Parents of year-old quads see four times the sacrifices, but four times the smiles

| October 24, 2017 | 2 Comments

Matt Kopp reads a book to his four quadruplets — Raphael, left, Theodore, Benedict and Cora — in the living room of the home in Crystal he shares with his wife, Justina, left. The first-time parents reflect on the joys and struggles of parenting four 1-year-olds. Photos by Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Four high chairs line the kitchen counter at Justina and Matt Kopp’s rambler in Crystal. Four baby chairs sit on the living room floor, adjacent four stacked baby pillows.

Nearby, four 1-year-olds tumble with each other on the floor, bumble with awkward steps, and vie for their parents’ arms. Like expert ringmasters, Matt, 26, and Justina, 27, playfully navigate the acrobatics with a certain calm and confidence.

They simultaneously soften falls and give out hugs, and then, at the first fussy cries of hunger, prepare and distribute pre-nap bottles with the ease and efficiency of an oft-performed routine.

The babies are Cora, Raph, Theo and Ben, who celebrated their first birthdays Oct. 16. They’ve been the stars of this sweet family circus since the day their parents first heard their heartbeats and discovered there was more than one.

Shock and awe

When the Kopps learned they were pregnant in April 2016, they approached their ultrasound with some trepidation.

Parishioners of Holy Family in St. Louis Park, they had recently miscarried their first child, and they knew the disappointment and loss that followed a silent ultrasound.

Strangely, Justina’s fertility hadn’t returned following that pregnancy, and they worked with a doctor at the Christian-based AALFA Family Clinic in White Bear Lake to help her cycles return. After a few months, they found out they were expecting again. However, Justina felt a sharp pain in her abdomen, and the two were nervous she had an ectopic pregnancy.

Justina gets her quadruplets ready for a snack: Benedict, left, Cora, Raphael and Theodore.

The ultrasound technician squeezed gel onto Justina’s abdomen and positioned the wand, picking up a gestational sac and a heartbeat. The couple was elated. Then, a second sac and a second heartbeat. Twins! As the Kopps were wrapping their head around two at a time, the technician found a third sac and a third heartbeat. They were now outnumbered, and they started laughing.

Justina recalls teasing Matt, telling him that parents of triplets must automatically grow a third arm.

Then the technician came across a fourth sac. Empty, she said, suggesting that there had been a fourth baby, but he or she had never developed. Justina recalled feeling a sense of peace with that, trusting that he or she would join a sibling in heaven.

That’s when her doctor came into the room and grabbed her foot. As the technician was going over the three babies again for the doctor and to get more photos, she moved to show him the blighted ovum in the empty sac. This time, it didn’t look empty, and the technician found a heartbeat — the strongest of the four. The Kopps just continued to laugh in disbelief, they said.

“This is quite the shock, huh?” Justina recalled the doctor saying, obviously shocked himself. Even with Justina’s fertility treatments, the probability of quadruplets was so low that statistics didn’t exist.

Justina and Matt said they laughed about the news for two days, and then, overwhelmed, they panicked. Family and friends’ joy helped them have courage that they could handle the task, with God’s help.

Cora crawls through a tube as Matt watches.

On Facebook, the couple designed an announcement that looked like a movie poster, with Justina smiling in a black dress and heels holding the four ultrasound photos, and Matt holding his head with a shocked expression. It read, “Quads: Two’s company, six’s a crowd.”

In the months that followed, Justina had to eat 4,500 calories a day to pack 50 pounds on her 5-foot, 100-pound frame. Defying the odds, however, she never went on bed rest. She carried the babies until 33 weeks gestation, four weeks beyond the average gestational age of quads. Born via cesarean section at less than 4 pounds each, the babies were premature but needed only routine care. Three weeks later, Matt and Justina brought them home from the hospital.

Today, all four are matching the weight and height of typical 12-month-olds, and on track with milestones such as walking. Their parents delight in their different personalities and quirks, which Justina said she even recognizes from their temperaments in the womb.

“We’re grateful,” Justina said of their life.

“And we love kids,” Matt added.

“Even when it’s hard,” Justina said, “it’s like, I love you deeply, and I’m not going to not do this. Even on the days when I’m like, ‘I’m done, I’m moving to Iceland’ … one look at Cora, and I’m like, I’m staying here.”

Matt and Justina Kopp play with their quadruplets in the living room: Benedict, left, Cora, Theodore and Raphael.

Valuing life

The road to their quadruplets’ birth, however, was not without its challenges.

Justina’s care was transferred from her doctor at AALFA to a perinatologist practice, and from appointment No. 1, she felt at odds with her new doctors about her care.

The Kopps knew that the specialists would suggest “selective reduction,” a euphemism for the abortion of one or more of the babies, typically the weakest. At their first consultation, they immediately told their doctor that they didn’t want to discuss it. The goal, Matt told the doctor, was four healthy babies and a healthy mother.

The doctor said that while some parents begin with that mindset, they later change their minds, and that selective reduction gave them the best chance at bringing home babies. The risk of spontaneous pregnancy loss is 40 percent with higher order multiples, Justina said, but they wouldn’t consider aborting any of the babies to lower the risk.

Justina was incredulous at the doctor’s cognitive dissonance to go from “congratulations” to recommending abortion while calling them “babies.” The Kopps’ relationship with the specialist practice never recovered, Justina said.

“You’ve got a target on your back once you don’t listen to their advice,” she said. “You’re the crazy pro-life person, then.”

While Justina continued to see the specialists, she also had regular check-ins with her doctor at AALFA.

“I had to learn throughout that pregnancy how to advocate for myself,” she said, adding that she was grateful she studied biology in college so she could read studies and understand her options.

Justina keeps watch over Raphael, left, Benedict, Cora and Theodore as they drink.

Abundant help

When the babies were at 32 weeks gestation, her doctor at AALFA noticed her blood pressure was high for her, although it fell within the range of normal for the overall population. He ordered blood work.

When the labs returned, he called and sent her to the hospital. She had preeclampsia, a blood pressure condition that endangers both mother and babies. Mothers of fraternal multiples are at a higher risk because they also carry additional placentas, which may be a factor in the condition’s onset.

The babies, her doctor told her, would be delivered soon.

At Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, she received steroid shots to hasten the babies’ lung development, and 48 hours later, the babies were delivered.

The first weeks and months contained elements of the typical first-time parenting blur, but multiplied by four. The babies were all slow eaters, and the early feedings were literally back-to-back. Sleep was elusive.

Meanwhile, they experienced an outpouring of generosity from family and friends, and Justina said they forged deeper friendships with some people who surprised them by their eagerness to help, from meals to gifts of boxes of diapers. She said people have gone more out of their way for them than they would for singleton pregnancies, “because this is such an outrageous thing.”

That included gifts of baby necessities. Justina hadn’t had a baby shower before the babies were born, since it was a high-risk pregnancy. If she lost any of the babies, she didn’t want to deal with gift returns, she said.

The only big purchase the Kopps had made was their house; they had signed a lease on a two-bedroom apartment in Plymouth a week before they discovered they were having quads. After their first ultrasound, they broke the lease and bought a house — a hope-filled purchase, eased by the fact that Matt was then working in real estate.

When the babies were born, they hadn’t yet bought a van, so they borrowed one from Matt’s parents when it was time to take their babies home from the hospital. Although the Kopps couldn’t have expected quadruplets, they do see things God used to prepare them for the challenge. Justina noted her love of science, including biology and women’s health, as well as being the oldest of four and having copious nannying experience.

Both Matt and Justina’s parents live in the Twin Cities, so help is a call away. Matt, meanwhile, is No. 5 of 10 kids, so a large family doesn’t faze him, he said. However, he added, “I can’t imagine raising quadruplets without a sense of faith.”

“It makes you have to trust in God a lot more, because you have to trust that everything will work out in the end, that the babies will stay well and job stuff will work out,” Matt said.

Justina coaxes steps from Benedict.

Having quadruplets compounds the sacrifice of becoming parents, Justina said, especially in the loss of day-to-day freedom. Although she had thought she would become a stay-at-home mom when she had kids, the expense of having quadruplets in daycare didn’t give her a choice.

She needs help even to leave the house with four infants, limiting the things she can do during the day. Unlike other first-time moms, Justina couldn’t attend moms’ groups or early childhood classes with her four infants, or run to Target with her babies, or even walk around the block without another adult, because she can’t physically push two double strollers. (The Kopps decided to forgo the quad-stroller, “because of the spectacle aspect it would draw,” Justina said.) A recent trip to Boston for her brother’s wedding required serious logistical planning, with both strollers, four Pack-n-Plays, four car seats and 16 bottles.

“It’s a lot more than just having four kids,” Justina said. “It’s four infants, and each kid has their typical infant demands that doesn’t match the kid next to them, and each kid is very unique.”

However, the Kopps say quadruplets also mean four times the joy. “I get four times the smiles and four times the laughs. I get to see my kids’ first steps like bam, bam, bam — one right after the other,” Justina said. “Watching them interact and learn to love one another, and depend on one another and fight with one another, it’s really fun, it’s really joyful and it makes all the sacrifice we have to do more than worth it. It’s so beautiful.”

When Justina envisions her children’s future, she can already imagine how they will interact once they start school. Cora and Ben are extroverts, and Justina can see them speaking up in class for Theo and Raph, who are more reserved. She also looks forward to watching the unique brotherhood among the three boys develop, and the understanding among all four that they’ll always have each other, even as adults.

“I know that I’m close to my siblings, and I came from a family of four kids, and I know that it’s nothing like this. This is very, very unique,” Justina said of the bond she already sees in her children. “I hope that as they become little adults, that they stay so tight-knit and really rely on each other, and count on each other and cheer each other on. … They’ve known about each other for as long as they can remember. They don’t know a time when there wasn’t an other.”

Family intercessor

As Matt and Justina are navigating the general ups and downs of being first-time parents, they’re also relatively new to marriage.

They became friends in 2012 while studying abroad in Rome as students in the University of St. Thomas’ Catholic Studies program. The friendship deepened, and they started dating in 2014. They married in September 2015, 364 days after their first date.

After honeymooning in Italy for three weeks, the couple returned home and soon learned they were expecting. At seven weeks along, they learned Justina had miscarried.

They named their first child Francis Jude, and watching her four babies grow now makes her think all the more about what Francis would have been like, she said.

“I think about that baby every single day,” she said. “When Ben started to walk, I wondered if Francis would have been walking by now.”

She’s grateful that the Church offers the hope that their first baby is with God. She believes that child prays for them, “so we have someone who is pulling for us in heaven,” she said.

In the busyness of it all, Matt and Justina have prioritized a regular date night, in part because divorce rates are higher among parents of multiples. They’re both in Facebook groups for parents of multiples, and they frequently read disheartening posts of marriages falling apart.

“Our life is very chaotic, and it’s very easy to lose sight of one another in all of that,” Justina said. “I don’t feel like we’ve done that. … With all of this insanity, I love that I look up and Matt is right there. He’s doing it right alongside me.”

Matt appreciates Justina’s sacrifice of being a stay-at-home mom, and Justina appreciates that Matt’s work provides for their family, she said. That outlook comes from understanding marriage as a vocation, she added.

While the Kopps were ardently pro-life before the pregnancy, their commitment has deepened. Without the Church’s teachings, Justina said she may have been tempted to have a tubal ligation, ending the opportunity for more children and wounding the self-gift of their love. As it stands, the pair are open to adding to their family down the road, but they’ve been shocked at how many people assume they’re “done” — and say it aloud.

“People cross boundaries all the time,” Matt said, recalling a conversation in which a woman asked if he was “snipped,” and then was aghast when he said he wasn’t. Or, people ask if the quads were conceived naturally, or through in vitro fertilization. Sometimes that’s the first thing people ask, even before the babies’ names.

“I understand the curiosity, since four is rare,” Justina said, “so I’m working on figuring out a way to handle these situations without taking away from the beauty of it, while still remaining an advocate for life and being a witness to that. But it’s really hard not to get irritated by all of that.”

Matt gets bottles ready as he holds Raphael.

Trusting in God’s providence

The quadruplets’ full names are Cora Immaculée, Raphael Gerard, Theodore Ambrose and Benedict Peter. They reflect a mix of saint devotions and family names, including “Peter” to honor Justina’s dad, who died in the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in 2007. It was a name both she and Matt wanted to use before they knew they were expecting multiples.

Her father’s tragic death strengthened Justina’s trust in God, because she never felt estranged from him in her grief. That gave her hope when she was anxious about being the mother of quadruplets.

“God didn’t abandon me then, with this terrible atrocity,” she said of her father’s death, “so he’s not going to abandon me with this bountiful blessing he’s given us.”

Having four kids at one time has helped the couple trust more deeply in God’s providence, Matt said. Still, they can’t help but ask the question “why us?”

“Especially during the tough times, it’s like, why were we given quadruplets; why were we given this incredible cross? As much as it brings a lot of joy, it can also be a great source of suffering,” he said.

In the months since the babies’ births, Justina said she asks “why” less than she asks “how.”

“Like, how, God, are you going to help us get through this? How are you going to show us the way in all of this and provide for us in all of this?” she said. “I ask it every day.”









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