 29 years old.
The obstetrician prescribed one round of the ovary-stimulating drug Clomid, then used artificial insemination to send Matt’s sperm swimming directly into her uterus. The hope was that she’d produce two or three good eggs, and one would be released and fertilized. The chances of that happening were 15 percent, the doctor told them. Matt wanted to know: What about multiples? Highly unlikely, the doctor said, with maybe an 8 percent possibility of twins. Triplets? Once in a blue moon.
Two weeks later Julianne was on the table in the ultrasound room, her heart hammering in her chest as she gaped at the screen. Two blobs. The doctor moved the ultrasound wand to the right.
“What was that?” the doctor gasped. She paused, then went wide-eyed. “That would be a third sac!”
She moved the wand to the left. “Hold on a second,” she said, and rushed to the door, calling another doctor to confirm the count. One. Two. Three. Four. Four babies.
When Matt got home from work, he asked what was for dinner, and Julianne told him it was in the microwave and that she was pregnant with quadruplets. He stared at the oven silently for a good long while, even after his food was done.
The babies grew in Julianne’s belly for 31 weeks and a day, causing her nausea, sleeplessness, sharp pains, vomiting, bloating, hemorrhoids, early contractions, fear, worry, and excitement, before coming into the world via Cesarean delivery on March 31, 2015. Ashton Blake was the first to arrive, at three pounds, six ounces. Then Bradlee Ann, the only girl, at two pounds, 11 ounces. Then Walker Hayes at three pounds, two ounces. And last Meyers Wayne at three pounds, nine ounces. All four were healthy, though it took five weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit before they were big and strong enough to go home.
“Everything is different now,” Matt says, just two days after the quadruplets mashed pudding into their own faces at their first birthday party. “Honey, do you even remember what it was like when we didn’t have kids? Do you remember any of that at all?”
Julianne squints as if trying to make out something blurry. Or maybe she’s just tired. Anyway, she remembers that when a mutual friend introduced her to Matt in 2004, he was really nice to her dog, a black lab named Murphy. Now they have two dogs and one cat that mostly roams free around their Watkinsville neighborhood. She remembers that she used to be pretty strict about the dress code—professional, stylish—at Sorella Hair Studio, the salon she owns in Athens. After the quads were born, her employees more often saw her in an oversized sweatshirt printed with the name of her blog, Oh My Quad! She remembers that on Sundays she and Matt used to go to Haverty’s after church and shop for furniture they didn’t need. Now their house is filled with sets of four: four cribs, four highchairs, four bouncy seats.
Julianne remembers that she and Matt used to go out and split a pizza, then see a movie. Now they’re spending the equivalent of a mortgage payment on 80 hours of babysitting a month so Julianne can work at the salon part time. They almost never go out to dinner, and when they grocery shop with all four babies, Julianne and Matt split up in the store, each carrying two, so other shoppers will be less likely to stop and marvel at all of the little faces and how hard it must be to care for them. They pick wet cracker crumbs out of baby Bradlee Ann’s leg folds before going to bed early.
Things have changed a lot for Campbell and Jack, too. They used to get all of the snuggles. Now they go on “special dates” once a month with their mom and dad to help make up for the attention they’ve lost. They’re encouraged to see themselves as a team; in their prayers at night, they ask God to help them grow not just as brothers but as friends.
Reminiscing is a luxury, though, when you live in a constant state of triage. Four babies need breast milk at the same time but won’t nap in sync. The five-year-old wants you to make spaghetti with the sauce he likes. The seven-year-old needs help reading The Dark by Lemony Snicket. And hey, can somebody please fling away the dead bird that the cat left on the front step?
Yet for all of the chaos, the Kirklands remain remarkably calm. The quads are almost always dressed in clean, matching outfits. They usually wear cloth diapers. “Somebody pooped,” Julianne reports, lifting one baby and sniffing his bottom, then going down the line. Walker’s the culprit. “It’s always the last heinie I check,” she says. Ashton’s in a bouncy seat and kicking his leg. “You tapping out a tune, Michael Flatley?” she coos to him, then hums as she wipes Walker’s bottom. She might not have any time for herself (she can’t remember the last time she sat in front of the TV), but she’s good. They’ve got this.
And she’s not afraid of the stairs, not anymore. Today Julianne puts a baby on one hip and the laundry basket on the other as she hustles up the steps in socked feet. She heads back down with just the baby, checking the Apple Watch on her free wrist. And then she slips. Falls right on her tush. But the baby has no idea. He stays nestled on her hip, undisturbed, as Julianne grabs the banister, pulls herself up, and keeps on going.