As parents of septuplets, Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey had a lot on their plate. They were expected to go through 42 bottles a day, on top of having to change an estimated 52 diapers daily. Luckily, with the help of family, neighbors, and generous donations, the McCaugheys successfully raised their septuplets. After surviving infancy, they would become known as the world's first surviving septuplets. But at first, the McCaugheys faced some serious risks.
Bobbi McCaughey Had Trouble Conceiving
Kenny and Bobbi McCaughey tried for more kids when their daughter Mikayla was just sixteen months old. Having had complications with conceiving their first born, Bobbi was already on fertility treatments, so they didn't want to waste any more time.
Dr. Katherine Hauser prescribed Bobbi a drug called Metrodin, which stimulates the ovaries to prime reluctant eggs for fertilization. The treatment worked after the first try, but the thing about fertility medicine is that you risk having multiple births. They were only hoping for one more bundle of joy, but as fate would have it, they'd get that times seven.
Bobbi's Fertility Treatments Produced Seven Embryos
When the McCaugheys arrived at Dr. Hauser's office for their six-week check-in, they expected to get a sonogram of a developing fetus. Everything seemed to be going fine, that is until the nurse found something extraordinary in the middle of Bobbi's sonogram.
In an instant, the McCaughey's lives changed. They didn't realize it yet, but the doctors had just discovered that Bobbi wasn't just carrying one fetus — she was carrying seven.
They Were In Complete Shock
Not even Dr. Hauser could believe her eyes. "The words shock and disbelief come to mind. For a good length of time, I couldn't wrap my mind around this," Hauser told TIME in 1997. Conceiving septuplets wasn't entirely unprecedented, but Hauser had to explain to the McCaugheys the risks involved with having that many babies at once.
Of course, the McCaugheys knew the carrying multiples comes with its fair share of risk, but they weren't expecting to hear what the doctors had to say next.
Multiple Births Are Risky, So Doctors Suggested "Selective Reduction"
Multiple births — whether its twins, triplets or more — come with a myriad of risks and complications. Mothers expecting multiples risk suffering miscarriages or stillbirths. With septuplets, these risks are amplified.
The McCaughey's doctors recommended the standard option for cases like these: selective reduction. Essentially, this process involves selecting questionable fetuses for terminating the pregnancy so that the other ones have better chances of a healthy birth. This, of course, causes a moral dilemma for any parents who are put in this situation. But for the McCaugheys, their decision was a no-brainer.
Terminating The Pregnancy Wasn't An Option For The Deeply Religous McCaugheys
The McCaugheys are devout Baptists, so "selective reduction" was an unthinkable option. Despite the risks involved, they decided to keep all seven fetuses and leave the rest up to God. Kenny McCaughey told reporters, "That just wasn't an option. We were trusting in the Lord for the outcome."
Still, it was a huge gamble. Multiple babies are almost always born premature, which meant that even if the birth was successful, the septuplets had a high chance of dying in infancy. Additionally, if the babies survived infancy, there was still a list of severe health problems they could encounter later in life.
People Accused Them of Wasting the World's Resources
The McCaughey's were confident in their decision to move forward with the pregnancy, but that didn't stop the public from sharing their opinions with the family. Before they knew it, the McCaughey's found themselves in the limelight, dealing with strangers who didn't support their decision.
“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,” Bobbi explained to Dateline.
Donations Poured In To Support The Modest McCaugheys
The McCaugheys lived in smalltown Carlisle, Iowa in a two-bedroom ranch house. Kenny worked as a billing clerk at a car dealership, while Bobbi worked from home as a seamstress. Their humble life was hardly ready for the addition of seven babies.
Luckily, the entire town of Carlisle had the McCaugheys' backs. The mayor promised to find them a bigger plot of land to live on, while local businesses would outfit their new home with appliances. Donations of cash, diapers, food, and more were pouring in. The state of Iowa even promised seven college scholarships.
The McCaugheys Were Gifted a Seven-Bedroom House
The McCaugheys never expected to have septuplets but now that this was their reality, they realized that they would need something much bigger than their modest two-bedroom home. Luckily, the Clark Company answered their prayers.
In 1998, the Clark Company gifted the McCaugheys with this seven-bedroom, five-bathroom home. With 5,500 square feet of living space, as well as a large kitchen island and a massive family room, it was the perfect size for their growing family.
Bobbi's Body Was Pushed to the Limit
The McCaugheys had already experienced difficulties conceiving their first child, Mikayla, so they very concerned about Bobbi's pregnancy the second time around — especially given that she was carrying not one, but seven fetuses.
While going through any pregnancy is a special time in a woman's life, this time was different for Bobbi. She could feel body changing each day and was amazed by how quickly she felt like she was growing. “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?” she told Dateline NBC.
Her Belly Measured 55 Inches Around
It's hard to imagine what carrying seven babies truly feels like — but here's something crazy to think about. When Bobi McCaughey was 30 weeks pregnant with the septuplets, her belly measured an incredible 55 inches around! That's more than twice the normal circumference of the average woman's belly at 40 weeks.
For Bobbi, who is on the petite side, she was literally nearly as big around as she was tall. She even told Dateline NBC that her belly nearly reached her knees. It was time for these babies to come out!
Bobbi Was Rushed to the Hospital
The septuplet's due date was slowly but surely approaching and Kenny and Bobbi were eager to meet their children — but she wouldn't make it to 40 weeks. Although Bobbi felt relatively fine during the first seven months of her pregnancy, things started to change when she hit 30 weeks.
On November 19, 1997, her body had had enough. She started having ten contractions an hour and was rushed to the hospital, prompting doctors to begin what was called Operation Snow White.
Bobbi's Early Delivery Took Months To Coordinate
Operation Snow White was the name given to Bobbi's early delivery. A pre-selected medical team of 66 members braced themselves for a C-section that took two months to plan.
As each baby was born, a neonatal transport nurse took them to an adjacent operating room where a stabilization team was ready to do preliminary examinations. Afterward, the babies were each placed in a special carriage with heart, oxygen, and respiration monitors before they were taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. As the operation began, suddenly the room fell silent.
The McCaughey Septuplets Were All Born In Six Minutes
The babies were labeled A through G while in the womb, where they were positioned in an inverted pyramid. Baby A was nicknamed Hercules because he was holding all his siblings up. But the McCaugheys of course already had names picked out.
The silence broke with the sound of the first baby's wails. He was a boy named Kenneth Robert. Each sibling was born successively over the course of six minutes: Alexis May, Natalie Sue, Kelsey Ann, Brandon James, Nathan Roy, and Joel Steven. News of the delivery sparked a worldwide frenzy, and the McCaugheys received a surprising phone call.
Bill Clinton Personally Called The McCaugheys To Congratulate Them
Word of the septuplets' birth on November 19, 1997, was worldwide news. President Clinton even called the McCaugheys to offer his congratulations. He reportedly told Bobbi, "When those kids all go off to college, you'll be able to get a job running any major corporation in America. You'll be the best-organized manager in the United States."
The McCaughey septuplets were the second set ever to be born alive. Earlier that year, a Saudi Arabian woman was the first ever to deliver live septuplets, but sadly, six of them reportedly died.
The Septuplets Spent More Than 3 Months In the Hospital
Since the septuplets were born premature, Kenny and Bobbi were already anticipating their lengthy stay in the hospital. Their babies had to stay in the hospital so they could continue to grow before heading home to "real" life.
finally, after three months and ten days, the septuplets were ready to go home. They had made it through their first critical months and were now strong enough to leave.
Two Of The Babies Possibly Had A Developmental Disorder
Soon the McCaugheys noticed something off in two of their septuplets. Alexis and Nathan, the second and fifth babies, were developing cerebral palsy. While five of the babies were crawling all over the house within two years, Nathan and Alexis were struggling to catch up.
Bobby McCaughey told New York Post at the time, "Even if they have something that is long-term... I know we'll be given the strength to deal with it." This was just one of many trials the McCaugheys had to deal with after the septuplets' birth.
How Many Diapers??
Raising one baby is challenging enough. Raising seven can feel impossible! Let's just hope the McCaugheys didn't mind changing diapers...
The average newborn soils 10 diapers a day during the first few months of their lives. Multiply that by seven babies and you get almost 70 diapers each day. Diapers were just the beginning though. The newborns were also mowing through around 50 bottles a day! Between almost constant diaper changing, feedings, and soothing the septuplets, Kenny and Bobbi were exhausted.
They Became Budget-Savvy
When you have a family as large as the McCaugheys, you don't have any other choice but to be budget friendly. Although the community had come together to help the family by giving them donations, their supplies were wearing thin.
With eight children to feed, Kenny and Bobby focused on becoming as budget-savvy as possible. They started creating detailed low-cost meal plans and bought everything in bulk. With their money management skills honed, the parents were able to get to their grocery bills down to an incredible $300 a month.
Gardening Saved Them Money and Kept Their Bellies Full
Although the McCaugheys were able to reduce their grocery bills down to just $300 a month, they took things a step further to keep costs down.
Almost every meal they cooked could be served "buffet" style. Not only did this help keep mealtime more efficient, but Kenny and Bobbi would often mix and match different ingredients throughout the week. Since the parents had a large backyard, they even took to gardening. Gardening as much as possible ultimately helped keep their costs down and their bellies full.
They Had 35 Volunteer Helpers
Kenny and Bobbi were great parents, but raising eight kids alone is nearly impossible. Luckily, they had a whole team of people there to help them. After the septuplets were born, the parents soon realized raising their family was now a full-time job, so they enlisted the help of volunteers — 35 in total!
These volunteers helped with everything, from running errands and cleaning to bathing the babies and putting them down for naps.
The Parents Wanted Their Family To Have A Normal Life
Though the McCaugheys were happy to share their story with the world, they didn't relish too much in all the public attention. Tabloids offered them hundreds of thousands of dollars for exclusive stories. There were talks of book and movie deals.
Kenny McCaughey told TIME, "The big fear is that this could turn into a big show. This is my family... and we're not on for display." A letter from three surviving Dionne quintuplets, who were exploited in the '30s, read, "Multiple births should not be confused with entertainment."
They Met Some High-Profile Figures
Although Kenny and Bobbi McCaughey were adamant that their children grow up out of the spotlight, the family did appear on a select few media outlets like Time and Newsweek. Considering Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both publically reached out to the family, it was undoubtedly hard for them to stay out of the public eye! Still, the McCaugheys used their best judgment to decide who they allowed to take a peek at their personal lives.
One person they did let interview them? Oprah! The septuplets appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show with their parents to mark their first birthday.
Their Family Miracle Caused An Unusual Response In Some People
For the most part, the McCaugheys managed to avoid the spotlight, but news of their surviving septuplets still garnered unsolicited responses.
"Our neighbors never gawked... they gave us privacy. But we had complete strangers come around to the back door, knock, and ask if they could hold a baby," Bobbi told Dateline. It was no wonder why the McCaugheys wanted their privacy. It would be another ten years before they made headlines again.
They Became The World's First Surviving Set Of Septuplets
As the septuplets grew up, the McCaugheys rarely gave interviews aside from stories in local papers around the time of their birthday. The seven babies lived through infancy and grew up with ordinary lives, which made them the world's first surviving septuplets.
For the septuplets' tenth birthday in 2007, Bobbi McCaughey told Dateline, "We didn't feel right about saying 'Thanks for all your prayer and support, but you're never going to see us.' So in many respects, this is like a thank you. And here's a little peek at what our life is like now."
The McCaugheys Raised Their Septuplets To Be Decent Kids
Folks who watched the 2007 Dateline profile learned that the McCaughey septuplets grew up to live normal lives. "We're still teaching them how to be decent, upright kids," Kenny told journalist Ann Curry.
Bobbi added, "When you see all the training and shaping that you've been trying to do actually take hold, it's like, wow, they've got it." The septuplets attended public school, where they were divided among six different classrooms. They grew up with individual personalities, despite always being spoken of as a group. One person that the parents did worry about, though, was how their first-born Mikayla would adjust.
Older Sister Mikayla Never Played Second Fiddle To Her Siblings
When the septuplets were born, people believed that Mikayla would grow up feeling left out, but the McCaugheys made sure to prevent that from happening. "Mikayla gets to do much more with Kenny and I on an individual basis than the rest of the kids do," Bobbi told Dateline in 2007.
While the septuplets went to public school, Mikayla was primarily homeschooled by Bobbi, which offered some much-needed space for everyone. On being the older sister of septuplets, Mikayla said, "My mom and dad do most of the work. But it gives me more responsibility because now I'm practically their only babysitter." Big sister Mikayla and their parents were especially there to help Alexis and Nathan overcome the obstacles of cerebral palsy.
Cerebral Palsy Didn't Stop Alexis And Nathan
Alexis and Nathan were the only ones diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Nathan had "spastic diplegia," which made him very stiff. Alexis had "hypotonic quadriplegia," which made her muscles very weak.
By 2007, Nathan was able to undergo surgery followed by intense physical therapy to be able to walk on his own. At the time it was unclear if Alexis was eligible for a similar treatment, but until then she was able to walk around with the help of leg braces and walkers. Nathan and Alexis' disabilities didn't prevent them from growing up the same as their siblings. And soon, before they knew it, the McCaughey septuplets would become young adults.
Alexis, The Beauty Queen
Alexis may have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy but that didn't stop her from celebrated everything life has to offer. When she was in middle school, she started participating in beauty pageants for children with special needs.
In 2013, she participated in the Dreams Made True event and took home the coveted Miss Teen Dreams Made True Award. In the pageant, Alexis and the other contestants got to model their special pageant wear and show off a talent of theirs.
They Were Placed In Different Classes
Multiples are undoubtedly fascinating, but it can be easy to lump all of the brothers and sisters into a singular group. Kenny and Bobbi were determined to have their kids live the most normal life possible, which meant ensuring they were treated as individuals.
When the septuplets started school, they were placed in different classes on purpose. This way, each of the seven kids could make their own friends and develop individually.
They Started High School In 2012
Starting high school is a big milestone for anyone, but especially for the McCaughey septuplets who weren't even expected to survive their mother's dangerous delivery. But in 2012, the brothers and sisters started their freshman year at Carlisle High School in their Iowa hometown.
Before the big day, they all helped pack their lunches and backpacks and got on the school bus, ready to take on this next chapter in their lives.
They All Had Their Own Hobbies
From the time they were born, it was clear that each of the septuplets had their own personality traits, but that was made more apparent as they grew older. Now that they were in high school, they had their own hobbies and friends.
While Kenny Jr. was a class clown, Alexis was very studious. Brandon and Kelsey were athletic and played sports throughout school. While they all valued their individualism, there was one thing they siblings did together.
They Played In a Band Together
By the time they were in high school, it was clear that the septuplets were all very different people. While Alexis was usually studying, Brandon was playing sports and so on. But the siblings did share one hobby that they kept up with throughout the years — music.
The siblings all joined the school band during their freshman year and played at all other school events, from pep rallies to football games.
The Septuplets Turn 16
In 2013, the McCaughey septuplet reached another exciting milestone: their 16th birthday. For most teens celebrating their Sweet 16, the event is marked by getting their license. For the McCaughey septuplets, they were eager to hit the road, but Kenny and Bobbi knew that buying seven cars was out of the question.
Instead, when they turned 16, the siblings were allowed to get jobs. They had to work hard to save their money to buy their own vehicles!
18 Years Went By In A Flash
The McCaugheys appeared on the TODAY show in 2015 on the cusp of the septuplets' 18th birthday. The world finally got to see the seven famous siblings all grown up.
"[The years] have flown by... The memories, the joy, the heartaches that happened. It's what has guided us to where we are today, and it's very special," a choked-up Bobbi told TODAY's Samantha Guthrie. The septuplets, who were entering their senior year of high school, agreed there was nothing terrible about being a septuplet. Since they've graduated, each sibling has gone on their own path.
Four Of The Septuplets Went To College Out Of State
After graduating high school, the McCaughey septuplets forged their own paths. Four of them enrolled at Hannibal-LaGrange University in Missouri on full scholarships. Kelsey majored in music, Natalie majored in elementary education, while Nathan and Joel chose computer science.
They appeared to be nervous but excited for college. "It will definitely be different and weird, but I feel that it will be good for us to get out of our comfort zone and meet new people," Kelsey told NBC News. Two of the septuplets elected to stay closer to home, but are glad to have their space.
Two Stayed Home But Are Glad To Be Separated
Kenny and Alexis, the two eldest out of the seven, chose to attend Des Moines Area Community College, which is closer to home. Alexis majored in early childhood education, while Kenny studied building trades and construction.
Kenny told NBC News, "I honestly think it will be good for us to be on our separate ways. I am not worried about not seeing everyone that much. We have been around each other the past 18 years. I'm ready to be on my way, and I think everyone else is, too." One of the septuplets proved himself to be the rebel of the bunch and chose a more dangerous path.
One Of The Septuplets Joined The Military
Only one of the septuplets chose the military route after high school. Brandon enlisted in the U.S. Army and was the only one to leave the nest alone.
"It will be a little different being without all my siblings. But it won't be bad since I'll have contact with them. I think I will have a good experience being on my own, with my new military family. I have been taught to work for the things I want, and to not expect other to do anything for me," he said. As for the parents, despite their sadness over how quickly time has passed, they didn't expect to suffer empty nest syndrome.
Mikayla McCaughey Ties the Knot
Life for Mikayla McCaughey has been anything but ordinary since her brothers and sisters were born in 1997. She went from being an only child to being a big sister to seven! But through it all, Mikayla was always loved and supported and treated as an individual. She experienced her own special milestones throughout the years too.
Since the septuplets were born, Mikayla went on to graduate from Des Moines Area Community College and Arizona State University. She even got married and each of her siblings was there by her side to celebrate her big day.
The Siblings Loved Their Childhood
Being a septuplet has its downsides, but overall, the McCaughley kids loved their upbringing. Now that they're all grown up, they say they wouldn't change it for anything.
“You’re never alone,” Kenny Jr. told Today. “There’s always someone to talk to and hang out with. That’s what I think is the best.” Kelsey echoed her brother saying, “I don’t think there’s a worst part,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed it all.”
The McCaughey's Gave Their Home To A Better Cause
By 2018, with all their children away, Bobbi and Kenny now had an empty seven-bedroom home and were looking to downsize. Because their house was so graciously donated to them, they decided to return the favor, selling their home to Ruth Harbor, a non-profit that provides housing and support to young mothers.
"As our kids are leaving the nest, it seems to be the right time to start a new chapter. 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," Bobbi wrote in an announcement.