Twenty years ago, their situation was unprecedented. And, despite being fully aware of the challenges ahead, they couldn’t feel happier or more blessed. They took each day in stride and kept looking forward in spite of the bumps in the road. Two decades and countless ups and downs later, their large family is now the subject of awe and admiration of an entire nation. But many today still wonder, as they did then, was it the right decision?
But all Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey wanted to do was start a family. After getting married, they began trying to conceive but their efforts kept failing. After a long period of disappointments, they went to the doctor to figure out what was wrong. They received disheartening news: Bobbi had fertility problems due to a medical condition she was born with. Still, the couple remained hopeful and eventually, their prayers were answered. Miraculously, Bobbi was pregnant.
In 1996, Bobbi gave birth to a daughter they named Mikayla Marie. She was the apple of their eye and the couple couldn’t be happier. But Bobbi and Kenny had always known they wanted a big family, so they definitely didn’t want to stop trying. This time, though, they decided to get the help of a fertility expert so they didn’t have to go through what they did when conceiving Mikayla. They had no idea this decision would turn their lives upside down.
Bobbi was prescribed Metrodin, a hormonal medication that stimulates the production of eggs in the ovaries. The treatment worked, and Bobbi became pregnant again soon after Mikayla turned one year old. When she was ready for her first ultrasound, the couple was ecstatic. But they weren’t expecting the news they were about to receive. After examining the scan, the doctor told them they were expecting seven babies. Needless to say, it was a lot to take in.
Doctors told the McCaugheys that a septuplet pregnancy would be risky for both Bobbi and the babies. They gave them the option to have a selective reduction, which consisted in terminating a certain number of the embryos to give the rest a better chance to survive and develop correctly. After much thought, the couple declined. They decided to put their faith in God and keep all seven babies. But there were a lot of challenges ahead.
Bobbi and Kenny had no idea how they were going to support eight children. Luckily for them, the media soon caught wind of their extraordinary pregnancy and many people and organizations stepped in to help. They received a lot of in-kind donations, like a van that would fit the entire family as well as a year’s worth of groceries. Their babies were famous and hadn’t even been born yet - though they did arrive earlier than planned.
On November 19, 1997, nine weeks before her due date, Bobbi went into labor. Given the nature of her pregnancy, she was forced to give birth via a cesarean section. The babies were born six minutes apart without any big complications, making them the first septuplets to all survive after birth. That said, they were premature, so they had to remain in the neonatal unit at the hospital for three months. Once they were discharged, Bobbi and Kenny received more surprises.
Upon learning of the babies’ birth, reporters from all over Iowa camped outside the hospital waiting to get the scoop. Once the family returned home, police escorted them and posted an officer outside their house to make sure they weren’t harassed. But most of the attention was positive, and the donations kept coming - Kraft offered a year’s worth of Mac n’ Cheese while another company donated diapers. But there was an even bigger donation on the way.
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The Iowa Chamber of Commerce gave the McCaugheys a 5,000-square-foot house, complete with seven bedrooms and five bathrooms. And, aside from their brand-new house, the family had newfound fame. TIME magazine put them on their cover and they were featured on ABC Primetime News. And so the septuplets grew up, with the spotlight on them every birthday, until they were ready to leave the nest. Were there any regrets?
Rachel Mummey/Des Moines Register
In 2016, the septuplets turned 18 years old and were getting ready to go off to college. But some of them had a harder life than the others. Alexis and Nathan were born with cerebral palsy, which affected their coordination and movement and disrupted their ability to walk. As he grew up, Nathan pushed himself and in 2005 he had spinal surgery so he could walk without external help. But Alexis’ condition was more severe, and she still requires a walker. This brings up an important question.
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When Bobbi was pregnant, many criticized her decision to carry all seven babies to term, knowing that it could impact their development. Both Alexis and Nathan were proof of this, but the family stands by their decision. "Come to our house, and tell me which four I shouldn't have had!" was Bobbi’s response to the critics. Furthermore, it seems like their condition hasn’t slowed them down a bit.
Des Moines Register
Nathan, who is fully independent now, chose to study at Hannibal-LaGrange University in Missouri to become a scientist. Alexis, who was a bookworm since she was little, graduated at the top of her class and enrolled in Des Moines Community College to study early childhood education. Meanwhile, the rest of their siblings also set their sights high.
Des Moines Register
Hannibal-LaGrange University offered all septuplets a scholarship to study there, and Nathan, Natalie, Kelsey, and Joel accepted their offer. Natalie wants to become an elementary school teacher, while Kelsey is studying music and Joel went into computer science. Kenny chose to stay at Des Moines Community College with Alexis and later became a carpenter. Brandon, meanwhile, enlisted in the U.S. Army and became an expert pistol and carbine shooter. They all have different paths now but look back fondly at their life together.
The septuplets led fairly normal lives, except for every birthday when camera crews descended on their house to document their lives and growth. They also got to meet prominent people like George W. Bush and Ann Curry. But their parents always taught them to work for what they wanted so they’d keep their heads on their shoulders. And 18 years later, Bobbi and Kenny Sr. found themselves in an empty nest. It would not be an easy transition.
After 18 years of having little time or space for themselves, Bobbi and Kenny now had a huge, empty house and nothing to do in it. They decided to downsize and sell it, and in February 2018 they found the perfect buyer. Ruth Harbor is an organization that provides help to young women with unplanned pregnancies. “Nothing would please us more than the idea of our home being used as a place of refuge to others in need,” said Bobbi.