A mom who longed for a bigger family – despite enduring fertility issues and six miscarriages after her first baby – had her prayers answered when her third child was followed by healthy quadruplets.
Childhood sweethearts April and Phil Gardner – who now spend $400 a week on food and slept for just 45 minutes a night when their youngest four were babies – were teenagers when they fell pregnant unexpectedly with their first child, Rilee, now 24.
Everything went like clockwork, according to April, 42, who works in financial services, leaving them completely unprepared for the problems ahead when they boosted their brood to include Whitlee, 18, Jaxton, seven, and quadruplets Ryker, Tallon, Bowen and Berklee, who are now four.
Reflecting on her incredible journey, April, of Taylorville, Utah, said:
“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."
First meeting at school, Phil, 43, who has just retired from working in communications for the U.S. Air Force, was in the year above April when they fell in love – discovering they were expecting when she was 18.
April and Jaxton when she was pregnant with the quads (PA Real Life/Collect)
Although young, they knew they wanted to be together forever, so felt excited about becoming parents.
“We started young," laughed April. “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."
Shortly after Phil left school and joined the Air Force, Rilee was born and the young family were soon uprooted to Germany, where he was stationed – only for April to start having painful cramps and nausea.
April, Phil, Jaxton and the quads (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I'd wake up in the night with these agonizing stabbing pains in my lower tummy," she said. “Sometimes they were so bad I'd be physically sick."
Diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition where tissue usually found in the lining of the womb grows in other parts of the body and sometimes causes fertility issues, believed to be because of damage to the fallopian tubes or ovaries, according to the NHS – doctors were confident she would still be able to conceive.
With no immediate plans for more children, it only became an issue six years later – then living back in Utah – when April had her first miscarriage, so early in her pregnancy that she had not known she was expecting.
“I had some bleeding and saw the doctor who said I'd miscarried. I hadn't even known I was pregnant," she said.
Conceiving again shortly afterwards, in 2002, the couple were delighted when Whitlee was born.
“That reassured me that, hopefully, the miscarriage was a one off and not the start of fertility problems due to my endometriosis," she added.
The quads as newborns (PA Real Life/Collect)
But in 2005, when Whitlee was around three and April and Phil began discussing giving her a sibling, they had no idea that it would be 11 long years before baby number three came along.
April fell pregnant in around August 2005, soon after they began trying, 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."
The quads in their buggy (PA Real Life/Collect)
“That went on for a couple of days, until eventually, I couldn't ignore it and told Phil," she continued
“He said, 'Maybe stay off work and rest.' But I thought I should go in and try and distract myself. Just 30 minutes after arriving, though, I started getting these cramps."
“I went to the bathroom and there was a tiny spot of blood there. I knew right away what it meant."
The whole family welcoming the quads home from the hospital (PA Real Life/Collect)
Tragically, later that day, an ultrasound confirmed April had miscarried for a second time.
“It was very hard to go from being really excited to this sudden low."
“There was a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I realized all the plans I'd made weren't going to be seen through."
Six months later, in early 2006, April found out she was pregnant again – but felt too afraid to tell anybody aside from Phil. 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 recalled. “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.'"
“We started trying, only this time, nothing happened. I'd gone from not being able to stay pregnant to not even being able to get pregnant."
The quads playing on their tricycles (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I couldn't understand – I'd had two children by that point. Why was this happening now?" she added.
“I became obsessed with reading every little thing I could, trying to get some answers."
After eight months of trying, April sought advice from her doctor in mid-2007, who discovered she was having a severe endometriosis flare-up.
April in the hospital preparing to have the quads (PA Real Life/Collect)
Next, she had a laparoscopy, where a tiny telescope was inserted into her 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.
April, Phil and the quads getting in to the family car (PA Real Life/Collect)
“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 – all to no avail.
She had several investigatory tests to try and determine the underlying cause of her issues – discovering she had low levels of the hormone progesterone, which prepares the body for potential pregnancy after ovulation.
Join us from 2nd - 5th November for National Fertility Awareness Week. #YouAreNotAlone #FertilityInequalities… https://t.co/QZupiin34x— Fertility Network (@Fertility Network)1600412426.0
She was also diagnosed was polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – a hormonal condition making natural conception difficult. While the news was hard to hear, she felt she at least had some answers.
“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, April and her family moved to Alabama for Phil's job, where she found a fertility center who accepted her medical insurance, meaning she could get specialist treatment.
The quads on Halloween (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I had a bunch more tests, including one where a radiologist watched as a dye was injected into my reproductive system. It showed up that the left side was weakened and damaged by endometriosis and that the PCOS had left some cysts on my ovaries that were too small to surgically remove."
“Essentially, my body couldn't prep itself for pregnancy. But the way I viewed it, the more information we had, the more of a plan we could make. I also focused on the fact I already had two beautiful babies – my daughters."
Prescribed follistim and progesterone injections to help stimulate her ovaries, after three months, she fell pregnant before miscarrying for a fifth time just six weeks later.
The quads starting school (PA Real Life/Collect)
“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."
Resuming the injections, April fell pregnant once again three months later, only to have her sixth miscarriage at eight weeks.
“All the miscarriages have been the same – the weird feeling something isn't right, then the cramps and the sinking feeling when you realize the baby has gone," she said.
The quads as newborns (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I really thought that one would be it, though. I felt it was going to work. We'd put ourselves through so much and Phil was worried I'd had enough."
“He could see me blaming myself and bashing myself about it all. But I felt I had it in me to keep going. I wasn't done."
In 2012, following injections at the fertility clinic, April discovered she was expecting again. And this time, she carried her baby to full term, with little Jaxton arriving in February 2013.
“With the babies I'd lost, something had felt wrong. I'd been scared to do anything, scared to tell anyone. But with Jaxton, that feeling had lifted. The pregnancy was perfect."
“Once I got past the 10-week mark – the latest point at which I'd miscarried before – I felt unstoppable."
“When he was born, Phil was deployed, so he had to watch the birth using Skype. It was still the most magical moment. The love I felt when I got to hold him was indescribable."
Phil, Jaxton and the quads (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I was also very protective over him, which is understandable given all we'd gone through to get him," she added. “Phil met him at the airport when he came home six weeks later and it was incredibly emotional."
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 in Alabama that had helped them before, April began follistim and progesterone injections again – conceiving after just two months, only for a bombshell to be dropped at her six-week scan.
Phil meeting Jaxton at the airport (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I remember looking up at the screen and seeing two little blobs. 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."
“I was gobsmacked and laughing with sheer disbelief. Phil was away with work, so I text him six photos of the separate sonograms."
“He phoned me and said, 'Why have you sent me six of the same picture?' I told him, 'Look again – they're different babies.'"
April at 20 weeks pregnant (PA Real Life/Collect)
Four of the fetuses 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 fetuses 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 fetuses still had no heartbeat by 10 weeks and their tissue was absorbed by the others. But the four remaining babies were going strong – giving April the confidence to tell her family at 13 weeks.
“I was already showing," she said. “We told them straight, 'I'm pregnant…and it's quads.'"
“The first words out of everyone's mouths were, 'You're lying.' But when they saw we weren't, they were absolutely astonished."
April and her quadruple buggy (PA Real Life/Collect)
Thankfully, April's closely monitored pregnancy progressed very well.
After hearing about her story, several other military families even banded together to donate baby items to her.
Then, at 30 weeks and two days, she finally delivered her non-identical quads – three boys and a girl – at Baptist Medical Center East in Montgomery, Alabama, by caesarean section, just after 6:30am on October 16, 2015.
First came Ryker, weighing 3lb 1oz, followed by Tallon at 2lb 12oz, then Bowen and finally the only girl, Berklee – both 2lb 8oz.
Newborn Berklee (PA Real Life/Collect)
“Each of them let out a cry when they came out, which filled me with relief. I knew that, after everything, they were here and healthy," she said.
As they were premature, the babies initially required oxygen and had to stay in the hospital while they grew stronger.
“I was unwell myself at first with an infection, but went home after five days. It was very difficult not taking my babies with me. Though I knew they were fighters, there was something so hopeless about seeing them on the neonatal ward, so tiny."
Newborn Bowen (PA Real Life/Collect)
After five weeks, the babies were all sent home within two days of each other – first Ryker and Tallon on the same day, then Berklee and finally Bowen.
Now, they are thriving four-year-olds who have forged an unbreakable sibling bond.
“The first year is a complete blur – no kidding, I got about 45 minutes sleep a night," said April. “Now, at any one time, there are toddlers all over the house – running, crawling, rolling around."
Phil and April bringing Tallon and Ryker home (PA Real Life/Collect)
“We've childproofed everything, but soon learned that childproof and quadproof aren't the same."
These days, April's family life is chaotic, but exceptionally happy.
With each child developing their own little personality, she explained how Ryker is artsy, Tallon is sensitive and loving, Bowen is a “little rocket" full of energy and Berklee is a true diva.
But feeding so many mouths means an average weekly shop sets her back around $400 and Christmas can cost up to $3,000.
“I try to buy them joint presents or stock up when sales are on to keep costs down, but the truth is, there's no real cheap way to run a house with so many kids," she laughed.
Joking that her piles of laundry are “endless" she has also come up with some clever hacks to keep things in order.
“When we go out to eat, we'll make them bibs out of Press n' Seal, which is a sort of cling film. It means they can be messy without leaving any stains on their clothes."
Christmas stockings (PA Real Life/Collect)
“They aren't identical, but they looked very similar when they were first born, so we assigned them all a color, meaning we could tell apart things like their bottles, clothes and dummies," she added.
“They've sort of stuck to them as they've grown older – Ryker is red, Tallon is yellow, Bowen is blue and Berklee is pink."
Now April hopes that her words will give hope to other couples facing fertility issues.
The quads (PA Real Life/Collect)
“Life now is absolutely crazy. The house is like a circus – but I wouldn't change it for the world."