Photographs by Jackie Molloy
Story by Kyle Almond, CNN
Courtney and Cameron Larson burst into celebration when the ultrasound technician told them they were having twins.
The couple from Lima, New York, had started fertility treatments as soon as they found out that Courtney had a condition that would make it hard for her to conceive. This was a thrilling success.
Then the tech asked Cameron to sit down before delivering some shocking news:
There were actually four babies on the way.
The Larsons left the doctor’s office in a daze.
“We just sat in my husband’s car for like 15 minutes and didn’t even talk,” Courtney remembers. “We were like, what just happened?
“And then for the week after, I’d be driving home from work and I would burst out laughing and then I would immediately start crying. It was just like this wide range of emotion because you’re like, ‘I’m finally pregnant,’ and then it’s like: ‘Oh my gosh, I’m having four babies. I can’t do this.’ ”
Larson gave birth to her “quads” in 2012 — two boys (Brody and Cooper) and two girls (Ashlyn and Kylie). All were born prematurely and weighed under 2 pounds each.
Preterm labor is common for mothers delivering more than one baby at once, and the chances go up when more babies are involved. In 2017, the most recent year on record, there were 193 babies born in quadruplet deliveries in the United States. All were premature.
Larson’s babies spent months in the neonatal intensive care unit, and when they came home they had to be fed through feeding tubes at first.
Because they were born prematurely, there were other medical issues and developmental delays. The children have needed various surgeries and therapies to get their development back on track.
It was a trying start for the family, and that’s not even counting the normal parenting struggles. Like changing diapers.
It has been estimated that parents of quadruplets will change close to 30,000 diapers before their kids are potty-trained. Larson said that might have been the hardest part.
“It was constant,” she said. “There were always diapers needing to be changed. It never stopped.”
Photographer Jackie Molloy met the Larsons when the kids were 2 years old. She remembers walking into their house back then and seeing what she calls “love and chaos.”
“The smell that came from that (diaper-changing) room was out of control in the morning. And the kids were wailing,” she said. “But then as soon as they were done, it was like this sweet tender moment with their parents. It just constantly felt like this balance of the love and the chaos that is their life.”
Molloy started photographing the family for a college assignment at the Rochester Institute of Technology, but even after graduating she has continued to document the children and their growth. Molloy visits at least twice a year to take new photos and catch up.
The early years were especially tough, she said.
“I’d spend all day with them and her, and I ended up napping on the couches while the kids went to preschool because it was so exhausting,” Molloy recalled.
Larson said she was totally open to having a photographer around. She said she’s not the greatest at taking pictures, and she and her husband normally have their hands full anyway. Plus, Molloy captured moments she wouldn’t have even thought of photographing.
Molloy has found it interesting to see how the children, who are now 7, have grown up with the camera.
“They really used to ignore it for the most part,” she said. “They went into a touching-the-lens phase when they were like probably 3 and 4. And now they’re in the stick-their-tongue-out phase … where they’re going to photo-bomb your picture. That’s where they’re at right now.
“I’ve kind of embraced the stick-your-tongue-out vibe because that’s a phase. This is who they are, they’re 7. It’s what 7-year-olds do.”
Larson said the early years were physically exhausting as a parent, and now it’s more emotionally exhausting.
“When they’re all home, there’s always someone talking, there’s always someone crying, there’s always someone getting teased, there’s always someone fighting,” she said.
But she embraces the chaos.
“There’s never a dull moment,” Larson said. “And one thing that I do love is there’s always built-in playmates. There’s always someone for them to play with, there is someone for them to go to school with, someone to ride the bus with.”
She grew up with only brothers growing up, and no one close to her age.
“I envy that they each have like a good friend that’s always there for them,” she said. “Even though they bug each other and they tease each other a lot, they still really care and love each other.”
The family is looking at maybe moving into a new house in the future. Right now, the kids share bedrooms, and soon they’re going to want more space.
They’re not the only ones.
“Right now we only have one full bathroom, so there’s six of us sharing a bathroom. That’s fun,” Larson jokes. “I always find toothpaste on my towels because they’re wiping their mouths.”
The plan for Molloy is to keep taking photos of the children until they graduate high school. Larson has started her own Instagram account to document their progress, and she offered some advice for other parents who might be in the same boat that she was seven years ago.
“You’ve just got to take things one day at a time,” she said. “When we start thinking too far ahead, we get really stressed out. Like when we start thinking about all four of them driving, or all four of them in college, or all four of them going their separate ways and doing four different activities, it definitely stresses us out. But five years ago, (the idea of) them going to kindergarten stressed us out. …
“I was definitely worried when it came to having four kids at once. And I know if I can handle this, anyone can handle this.”