Pictures By Scope Features photographer Alan Olley
Bursting with joy: Mother celebrates quads’ first birthday after defying the doctors who urged her to have two aborted
The Robbins’ quadruplets turned one last week and their birthday presents — four blankets, a tent, a rocking snail and some plastic musical instruments — are arranged neatly in the family’s semi-detached home.
Routine and organisation are by-words for their parents Emma and Martin, who know that chaos would ensue if their sons’ lives were not regulated with military precision.
‘Even their menu is recorded on spreadsheets,’ says Emma. ‘We know what the boys will be eating in two weeks’ time, and all their food is freshly prepared and seasonal. This week they’ll have squash risotto, chicken and winter vegetables, Bolognese, fish and a Sunday roast. I cook for us all, then puree their meals.’
Bedtime, waking, naps, bottle-feeds and periods for play are also rigidly prescribed. ‘We stick to a timetable,’ says Emma, 31. ‘It throws them when their routine is disrupted, then they start to play up.’
Under this judicious regime of discipline and love, Samuel, Reuben, Joshua and Zachary are happy and thriving. Emma presides over the household with impressive equanimity, which is why it comes as such a surprise to learn that in the early months of her babies’ lives, she was so exhausted she failed to bond with them and contemplated giving them up for adoption.
‘I wasn’t coping; I didn’t think I could ever love them. I was only getting a couple of hours’ sleep a night and I was so tired, I was hallucinating.’
Emma also worried that the quadruplets’ three-year-old brother, Luke, was being deprived of attention.
‘One day I just thought: “The quads would be better off without me.” ’
Yet from early in her pregnancy, she had fought to keep all four of her quadruplets, and the fact that they are alive and prospering is a minor miracle in itself.
Not only were they conceived naturally at odds of 750,000 to one, they are also the only leap year quads in Britain to have been born on February 29 — the chances of that are 3.5 million to one — and will therefore celebrate a birthday only every four years.
They are also flourishing despite the physical risks of multiple births. Indeed, when Emma — a former project manager — discovered she was pregnant with quads, she was advised repeatedly to ‘selectively reduce’ two of the foetuses to give the remaining pair a better chance of survival. She refused.
‘We knew about the things that could go wrong — premature births, miscarriage, cerebral palsy, even death — and I knew that even if all our boys survived, the pressure on our finances would be huge.
Mummy’s little miracles: The quadruplets were conceived naturally at odds of 750, 000 to one
‘But I couldn’t bring myself to choose between them. How could anyone? I knew I had a strong marriage, that Martin would support and help me every step of the way, so I decided to let nature take its course.’
Emma and Martin are now embracing parenthood on an epic scale. ‘The boys are a joy,’ she says.
‘They’re hard work; not because they’re difficult babies, but because there are so many of them. But they’re my life. I’m incredibly grateful for them, and proud of what we’ve achieved.
‘Martin and I have no social life, no time to ourselves. We scrimp and bulk-buy bargains. But we have a deeper respect for each other now, and every day one of the boys will do something that makes me think: “You’re the sweetest, most beautiful thing in the world.” ’
Each one has a distinct character. Zach is jolly and easy-going. Sammy is sweet and sensitive. Reuben is such a bully — if one of them has a toy, he always wants it. And Joshua is the boss; the naughty one who learns everything first.’
Martin, a sign-maker, has designed coloured tops for the boys, each one bearing their name, which they are wearing when I visit.
Silences are rare in the Robbins’ three-bedroom home in Bristol, and even these are invariably punctuated by the washing machine churning through five loads each day.
The household utility bills have trebled since the quads arrived; food costs £150 a week and the boys get through 300 nappies every fortnight. Their quad buggy, fully freighted, weighs 10 stone. Naturally people stare but while Martin, 39, relishes the attention, Emma does not.
‘I feel for Luke,’ she says. ‘He said that nobody loved him any more when the quads arrived, and my heart nearly broke in two. We try to give him as much one-to-one attention as possible but it’s been hard — although he’s starting to enjoy his brothers now he can see what fun they’re going to be.When Martin comes home from work, he makes a point of spending time just with Luke.’
The Robbins, who have been married for four years, planned to have a second sibling for Luke.
They vividly remember the day, in October 2011, when a routine hospital scan disclosed that Emma was carrying quads.
She says: ‘The sonographer went silent and I wondered what was wrong — I was worried she couldn’t detect a heartbeat.
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