Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey were an Iowan couple like any other. They had one daughter named Mikayla Marie, and hoped to expand the family. Bobbi was receiving Metrodin treatment, a drug that stimulates a woman's ovaries as a fertility treatment. On a routine visit to the doctor, a shocking revelation was made: she was pregnant with seven children.
Septuplets are so rare as to be borderline statistically impossible. Of all known cases, none had resulted in all seven children surviving. The McCaughey septuplets were to be the first to break that rule. The McCaugheys were given an option for "selective reduction" treatment to abort some of the fetuses in order to increase the survival chances of the others, but they declined, saying they would "put it in God's hands." The septuplets are now grown adults.
The moment the septuplet pregnancy was announced to them was, by their own account, a terrifying one. "I said, 'how many?'" describes Kenny. "She goes, 'Seven' and I go, 'Arrrggghhh!' Then I go, 'No, no no, no. Are you serious?" Even after the frightened couple decided to go through with the birth, they had no idea what to expect.
Bobbi had already been pregnant once, with Mikayla, but was blown away by how quickly the septuplets grew in her womb. Her stomach became enormous. It extended almost all the way to her knees when she was seated. “It was scary, you know, watching the stretch marks go ever so higher and wider and just thinking, how much longer can this body keep going?”
Bobbi, a small woman, struggled to cope with the physical changes she was undergoing. On top of the pain and mobility issues, she and her husband were also concerned about how much of a financial burden raising seven new children would pose.
Even before the septuplets were born, Bobbi was in the news for her remarkable pregnancy. The media scrutiny made the pregnancy even more challenging. The public was surprised to hear that she was opting out of selective reduction treatment.
Despite pressure to say yes to selective reduction, Bobbi and Kenny chose to let the pregnancy play out as it would. They were largely motivated by their Baptist religious views. Thankfully, it did work out in the end and none of the children died.
When news of their decision went public, many people were critical. “In the beginning, for every ten letters we would get that were happy for us, we’d get one letter accusing us of exploiting the kids and being selfish to waste the world’s resources on a family this big."
Without asking, the McCaugheys started receiving all kinds of unsolicited gifts and financial support from people who had heard their story. They were given things like free bulk diapers, nannying services, a van, a year's worth of free macaroni and cheese and even a large house.
Despite the extreme physical demands of the pregnancy, it appeared to be progressing without a hitch. Still, the couple and the medical professionals monitoring Bobbi were on pins and needles. During the 30th week of her pregnancy, she had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency medical care.
Bobbi was about to give birth, nine weeks ahead of schedule. Present in the delivery room were forty medical professionals, ready to execute a birth that had been planned out well in advance, and in great detail. She was given a C-section, and all seven babies were safely delivered, six minutes apart from one another.
All seven babies had survived childbirth. An occasion unprecedented in medicine. Four were boys, three were girls. They were named Kenny Jr., Alexis, Natalie, Kelsey, Nathan, Brandon and Joel. They were born prematurely and consequently had to be kept in neonatal intensive care for months.
While all seven babies survived the birth, two of them were born with Cerebral Palsy, a condition resulting from temporary lack of oxygen to the brain during childbirth. Three months and ten days after they were all born, they were cleared to be taken home.
While Bobbi got a lot of attention before the birth, she got even more afterwards. The couple received a phone call from president Clinton. The babies spent their first birthday on the Oprah Winfrey Show. The world was amazed by the fact that all of them had survived their first year.
As you could imagine, raising seven babies and a young child at the same time is a complete ordeal. They reportedly went through 42 bottles of milk and 52 diapers a day. Not to mention the endless crying. They needed help.
While they were inundated with donations when the news of the septuplets first broke, those days were behind them. The McCaugheys were so financially strapped by their children that they became budgeting wizards. Through careful planning and bulk purchasing, they were able to reduce their monthly grocery budget to about $300.
One thing they did to cut down the food budget was to maintain a large food garden. They also recruited thirty-five volunteers to help with child rearing duties over the course of the septuplets' infancy.
Las Vegas Review-Journal
As time passed, the McCaugheys became increasingly wary of media attention. They had received a cautionary letter from the Dionne quintuplets, telling them not to court fame in the way they had. They started turning down requests for interviews and growing more and more removed from public life.
They still left the door slightly ajar for the media, though. They consented to have an annual Dateline birthday special filmed, so the curious public could keep abreast of new developments with the miracle septuplets. They had reached a happy medium between fame and privacy.
When the seven turned thirteen, the family permitted TLC to film a documentary about them, titled America's Septuplets Turn 13. That was eight years ago. As they journeyed into young adulthood, life would have a few more surprises in store for the McCaugheys.
Alexis and Nathan, the two children who were born with Cerebral Palsy, had challenging lives. The condition slurs speech and impairs general motor control. For most of their childhoods, they could only walk with the help of walkers. Nathan, however, taught himself to walk autonomously through force of will. "I taught myself how to walk because I really wanted to learn. It's just been getting better and better."
Daily Times Herald
As a teenager, Alexis participated in beauty pageants for children with special needs. The family was very supportive, and very proud. Especially when she won Teen Miss Dream Made True in 2013, held in Carroll, Iowa. Afterwards, she graduated from high school in the top fifteenth percentile of the student body.
The septuplets were homeschooled until first grade, when they were sent to school. The kids had never really been separated for long periods of time before. Going to class apart was a big departure from before, when they were taught as a group in their kitchen.
They all attended school together throughout their youths. They started high school in 2012, at Carlisle High School in Carlisle, Iowa. Having each other around probably made the trials and travails of life in high school a little bit easier. They were also surely famous at school.
Unsurprisingly, each of the seven developed their own divergent personality. Alexis was a great student, Kelsey and Brandon were very athletic, Kenny Jr. was funny. Although they grew into their own people, they still remained united by family.
While they had different interest, the septuplets did have one thing in common: they were all in the school band. They were a staple of halftime shows. It's a good thing that they're connected by something other than just genetics.
Des Moines Register
When the septuplets reached age sixteen, they became the first set of septuplets to ever all live that long. Their teen years brought new challenges, like learning how to drive. The parents couldn't afford to buy seven cars for the kids, so they urged them to get jobs.
Life brought many challenges to the septuplets, but they endured them. Despite all the hardships, Kenny and Bobbi managed to come through it. "It's fun to see the work pay off," Bobbi says of her kids. Mikayla, the older sister to the septuplets, was sometimes an afterthought to the public.
After high school, Mikayla enrolled at Des Moines Area Community College and then Arizona State University. She then got engaged, married, and had a baby. She got along well with the septuplets, with whom she's still close.
The septuplets turned 18 in 2015. Soon thereafter, they graduated from high school. The seven babies were now seven young adults. Of high school graduation, Bobbi said, "It's sad to see things end, but there will be lots of firsts coming." She was right.
Des Moines Register
Among the many gifts the McCaugheys received when news of their septuplets went public was a standing offer from Hannibal-LaGrange University in Missouri for full ride scholarships. The State of Iowa also offered free tuition to any state school the septuplets wanted to attend. Natalie, Kelsey, Joel and Nathan went to Hannibal-LaGrange, Kenny Jr. and Alexis attended Des Moines Area Community College, and Brandon took a different approach to adulthood.
Brandon joined the U.S. Army after graduating from high school, making him the only of the septuplets to not attend college. Brandon had a longstanding fascination with the military. He went on to become a United States Army Ranger.
The septuplets are now 20 years old. Kenny Jr. is working on his own carpentry business, Brandon is engaged and Alexi is attempting to become a teacher. Kelsey, Natalie, Nathan and Joel are working on their degrees.
As adults, the septuplets are leading lives increasingly autonomous of one another. However, they still keep in touch and regularly meet up. As they become their own people, they are still united by their unique circumstance.
The Quad-City Times
The seven have positive things to say about their childhoods. "You're never alone," said Kenny Jr. in an interview with Today. "There's always someone to talk to and hang out with. That's what I think is the best." Kelsey corroborated - "I don't think there's a worst part. I've enjoyed it all."
The Des Moines Register
Many people wonder if the septuplets are more genetically predisposed to have multiple children in a single pregnancy. Because the septuplets resulted from fertility treatment, the chances are slim. The likelihood of one of them having septuplets, or a birth anywhere close, are small.
What was originally a proposition that caused them to feel "sheer terror," having septuplets was a wonderful event for Bobbi and Kenny. They actively campaign against selective reduction. "Well, come to our house, and tell me which four I shouldn't have had!"
Now that Kenny and Bobbi's parenting duties are basically complete, they have more time to focus on their own lives. Kenny has purchased a motorcycle, which he takes on long road trips around the country. Having the kids leave home was still hard on them, though.
Adjusting to life without parenting responsibilities is tough for any parents. It was especially abrupt for the McCaugheys, who raised eight kids at the same time. They report that life is a bit easier, and a whole lot cheaper. They're still in touch with their children's lives, though.
Kenny and Bobbi decided that they no longer needed the expansive house they received as a gift when Bobbi first became pregnant with the septuplets. "As our kids are leaving the nest, it seems to be the right time to start a new chapter," reports Bobbi.
The McCaugheys decided to sell the home to Ruth Harbor, a nonprofit organization that houses young mothers coping with unplanned pregnancies. "We have been blessed to receive such a wonderful gift, and nothing would please us more than the idea of our home being used as a place of refuge to others in need," said Bobbi. "It's a pretty good size house that met our needs pretty well. We thought we would pass that down to someone else who could use it."