It's hard to believe just 12 months ago four tiny Timaru tots arrived into the world three months early, each barely weighing a kilogram and relying on machines to help survive the first fragile weeks of their young lives.
But as the MacDonald quads celebrate their first birthday with a fun emoji-themed party and 100 friends and family, Hudson, Indie, Quinn and Molly are making up for lost time, hitting baby milestones and growing more bonny by the day.
It's a special moment for young Timaru parents Kendall and Josh MacDonald as they look back on the year their lives changed forever with the addition of four wee bubs following emergency surgery at just 28 weeks into the pregnancy last August 15.
"It's been a whirlwind," tells Josh, 28.
"Yeah, whirlwind is exactly the word to describe the last 12 months," agrees Kendall, 28, who is also mum to Brooklyn, four. "I'm more tired now than I was when they were newborns and they first came home!"
And while family life with four babies is not without its challenges of sleepless nights and sickness, including a mercy dash to Christchurch Hospital more than 165km away last November when their littlest daughter fell gravely ill, the mum-of-five says thanks to the aid from their "village" of helpers, she's managing to hold it together.
"This might sound crazy, but although it's really, really challenging, it's not as hard as I thought it would be. Some days are better than others – and it could get worse once they start walking and talking – but for the most part, it hasn't been too hard and a lot of that has to do with all the help we get.
"Before they came home from hospital, I'd sit awake dreading how hard nights would be, but we've been really lucky with our nanny."
And it's because of this generosity from all over New Zealand that a small family gathering has ballooned into a full-scale party at a nearby hall, complete with an entertainer and face-painting for 30 children, and food decorated with the colourful animal, insect and flower emojis Kendall uses on her popular social media accounts Quad Mum Plus One to identify the order of each lookalike child in her photos.
"I started it to make a difference in posts when I was naming their weights – and it just stuck," explains the doting mum. "Quinn is a pink flower, Indie is a butterfly, Hudson is a fox and Molly a sunflower, so their party cakes, decorations and cookies will be made with them, and we're having that theme throughout.
"At first, we were going to have a small party with immediate family, but then we realised there's been so many people who have been involved with helping us with babysitting and giving us gifts, and the more people we thought of, the more we had to invite, so it's turned into a big party," she laughs. "There's going to be lots of adults there. It's probably going to be more about us than them."
With two of the four tots now crawling, and all teething and devouring solid food, life in the MacDonald household is starting to seriously switch up a gear.
Kendall tells, "Molly is crawling – you can't stop her – she's so fast and goes from one side of the house to the other in a few seconds. And Quinn started crawling today. We block off parts of the living room and kitchen.
"They're all sitting up now and they all just want food. Hudson is a real clean eater and really delicate, whereas the girls are so messy. Molly just wants that food. She'll even try to rip the plate out of your hands!"
As the rosy-cheeked cherubs are brought into the living room on their dad's hip, looking refreshed after a midday nap, their little faces break into large gummy grins when they see their mum. After a quick cuddle, it's playtime with vigorous rattle shaking and squeals of delight as the floor is filled with toys.
Kendall, who admits telling her identical daughters Indie and Quinn apart remains tricky – especially when they are dressed the same – says the siblings adore each other's company and are inseparable.
"At night, Indie and Quinn love their cots being pushed together. They sit there and smile and babble to each other, and sometimes they won't go to sleep. It just drives me crazy because they're so happy just talking to each other.
"Molly and Quinn also really enjoy each other's company – they'll sit in their walkers and bounce with each other – whereas Hudson likes to be by himself. I'm sure Indie would like to join in, but she's just not on the same level as her sisters. But there'll come a time. She's getting up on her knees. It's just that Molly and Quinn can move around and get to where they want to go."
As the tots pile on the pounds – identical sisters Indie and Quinn have topped 11kg and are already fitting into size one clothes – Josh and Kendall hope they've turned the corner on a stretch of illness that has dogged the children for weeks on end.
"Even before winter hit, there was about eight weeks where the babies were sick non-stop," shares Kendall. "They would have a cold and then someone would get hand, foot and mouth, then someone would have another cold. There was just one thing after another in those eight weeks. It got really, really hard and we struggled."
Kendall recalls a nightmare fortnight when Quinn and Indie fell ill a week apart from each other with suspected meningitis.
"All of a sudden Quinn was really sick and wasn't responding to anything," she says. "Her temperature was high, so we took her to the GP and they sent her to hospital. I hadn't even checked if she'd developed a rash.
"Quinn had initial tests that didn't come back clear, but then they gave her a few hours and some medication, and she started to get better. Then a week later, Indie had the exact same thing."
It was the second dire health scare that year after newborn Molly's lung suddenly collapsed last November and she came perilously close to dying.
"It was a week after they had been discharged from hospital and the same week our first Woman's Day article came out," tells the exhausted mum. "Molly went downhill within a couple of hours and couldn't breathe on her own. They stuck tubes inside her lung to reinflate it.
"They couldn't sedate her because she couldn't breathe," says Kendall, adding it was by far the worst moment of the past year. "It makes me sick just to think about it.
"Molly was helicoptered to Christchurch and those first two days were bad. Then her heart started playing up and she would stop breathing. It was scary.
"At one stage, we were going to go to Starship in Auckland, but they thought she probably wouldn't survive the trip.
"We were really lucky at the time. All we had to do was ring Josh's mum Vicki and say, 'This isn't good', and we had help and she took control of the rest of the family."
Earlier success getting the tots to sleep through the night vanished with sickness and never-ending teething. Now Kendall and Josh are both looking forward to the warmer summer months and a chance to get out and about with their brood.
"It's really hard taking them anywhere with us," explains Josh. "Getting them all into their car seats, getting them buckled in – it's a huge mission. We can't go out without being stopped every two minutes and because of that, we don't really do it a lot.
"When summer comes around, it will be a lot easier. We'll definitely make a few more trips out."
Adds Kendall, "Plus we've been focused on getting to one year. I haven't even thought about plans for the next year."
"Yeah," agrees Josh. "It's one day at a time."
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