They're nothing short of a miracle – four tiny babies who have survived against the odds to become our country's first set of quads in two decades. Now 13 weeks old, little Molly, Quinn, Indie and Hudson will at last get to sleep side by side, snug in cots furnishing their comfy Timaru nursery, all finally discharged from hospital after their monumental birth in August.
In a Woman's Day exclusive, proud parents Kendall and Joshua MacDonald, both 27, tell how besotted they are with their new son and daughters – siblings for three-year-old Brooklyn – and can't believe how fortunate they are to have come through pregnancy and the nerve-wracking first weeks of life without tragedy.
"We tried for three years to have a second child and finally just to get pregnant after losing another baby in between these guys was so much," says the former real estate administration worker, her voice faltering as she recounts years of infertility heartbreak. "I always imagined holding a baby again, but
to get four was amazing."
Born within three minutes of each other, the quads began entering the world at 2.28am on August 15 at just 28 weeks and four days, ranging in weight from 1.1 to 1.3kg.
As Kendall prepares for our special photo shoot, it isn't long before two dozing infants wake demanding to be fed. Despite being so young, she says the newborns are already showing their personalities.
"From day one, we've always said that we're going to have to watch out for Molly," she says, gazing at her raven-haired daughter. "She looks like she's going to be the cheeky, naughty one! The funniest thing about Molly is that she doesn't care about anything. She's the dream baby and then Quinn's not far behind.
"Indie's quite sensitive and Hudson, we like to call him Grumpy. You only have to talk to him and he starts crying. Nothing can make him happy."
With both a fraternal and an identical set of twins, Mum and Dad admit they are having trouble telling their matching daughters Indie and Quinn apart, relying on a Vivid marker dot on an ankle to prevent mix-ups.
"They had name tags on in hospital, but if I looked at them and didn't see the tags, I couldn't tell them apart," confesses Kendall.
The young couple reveal they were initially floored when they discovered early on that their compact family of three would suddenly swell by an additional four children at once.
"I was in utter shock," recalls Kendall, who had been taking the fertility drug clomiphene to ovulate after having difficulty conceiving a second child.
"I was just yelling – I couldn't help myself! Whereas Josh was quite the opposite and didn't say a word."
Explains Josh, "I didn't say much for the first few hours as I tried to process everything, but I was obviously very excited but scared. We had tried for a few years to only have one more child, so we certainly made up for it!"
Kendall says at the start of the pregnancy, an early miscarriage scare saw her undergo a scan at just five weeks, which only showed a single baby.
However, three weeks later, a second scan revealed twins and a third sac, with question marks over the wellbeing of the third child.
"The count just kept going up," says Kendall. "Because of this, we went for a specialised scan. It showed a third living baby, plus two babies in one sac. During the scan, I could only see three babies and at the end, I asked if all three were healthy, and she said, 'No, all four are healthy!'"
The pregnancy was marred by severe morning sickness that didn't ease until the halfway point.
"Apart from the threat of miscarriage at the start, I never had a single problem with the babies. They were fine. It was just me that was struggling. Once I hit 23 weeks, I went downhill really fast because the babies were getting so big and I couldn't breathe or walk.
"When you're going through it, nothing can relieve it – not even lying down! You can't move; you can't get in and out of bed. It was just horrible. On top of that, I was running around after a toddler!"
Reaching the size of a single full-term pregnancy at 25 weeks, it would be three more weeks before Kendall, now relocated to Christchurch ahead of the delivery, would give birth.
"They expected me to go into labour any time from 25 weeks. I got to 28 weeks and three days, and the babies were still fine. I went to bed that night and couldn't get comfortable – I kept tossing and turning.
"Then I sat up and realised the uncomfortable feeling was my stomach tightening. It was happening every minute, then every 30 seconds, but didn't hurt. I wondered if this was labour, so I rang my midwife and she told me to go to the hospital. I got there at midnight and ended up having a C-section
With specialist delivery teams set up over two theatres, Kendall's health began to falter as low blood pressure caused her to drift in and out of consciousness.
"I was quite sick during the C-section. They couldn't get the epidural in and as soon as they laid me down, my blood pressure went real low, so I just don't remember it at all. I can remember them saying they'd bring a baby out, but because they were so little I couldn't hear them and I was worried something was wrong."
It wasn't until Kendall was wheeled out on her bed four hours later, with Josh at her side, that she first laid eyes on her new babies.
"It was really hard for me. I was still recovering from the C-section and hadn't slept in over 24 hours. They were still working on the babies and getting tubes into them, but they let us touch them and took photos for us. It was such a surreal moment. You couldn't believe it was happening. But
I wish I had waited to go see them later because when I did, I was in tears."
"It was surreal," adds Josh, who saw the quads for the first time with his wife. "We always hoped for the best outcome, but deep down we both never really thought it would be a positive result because of the high risk."
Since the children were born at a time when vital organs were still developing, there have been some health scares, particularly when Quinn needed a drain to remove air from her lung on day two.
Hudson has been diagnosed with scoliosis – a curvature of the spine – but the extent of the condition will not be known until he starts growing.
Similarly, Indie will also be closely assessed by physio-therapists. "But we don't know with her either until she grows more," explains Kendall.
Yet the biggest health shock has been the sudden decline of Molly, who until a few weeks ago was sailing through her first 10 weeks.
"She was always doing the best and leaving the others behind, but now she's doing the worst," tells Kendall, concerned at the unexplained change. "She was feeding, but one day she just stopped and started losing weight."
With Molly still needing to be in hospital care up until last week and Hudson staying with her to keep her company, it was just twins Indie and Quinn at the family home, with doting big brother Brooklyn keeping watch and planting kisses on their foreheads.
"Now they've come home, he's so loving, although the first night they cried for about two hours non-stop and he didn't want to be a big brother any more!" laughs Kendall.
The young parents, who shifted into a larger house to accommodate their sudden family expansion, are now facing a new chapter, with all infants discharged from hospital and living under the same roof.
They have also upgraded to a 10-seater van and are grateful to Christchurch's Wheeler Car Company for helping out.
With an army of support on hand, including a nanny, the couple are set for the constant flow of bottles, nappies, washing and broken sleep.
"We knew once all four came home, we'd need four arms to feed them, so that's going to be a challenge," admits Kendall.
Josh says they are blown away by the support from their South Canterbury town, including complete strangers. "So many people we don't know have been bringing us things like food, money and clothes. That was a massive surprise to me."
"Our workplaces, LJ Hooker and Fonterra, have been amazing to us," adds Kendall. "There's no way we would have been able to cope so well."
As the mum-of-five reaches for her upset wee son, she holds him close, gently rubbing his back to soothe him.
"We know how lucky we are. Hardly anyone goes through this. Triplets is huge, but quads is huge and amazing!"