Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey faced a seemingly impossible prospect in 1997. Having given birth to Mikayla Marie one year earlier, Bobbi was pregnant again. This time, however, the stakes were much higher. And what they were facing would have tested even the most enthusiastic of expectant parents.
The road to getting pregnant again hadn’t been an easy one for Bobbi McCaughey, however – not least because she had been born with a malfunctioning pituitary gland. For this reason, she did not produce enough hormones to stimulate ovulation. And, as a result, she and Kenny decided that she should undergo hormone therapy treatments to aid conception.
Fortunately, though, Bobbi required just a single shot of fertility drug Metrolin in her quest. After that, she subsequently became pregnant with multiple babies, as is common for women following such a regimen. However, doctors then found an extraordinarily high number of healthy embryos in her womb – seven, to be exact.
“I will always remember the day we found out there were so many,” Bobbi told the Des Moines Register in 2013. “It wasn’t like, ‘Yoohoo!’ There were so many doubts. To a lot of people this might sound trite, but God determined the outcome.”
And while a lot of people had their opinions as to what expectant parents of so many children should do, the McCaugheys decided to let their faith guide them. That choice led them to make one decision that may have proved controversial for some. Specifically, the couple declined selective reduction during the pregnancy. This procedure aims to eliminate the strain on the health of the developing babies by aborting some of the fetuses.
There was still a major risk in the attempt to carry seven healthy babies to term, though. In fact, there had never been a set of septuplets that had survived childbirth. Obstetricians Karen Drake and Paula Mahone were subsequently charged with the babies’ care, and they and the other doctors involved worried that the newborns would struggle to make it through their first few days out of the womb.
But Drake, Mahone and the McCaugheys’ pre-birth planning was put into action on November 19, 1997, when doctors subsequently delivered the seven babies by Cesarean section within six minutes of each other. Kenny Jr., Alexis, Natalie, Kelsey, Nathan, Brandon and Joel all arrived nine weeks prior to their due date. Nevertheless, all of them survived — the first ever set of septuplets to do so.
Understandably, the septuplets’ arrival received national media coverage. And, as a consequence, many people reached out to the extra-large family. “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 told Time in 1997.
Still, the support seemed to outweigh the negativity – and it made quite a difference to the family, too. For one thing, they received a free 5,500-square-foot, seven-bedroom home large enough for all of their children.
What’s more, the donations didn’t end there, as the family also received a free van, nanny services, clothes and diapers for the first two years of the septuplets’ lives. The latter served the McCaugheys well, since the babies went through 52 diapers per day in their early months.
Celebrities joined in with the congratulatory gestures, too. For instance, then-president Bill Clinton called the family to wish them well after the historic birth. They also made an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show and later met President George W. Bush.
After the spotlight faded, though, the family subsequently fell into normal lives in their native Iowa. Occasionally, Bobbi would provide brief updates on her children’s lives on their birthday; however, their upbringing was, for the most part, a pretty secluded one.
That also meant that Bobbi and Kenny Sr. had to become budget-savvy in order to provide for eight growing children after all the free goods and services ran out. Consequently, they bought in bulk for decades and cultivated their own garden for produce. And they still work hard, too: Kenny Sr. is employed at a metal-coating company and Bobbi’s day job is in special needs education. But while they’ve always remained grateful for their home, they’ve also made sure that their kids know it didn’t come from their average salaries alone.
“My fear has always been that they see our jobs and think that’s all they need for nice stuff,” Kenny Sr. told the Des Moines Register. “I’ve given them the cold, hard truth slowly. No way could I afford this home on my salary. If you want something, you have to work for it.”
And it seems as though the father’s words have sunk in with his septuplets. Indeed, each one had a job while still at high school, using their money to pay for extras such as cell phones and tablets. “We were taught if we want something, we have to work for it,” Kenny Jr. told NBC News in May 2016. In that month, moreover, all seven siblings graduated from Carlisle High School, each with unique dreams for the future.
The first-born septuplet, Kenny Jr., went to the Des Moines Area Community College in order to carve out a career in construction. Nathan, meanwhile, has a strong interest in science and wants to work in that field in the future.
Alexis, who graduated at the top of her high school class, aspires to teach. So does third-born Natalie, who dreams of working in an elementary school. And while Kelsey was the smallest of the babies, weighing in at only 2 pounds 5 ounces, now she’s a healthy young woman who will study music in college.
Sixth-born Brandon, on the other hand, has enlisted in the military, realizing a dream that he had held since the tender age of three. As for the final septuplet, Joel, he’s currently studying computer science.
Alexis and Nathan have had to work even harder to achieve as much as they have, since both were born with cerebral palsy. Nathan even taught himself to walk because, as he told the Des Moines Register in November 2015, he “really wanted to learn.” What’s more, he’s just “been getting better and better” at it over time.
Kelsey, meanwhile, would tell Today, “I feel like I am starting my life. But [my brothers and sisters] are my best friends.” Kenny Jr. added, “What I’m not going to like is we won’t be around each other. I couldn’t be where I am today without them.” As for mom and dad, they will have a seriously empty nest now. “It will be pretty drastic,” Bobbi told the Des Moines Register. “Everyone gone all at once.” After adding that “the years have flown by,” Bobbi concluded, “It’s sad to see things end, but there will be lots of firsts coming.”