CRYSTAL, Minnesota — Four high chairs line the kitchen counter at Justina and Matt Kopp’s home in Crystal. Four baby chairs sit on the living room floor adjacent to four stacked baby pillows.
Nearby, four 1-year-olds tumble with one another on the floor, bumble with awkward steps and vie for their parents’ arms. Like expert ringmasters, Matt, 26, and Justina, 27, navigate the acrobatics with a certain calm. They simultaneously soften falls and give out hugs, and at the first fussy cries of hunger, prepare and distribute pre-nap bottles with ease.
The babies — Cora, Raph, Theo and Ben — celebrated their first birthdays Oct. 16 and they’ve been the stars of this family since their parents first heard their heartbeats.
When the Kopps, parishioners of Holy Family in St. Louis Park, learned they were pregnant in April 2016, they approached their ultrasound with some trepidation. They had recently miscarried their first child and they knew the disappointment and loss that followed a silent ultrasound.
Justina’s fertility hadn’t returned after that pregnancy so she worked with a doctor at a Christian-based clinic to help her cycles return. After a few months, they found out they were expecting again but never imagined they would hear four heartbeats at the ultrasound appointment.
“This is quite the shock, huh?” Justina remembered the doctor saying. Even with Justina’s fertility treatments, the probability of quadruplets was so low that statistics didn’t exist.
Justina and Matt laughed about the news for a few days and then panicked. Family and friends assured them they could handle the task with God’s help.
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, she never went on bed rest. She carried the babies until 33 weeks gestation, four weeks beyond the average gestational age of quadruplets. 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.
Today, all four match the weight and height of typical 12-month-olds and are on track with milestones such as walking. Their parents delight in their different personalities and quirks which Justina said she recognized from their temperaments in the womb.
The road to their birth, however, was not without challenges.
Justina’s care was transferred to a perinatologist practice and from the first appointment she felt at odds with her new doctors.
The Kopps knew 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 some parents begin with that mindset but later change their minds and said selective reduction would give them the best chance of 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, she said.
“You’ve got a target on your back once you don’t listen to their advice,” she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “You’re the crazy pro-life person then.”
Justina continued to see specialists but she also had regular check-ins with her doctor at Christian-based clinic.
“I had to learn throughout that pregnancy how to advocate for myself,” she said, adding that she was grateful she studied biology so she could read studies and understand her options.
After the babies were born, the family received generous help from family and friends. They are also fortunate that both sets of grandparents live nearby.
Matt is the fifth child in a family of 10, so a large family doesn’t faze him but he said he “can’t imagine raising quadruplets without a sense of faith.”
Having quadruplets compounds the sacrifice of becoming parents, Justina said, noting the challenges of just leaving the house with four little ones.
But the couple also said it means 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.”
Matt and Justina have also 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.
They were ardently pro-life before the pregnancy and their commitment has only deepened. Without the church’s teachings, Justina said she may have been tempted to have a tubal ligation. They 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.
While having four kids at one time has helped the couple trust more deeply in God they can’t help but ask: “why us?”
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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Wiering is editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.