In our latest feature celebrating Yorkshire mums in the run up to Mother’s Day, Christine Clark talks to Sarah Freeman about her first year with her miracle quads.
Life is pretty disciplined in the Clark house.
When you’re parents to quadruplets it has to be. It’s a year ago, that Christine Clark and her husband Justin returned home to Rotherham with their four newborn baby girls and right from the start they knew a strict routine was the only way their new family was going to work.
“When you’ve got four tiny babies all wanting to be fed, all needing their nappies changed and all wanting a cuddle, you have to manage the day,” says 37-year-old Christine. “Of course there are times when we let the routine slip, but if we do we soon notice it.”
To the envy of many new parents, the Clark girls already sleep through from 6pm to at least 7am and sat quietly on the living room floor ahead of yet another photoshoot, they are the very picture of model children.
“After breakfast we begin the long process of getting dressed,” says Christine. “In fact we try to extend it as long as possible, there’s no point even trying to rush. Lunch is generally at midday and then afterwards we try to take the girls out, so we can all get some fresh air.
“Elisha is definitely the madam of the group. She’s always on the look out for her three sisters, checking out strangers to make sure they are ok and becomes visibly upset if one of the others disappears for say a nappy change or a feed. Alexis was born last and she’s definitely the relaxed, laid back one. The only thing she is protective about is her feed. Then there’s Darcy and Caroline who are the mischievous twosome. Honestly, they’re a pair of little monkeys.”
Christine admits there are times when she has to pinch herself. It’s no wonder. After nine years of trying to conceive naturally, the Clarks feared they may never have a family of their own. It was then that they turned to IVF specialists CARE Sheffield. They were prepared for the procedure not to be successful, but they weren’t prepared for their first scan which showed four tiny beating hearts.
Multiple births used to be relatively common when IVF involved using more than one embryo to improve success rates. These days doctors prefer to use a single embryo and medical staff in Sheffield were just as stunned as the Clarks when it became clear they were expecting quads. Some said the odds were 70m to one.
The pregnancy wasn’t easy - Christine suffered from extreme morning sickness and in the back of their minds the couple was acutely aware of the risks labour would bring. In the end the girls were delivered by Caesarian section at Sheffield’s Jessop Hospital. Born just two minutes apart, each weighed no more than 3lbs but any fears they might have other health problems were never realised. The quads, who celebrated their first birthday this week, now all tip the scales at between 13lbs and 16lbs.
They’re growing fast and space is already at a premium. The Clarks’ staircase is lined with boxes containing a month’s supply of formula milk and with four lots of bottles, four lots of babygrows and four lots of car seats, pushchairs and prams there’s not a lot of storage left.
“At the moment all the girls share the same room,” says Christine. “There was no other option, we’ve got a third bedroom, but it was too small to fit a cot in. At the start we were getting through 200 nappies a week. Now it’s a slightly more manageable 100, but we still have to buy in bulk. Any parent knows how much stuff one little baby needs and when we go out, there’s not a lot of room left in the car for anything else.”
Even simple tasks like shopping need to be planned like a military operation, although life has been made a little easier by Morrison’s which organised a trolley specially designed for quads at their local supermarket.
“That was down to Justin being a bit cheeky,” says Christine. “He just went in and asked them right out whether they would consider getting us a trolley for the girls. Before they did, the weekly shop used to take forever. We’d have the two double prams and the trolley, it was a complete nightmare, in fact it was almost impossible. It might not sound like much, but the six of us being able to go out to the supermarket together is a big step forward.”
With four babies to feed and clothe, finances have inevitably been tight. Justin gave up his job as a lorry driver when the girls were born to support Christine and he will remain a stay at home dad when she returns part-time to nursing next month. For the Clarks childcare just doesn’t add up. To put the girls in nursery would cost at least £160 a day and that’s not taking into account any extra help needed at the beginning and end of the day.
“It’s not easy, but you learn to shop around,” says Christine. “We’ll see something like a high chair and think, ‘Ok, that’s the kind of thing we want for the girls but it’s too expensive’, so instead we’ll look on eBay and sites like Gumtree have been brilliant. There are some people who I have bought clothes from when the girls were really tiny babies who I’ve kept in touch with. As their own children have grown up they’ve kept putting stuff aside for the girls and it’s things like that which have made a real difference.”
Christine and Justin met in Kent and both their families still live in the south. They moved north largely because of cheaper property prices and while they have a close circle of friends, who continually offer to babysit, they haven’t spent much time alone as a couple since the girls were born.
“Whenever we go out, we get some really nice comments, but every so often you’ll hear someone say, ‘God, I don’t envy them’ and that really hurts. I know we attract attention, it’s impossible not to, but there are the complete strangers who think nothing of asking whether they were conceived by IVF or think it’s perfectly normal to take photographs of the girls without even asking. It does sometimes make my worried about leaving the house, but I try to remember the lovely things people say.”
There are a lot of compliments which can be directed the Clarks way. Their girls are happy and healthy, their house is pretty serene place to be and they’ve learnt to keep life simple. At the moment Christine is looking forward to taking them to swimming lessons and soon she hopes they will be big enough to enjoy the swings at the local park.
“I guess the next big landmark will be when they take their first steps and trust me, I’ve already researched reins which are suitable for quads.”
Christine is planning to go back to work in April and she knows that after a year with Justin and the girls it will be a wrench. “Like a lot of new mums, I’m looking forward to having some adult conversation, but it will be strange being apart from the girls. Even if one of them is with friends it seems like a part of us is missing, sometimes it’s hard to remember what live was like before they came along.”
Follow the girls on Twitter @ClarkQuadGirls or find them on Facebook.