“Trust is accepting what God sends into your life whether you understand it or not.” Tim Keller
May 28, 1997 – Des Moines, Iowa: Dr. Katherine Hauser stared at the ultrasound machine. As a reproductive endocrinologist, she was accustomed to seeing twins and triplets, but she was struggling to believe what she was now seeing. She moved the probe back over Bobbie McCaughey’s abdomen and counted again: one, two, three, four, five, six…seven babies.
Dr. Hauser was shocked and concerned. She knew that multiple-birth pregnancies often ended in miscarriages or stillbirths, and that the risk increased with each baby. There had never been a set of septuplets born in the world where all seven babies survived.
Bobbi McCaughey had had trouble getting pregnant with her first child, so in 1997 when she wanted to have another baby, Dr. Hauser prescribed the fertility drug Metrodin. Bobbi’s first sonogram six weeks into her pregnancy brought lots of questions, confusion and a dilemma for the McCaugheys. Dr. Hauser strongly advised the McCaugheys to consider aborting some of the fetuses to increase the odds of the other babies being born healthy.
Bobbie, a seamstress who worked from home, and Kenny, a billing clerk at a Chevrolet dealership, were committed members of the Missionary Baptist Church in the small town of Carlisle, Iowa. For them, abortion wasn’t an option. The doctors feared Bobbie and Kenny were taking a huge gamble but their repeated attempts to persuade the couple to reconsider failed. The McCaugheys had faith that things would work out.
Dr. Hauser assembled a team of doctors whose mission was to maintain the pregnancy as long as possible. Their goal was to make it to 28 weeks. At the doctors’ advice, Bobbie went to bed nine weeks into her pregnancy. At 24 weeks, she was moved to the Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines.
Bobbie carried the babies for 30 weeks. On November 19, 1997, Alexis, Brandon, Joel, Kelsey, Kenny Jr., Natalie, and Nathan were born via cesarean section. The 40-person team of doctors and nurses who participated in the labor and delivery was surprised by how healthy the babies were. Their weight ranged from 2 pounds 5 ounces to 3 pounds 4 ounces. The first baby went home in six weeks, and all were home by February.
The world’s first surviving septuplets were immediately in the national and international spotlight. When the media discovered the miracle in Carlisle, hordes of TV reporters camped out in the town of 3,500. As the story circulated, Bobbie and Kenny were criticized for not aborting some of the babies. Others accused them of playing God by using a fertility drug. Some critics said it was an injustice for children to be born in a litter like animals.
Despite the naysayers, there was overwhelming support for the McCaugheys. Church friends and neighbors assembled a small army to help with meals, laundry, transportation, babysitting and house cleaning. Carlisle Chevrolet donated a 15-passenger van to the family.
The Carlisle mayor secured land for a new, larger house and the Iowa governor arranged to have the labor and materials donated to build it. The McCaugheys moved from their two-bedroom house to a seven-bedroom, 6,400 square foot home. Proctor and Gamble committed a lifetime supply of Pampers, while Gerber offered free baby food for two years.
Over time, the media drifted away, the septuplet controversy died down and the McCaugheys, with plenty of help from family and friends, settled in to raising their babies.
In 2016, the McCaughey septuplets, dressed in red and black caps & gowns, walked across the stage to receive their diplomas from Carlisle High School. Six of the children were on the honor roll. Their high school activities included soccer, wrestling, cheerleading and track. All seven played in the high school band.
More than 25 years after the septuplet’s birth ignited a worldwide ethics debate, four of the children are married and live in other states. One has a job in Des Moines and two still live at home. It is a lively reunion when the family gets together. “I will always remember the day we found out there were seven babies,” recalls Bobbie. “There was so much criticism and so many doubts. All I wanted to do was give Mikayla a little brother or sister. I knew it was in God’s hands. He determined the outcome.”