When you are parents to quadruplets, each day brings new challenges, and it is often the simplest pleasures that bring the most joy.
Christine Clark and her husband, Justin, returned home to Rotherham in 2013 with their four newborn baby daughters, and this week the family celebrated the girls’ eighth birthday - the second year in a row their big day has been celebrated under lockdown restrictions.
The girls were given a selection of toys, puzzles and clothes, and a special figure of eight cake, split into four differently designed sections made by Bernie Buck, a South Yorkshire baker.
The foursome made history by becoming Britain’s first quads born from a single embryo after the Brinsworth-based couple had endured nearly a decade of heartache trying to conceive.
Mrs Clark, 44, said: “You’ve got to take each day as it comes, because it is so different.”
Over the past 12 months, the Clark family have faced their biggest challenge to date, having to adapt to challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Alexis, Caroline, Darcy and Elisha, who were born two minutes apart from each other, were described by their parents as “strong-willed girls”, with very different personalities.
Mrs Clark said: “It’s not one simple parenting technique as they are each very different.
"Alexis is a tomboy. She has no concept of fear and is very adventurous. Elisha is the mother-hen and thinks she is the leader whereas Darcy is a ninja - very crafty and clever - and Caroline is very girly and a bit of a drama queen.”
The stay-at-home mother added: “Sometimes I can feel a bit like a referee... You are constantly getting amongst their battles.
“If you can imagine four strong-willed girls coming up to you, you have to have a strong head on you as well.
“They will gang up on you, no doubt about it. They form a team amongst themselves. It’s like four teenagers.”
Added to this, the family are supporting Alexis, who was diagnosed with autism at the end of 2019.
Initially Alexis would not leave her bedroom, viewing it as her only ‘safe space’ when the first lockdown restrictions came into place in March last year.
But by working as a team and educating the other three girls, they learnt to understand and took on roles as “mini-carers” for their sister.
“If Alexis has a meltdown now, often they can help her come out of it - before I can,” said Mrs Clark.
During a disrupted year of schooling, all four girls have been fortunate to continue to attend Brinsworth Whitehill Primary School.
For the first time, when numbers were limited in schools, they found themselves in the same class after previously being in three different classes.
“I think it has been a challenge for teachers having all four girls in one classroom - they can be a handful,” said Mr Clark, 52, who works as a van driver.
Most mornings, they are all ready in under an hour, although sometimes due to Alexis’s autism there may be a few delays.
And on stepping out the front door, they are transported around in a specially designed Multimac car seat especially made to seat the four of them.
“Sometimes I have to spend a bit more time with Alexis to coax her to get ready for school,” said Mr Clark. “The other three are very self-sufficient.”
It has been a challenge over the past year as both their families live in the South of England, and the Clark family rely on extra support from a close circle of friends.
With four young children to feed, including Darcy who also suffers from severe food intolerances including gluten, dairy, corn flour and soya, finances have inevitably been tight.
However, light relief through arts and crafts, playing games with one another, interactive dance lessons online and regular trips to the park have provided a welcome respite for the family during the past year.
Mr Clark claimed among the greatest achievements of the lockdowns was teaching Elisha and Alexis to ride a bike without stabilisers.
“It was a super proud daddy moment to see that,” said Mr Clark, who plans to teach Caroline and Darcy to ride independently too in the next couple of months.
Despite each new year bringing new challenges, the family count themselves lucky every day as after nine years of trying to conceive naturally, the Clark’s feared they may never have a family of their own.
“Wanting children for nearly 10 years and then to be told you’re having four - I still wake every morning, however naughty or mischievous they may have been, I count my lucky stars that we were able to have a family,” Mr Clark said. “We have been blessed.”
Follow the girls on Twitter here.
The Miracle of the 'Fab Four'
After nine years of trying to conceive naturally, the Clark family turned to IVF specialists CARE Sheffield.
Multiple births used to be relatively common when IVF involved using more than one embryo to improve success rates.
Doctors now prefer to use a single embryo and three weeks after the single embryo was implanted, a pregnancy test confirmed Christine Clark was pregnant.
It was estimated the odds were 70m to one, while experts have also said the odds of one embryo creating four babies is likely to only happen once every 4,000 years.
The quads were delivered 10 weeks early on March 25, 2013, by Caesarian section. Caroline weighed 2lbs 3oz, Darcy 2lbs, Elisha 2lb 14oz and Alexis 3lbs.
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