HOYT LAKES, Minn. — Allyson and Tony Ponto were married in 2005 and wanted children immediately.
Pregnancy happened quickly, but it didn't last. Allyson experienced her first ectopic pregnancy — when a fertilized egg attaches outside of the uterus — and then it was two years before she became pregnant again. The same thing happened, and then again, and again.
"We had a lot of trouble," Allyson said, but they didn't give up.
The Hoyt Lakes couple tried intrauterine insemination five times before Allyson had surgery to remove her fallopian tubes. That came at the recommendation of a doctor who advised the couple to try in vitro fertilization, an expensive procedure that involves fertilization outside of the body before transfer to the uterus.
With the help of Tony, Allyson faithfully went through the process of administering shots to prepare her body. It worked the first time, and on the Fourth of July, more than a decade after their attempts to start a family began, four healthy babies — identical twins Anna and Olivia and fraternal twins Carolyn and Morgan — were born.
"I wouldn't change anything," Allyson said.
Today, the girls are nearing 6 months old, and their parents are enjoying their emerging personalities.
"I thought it would be harder," Tony said, of caring for four infants. "It's no different than raising one. It's just four times as much."
'We don't panic'
The Ponto home is filled with multiples: bassinets, cribs, bouncer chairs, double strollers and an infant table with four built-in seats that dominates the kitchen. The family had to invest in a passenger van that would typically be used for shuttle service to fit four car seats, although so far, trips with all the babies are for important things like doctor appointments and family get-togethers. An afternoon appointment for all four means hours of preparation.
The Pontos' story, which has gained some internet and local fame, has led to diaper donations so immense that boxes fill an upstairs hall closet to the ceiling. A good thing, because the babies can go through upward of 50 a day. They each drink 30 ounces of breast milk a day, which Allyson continues to pump, along with her regular breastfeeding. (Her pumping record is 70 ounces in one sitting.) A former dental assistant, she stays home with the babies, aided regularly by her mother — who spent 22 hours a day with them the first few months — and sometimes her father on the four days Tony is at his job as a lineman for Minnesota Power.
"There is no way Allyson could do this without a lot of help," said her mother, Carol Ferris. "One baby is enough to upset the apple cart."
The girls are "good babies," their parents and grandma all say, who mostly already sleep through the night and aren't habitual criers. But there are tough times when two or more might be fussing, and the parents try to soothe the one who seems to need it the most before tending to the next, in a sort of non-medical triage.
"I feel bad because there are four," Allyson said, and it's upsetting to not be able to calm them all at once if she's alone. "I try to knock it down. The one screaming the loudest or the worst, I get that one settled" and move to the next.
But the couple work well together to manage four babies. A sign above the family's portrait on the living-room wall reads "Some call it chaos, we call it family."
Watching the parents ferry the babies from naps to cuddles to bouncer seats shows an organized chaos.
"We have our own language. I'll walk into the kitchen and he'll be holding what I needed," Allyson said of Tony. "It's just a rhythm."
"We don't panic," Tony said. "That helps."
A daily printed schedule helps keep stress at bay, and pink nail polish on one of Anna's fingernails helps Tony tell Anna and Olivia apart at this young stage. Allyson can tell them apart, she says.
They don't plan to dress the girls in matching clothes often.
"They are individual people," Allyson said.
Someday, best friends
Allyson's pregnancy was "nerve-wracking," she said, but as normal as one involving four babies can be. When she reached 28 weeks, her doctors wanted her to stay in the Twin Cities, close to her hospital. The metro area was the closest that had facilities capable of caring for quadruplets. Anna stopped growing at 32 weeks, so Allyson delivered the girls via Caesarean section then.
They spent a few days in the neonatal intensive care unit, and then one month in a special care nursery. Their weights at birth ranged from two pounds and a few ounces to three pounds and a few ounces. Some digestive issues remain because of how premature the girls were, but they are developing normally and all now weigh more than 12 pounds.
The couple didn't think twice when a doctor early on brought up the subject of possible reduction, which is done for medical reasons sometimes with multiple fetuses.
"We asked for this," Allyson said. "We said, 'whatever happens, happens. We are going to leave it up to God.'"
There was no medical reason at the time to consider it, and one never emerged.
"The fact that she was able to carry them all and there isn't a thing wrong with any of them is an absolute miracle," Ferris said, calling her daughter "a strong girl."
"When people told her she couldn't carry quads, well then she was going to," Ferris said. "When people told her she wasn't going to be able to nurse quads, then she did it. Once she makes up her mind about something, that's it."
Allyson, 40, and Tony, 44, think often about the future, as parents do. Today, a first Christmas. In a year or so, four little walkers. And someday, they hope the girls are best friends.
"That is my dream," Allyson said. "I can't wait to watch them grow older and grow into their own and see how they interact with each other. ... I never knew I could love someone so much. You can't explain it."
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