There is a lot of love in the Cavin-Green home.
A lot of love, and a lot of baby stuff. There are four bright baby bouncers and four tidy high chairs. There are four plush pillow animals arranged on a living room shelf, waiting for playtime. Outside, the family minivan holds four sets of car seats and a sign that reads “Quads On Board.”
There’s also a stroller built for four. Getting the 70-pound stroller in and out of the van is always a bit of a spectacle; Laura Cavin compares it to a tank. And once quadruplets Brianna, Derrick, Anthony and Cason are settled into the stroller, the spectacle is just starting.
Laura recalls taking the babies to a Halloween event last year. Each baby was dressed as a tiny banana.
“I could not walk five feet without being swarmed by people,” Laura says. “I am telling you, I could not move. People would just stand there. And they would take pictures with their cellphones.”
Then the questions would start. Are they all yours? Are they quadruplets? How old are they?
Where is the dad?
For the last one, Laura has a clever retort ready: “The bastard ran off when he saw there were four.”
LAURA AND SHERI
Nobody really ran off, of course.
Laura Cavin and Sheri Green have been a couple since 2007, when they met at Nova Southeastern University’s Physician Assistant Program in Fort Myers. Laura is originally from Naples, and Sheri hails from Miami. Even before they met each other, they knew they wanted children.
“That was one of the reasons we liked each other,” Sheri says.
At the time, adoption wasn’t an option in Florida because they are a same-sex couple. Plus, Sheri, then 35 and nine years older than Laura, wanted to have a biological child. She didn’t have a significant desire to experience pregnancy, though. Laura, then 24, had no objection to being pregnant.
The couple sought help from Dr. Craig Sweet, a reproductive endocrinologist and the medical director of Specialists in Reproductive Medicine and Surgery in Fort Myers. Dr. Sweet had helped another friend of the couple’s become pregnant.
With IVF as their chosen option and as a consideration to Sheri’s age and desire for a biological child, the couple donated Sheri’s eggs.
Dr. Sweet calls Laura and Sheri “an amazing couple.”
“Their optimism is contagious,” he says.
If selecting a doctor was easy, picking a sperm donor proved more challenging. Not only did they want a donor who had a good, solid background and a high level of intelligence, but they also wanted someone who looked like Laura and Sheri. In that way, it wouldn’t become apparent which woman was the child’s biological mother.
Nature, though, would have its way.
Since both women have green eyes, they sought a donor with green eyes — yet three of the four children have crystal blue eyes, just like Sheri’s mom. And one of the most common remarks made to couple is that raven-haired Brianna is Laura’s “Mini Me.”
“We both just laugh,” Laura says. “Genetically, she has no relation to me.”
In March 2009, Laura’s first round of reciprocal IVF proved more successful than anyone had expected. In IVF, a woman is given hormones to encourage her ovaries to produce multiple eggs, which are then retrieved and fertilized in a lab with a partner — or donor’s — sperm. The embryos are grown in the lab for several days and then transferred to the woman who will carry the embryo.
A traditional IVF procedure can cost anywhere from $14,000 to $17,000, Dr. Sweet says, although each case is different. An egg donation can range from $21,000 to $26,000.
Because of the high quality of Sheri’s eggs, Dr. Sweet counseled the women to transfer only one egg because if they transferred two eggs, there was a good likelihood both eggs would implant and result in twins, which Laura and Sheri didn’t want.
Their plan was simple, straightforward: They’d have one baby. Laura would be a stay-at-home mom, at least for a while. Then she’d go back to work and life would go back to normal.
Everything would be great.
AIDEN AND BRANDEN
Two what? Two ovaries? At first, Laura was genuinely baffled. But the nurse practitioner at Dr. Sweet’s office soon set her straight: There were two heartbeats. The implanted egg had split, and Laura and Sheri were having identical twins.
“I was so excited,” Sheri says with a broad smile.
“I remember, I sat up and I go, ‘What?’” Laura recalls. “There can’t be two. We went back and forth until it finally sank in, and I cried. And then we said, ‘let the fun begin.’ ”
The pregnancy was perfect, Laura says, even enjoyable. Then, at about 28 weeks, Laura started to experience some pain, but wrote it off as being related to the demands of a busy day. She contacted her obstetrician, who encouraged her to follow up with a trip to the delivery room. There, it was confirmed that she was in labor, but the doctors stopped her contractions.
As a precaution, their obstetrician ordered an ultrasound. The couple wasn’t worried, Laura says; they were still on Cloud Nine, convinced that this was just a minor stumble in an otherwise ideal pregnancy.
The reality was far harsher. The twins, who they’d planned to name Aiden and Branden, had twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, a condition in which one twin is not receiving enough blood and the other twin receiving too much. The attending doctor told them that if Aiden and Branden even survived, there would be a chance of mental disabilities.
“Sheri and I were like, what the heck just happened here? Our world went from perfect to absolute hell after that,” Laura says.
However, one chance still remained: a specialist at Miami Jackson University Hospital. Laura and Sheri traveled to Miami, where Laura underwent surgery to correct the condition, but remained in Miami for weekly ultrasounds.
In the third week, Laura was waiting for the ultrasound tech when she found herself staring absently at the room’s wall. On it was one of the most awful paintings she’d ever seen, a still life of dull, waxy fruit and a glass of gray milk.
“I thought, this is the picture I’m going to have to look at when my life changes forever,” Laura says. “I knew something bad was coming. So when she said, ‘there’s no heartbeat,’ we said, ‘What? Branden doesn’t have a heartbeat?’ And she said, ‘No. Neither one has a heartbeat.’ ”
Laura promptly threw up. Sheri started yelling for a doctor.
A DARK AFTERMATH
After they lost Aiden and Branden in September 2009, Laura’s and Sheri’s relationship went to “a very dark place,” Laura says.
Laura made frequent trips to the cemetery to visit Aiden and Branden’s graves, or stayed home alone entirely. To honor the boys’ memory, the couple placed mementos of Aiden and Branden around the house. Together, she and Sheri leaned on the friends they had made in the Share Group, a local support group for parents who have lost a child before birth or in infancy.
For her part, Sheri was deeply angry. Seeing pregnant women or couples with newborns made her livid, she admits. Over and over, she wondered why this had happened, and she silently swore an oath not to hold another baby until that baby was their own.
“It’s not logical. But what made me feel good was that pretty much every other woman in our Share group felt the same way,” Sheri says.
What never wavered was Laura’s and Sheri’s desire to be mothers.
So in May 2010, eight months after they’d lost Aiden and Branden, Laura decided to make Mother’s Day her last one grieving for Aiden and Branden before returning to Dr. Sweet’s office.
This round, however, things did not go as smoothly. For various reasons, the implant process proved more time-consuming than before, and Laura and Sheri did what it took to make ends meet. They drained their savings accounts, spent their retirement money and maxed out their credit cards. To someone else, it may have been madness, but to Laura and Sheri it made total sense.
“I think we thought, we’re going to have a baby one way or another. That was our objective and we were going to do it,” Laura says.
That’s when Dr. Sweet introduced another idea: Why not implant Sheri’s eggs in both women? With both women trying, they would increase their chances of getting pregnant.
Sheri and Laura came up with more questions than answers for that idea. What would happen if Sheri got pregnant and not Laura? What damage would it do to their relationship? What would happen if they both got pregnant?
In the end, they decided to do it. And unlike last time, Dr. Sweet decided to implant two embryos instead of one. He admits this is not his usual style, that he’s typically far more conservative.
“It’s not that I’m a gambler,” he says. “But I just know that at blackjack, if you get two aces, you can split your hand and it doubles your chances of beating the house.”
Besides, he adds, taking into account all the possible risk factors, the likelihood that all four embryos would implant was 1 in 143, far less than 1 percent.
BRIANNA, CASON, DERRICK AND ANTHONY
The next day, Sheri knew with certainty she was pregnant.
“I said to her, ‘I’m pregnant. I’m telling you, I don’t know how I know, but I know,’ ” Sheri remembers telling Laura.
Laura didn’t want to hear it. She didn’t have any early pregnancy symptoms, and was convinced she wasn’t pregnant. When Sheri complained about nausea or mentioned pregnancy at all, Laura told her to zip it.
A home pregnancy test restored harmony for the couple. Laura’s was positive — and so was Sheri’s. Then, at the six-week ultrasound, Laura found that she was pregnant with twins again. It wasn’t unlikely, since she was younger and had carried twins before. That Sheri should be carrying twins came as a surprise, though.
In an instant, their lives changed again. Once they’d planned to have one child. Now, they were having quadruplets.
Five months along, for various medical reasons, both women were put on full-time bed rest. Then, at 31 weeks, Laura went to North Collier Hospital with flu-like symptoms.
It turned out to be labor.
Daughter Brianna and son Derrick were delivered May 9, one day after Mother’s Day. Sheri kept her promise, and Derrick was the first baby she held after losing Aiden and Branden.
But the stress of Brianna’s and Derrick’s delivery turned out to be too much for Sheri, and she went into labor, too. The doctors were able to slow he r contractions, but she stayed in the hospital and was able to deliver Anthony and Cason.
That time came two weeks later on May 23. Originally, the women thought they would have C-sections on the same day and everything would be tidy. Now, the quadruplets have different birthdays, even different astrological signs.
But the babies were healthy.
Finally, something had gone according to plan.
Son Cason was the first to come home from the hospital, about a week after delivery. The first night, Laura and Sheri were in heaven. Giddy with excitement, they took photographs and joyously made plans to do everything together — feed him, burp him, change him, rock him and watch him sleep.
“Boy, did that change quickly,” Sheri says.
Brianna came home next. Then Derrick. Then Anthony. Reality set in.
It took about 40 minutes to feed each baby and each needed feeding every three hours. By the time the total feeding and changing cycle was completed, it was almost time to start it again. Sheri and Laura went from enamored to exhausted — until they started taking shifts.
“It gave us each 2½ hours to sleep solid,” Sheri says.
Their five-bedroom house has become a bit of a baby care assembly line. One room is all cribs. One room is devoted to diapering and changing.
Last September, Sheri returned to work and Laura remained at home until the babies were 6 months old. Then, she accepted a physicians assistant position at their obstetrician’s office, Dr. Wallace McLean.
On Mondays and Saturdays, Laura still stays home with the babies. On Wednesdays, Sheri stays home. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, they have two sitters who come to the home. Sundays are reserved for family days. Armed with three baby bags and the tank-like quad stroller — or sometimes, two double strollers — they head out for errands, shopping or fun time.
They’re not the conventional family. But they’re a good family, says Dr. Sweet.
“These parents are no different than any other parents,” he says. “They will do whatever they have to and love their children.”
Laura and Sheri’s lives have changed. Now, a trip to Walmart constitutes an exciting outing. There are no more quiet dinners out; actually, there are hardly any dinners out at all. Sheri leaves the radio off when she drives to work, preferring to savour the sound of silence.