'From one to five kids in two minutes'

October 08, 2021
Blake Hampton smiles.
Blake Hampton smiles in her room in the neonatal intensive care unit at the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital. Photo by Sarah Pack

Ally and Justin Hampton had a plan. They’d try to get pregnant with a second child in January, and Ally would give birth before their scheduled military transfer from South Carolina to Washington. Justin’s a loadmaster with the Air Force.

“We thought we were being all responsible – we’re being really cheeky and outwitting the system,” he said. “But you know what they say about people who plan.”

Man plans, and God laughs. It’s an old saying about the unpredictability of life. And the Hamptons’ lives were, in fact, about to be turned upside down – in an amazing way. But the couple had no way of knowing that when they decided to get help getting pregnant.

Ally Hampton holds one of her quadruplets. 
Ally Hampton's quadruplets weighed less than three pounds each when they were born. Photo provided

“We had fertility struggles with our first child. We have a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter. And so we went to Coastal Fertility. We were in that ‘unexplained’ category. My numbers were great. His numbers were great. Their exact words were, ‘We should be baby factories,’” Ally said.

“They were right,” Justin said wryly, nine months later in an interview at the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital.

The Hamptons started with an entry-level fertility treatment called intrauterine insemination. It involves inserting washed and concentrated sperm directly into the uterus. 

“You’re supposed to wait two weeks before doing a pregnancy test,” Ally said. “But I was not patient and did it three days early. It was positive. It was like a black line.”

They called the doctor’s office and went in for a blood test to check for the presence of a hormone to confirm the pregnancy. “My numbers were just ridiculously high. And so they were like, ‘Come in, we want you to do more blood work. And if that comes out the way we think it is going to come out, we want you to come to an early ultrasound,” Ally said.

The Hamptons hoped that was a good sign. Maybe it was twins. But they were also cautious. The American Pregnancy Association puts IUI’s success rate at 20% per cycle, depending on certain factors. 

“We’d gone from being excited about the pregnancy to thinking there's a chance that it's a chemical pregnancy,” Justin said, referring to the possibility of an early pregnancy loss. 

Nurse Jacqueline Jacobus holds Ava. 
Nurse Jacqueline Jacobus helps Ava fall asleep. Ava and her sister Blake share a room in the neonatal intensive care unit. Photo by Sarah Pack

But during the ultrasound, the doctor confirmed Ally was pregnant – and said something that surprised them. “He was just like, ‘I’m going to start from left to right.’ And we were like, ‘What?’” Ally said.

“Then he started counting. He said, ‘Here’s one. Here’s two.’ We were like ‘Huh, OK.’ He said, ‘Here’s three.’ We were like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ And then he goes, ‘And four,’” Ally said.            

“You can stop counting now. Please stop counting,” Justin joked as they remembered that moment.

“We were in shock,” Ally said.

The doctor sent them to MUSC Health, which has a Maternal Fetal Medicine program for high-risk pregnancies. Its team includes doctors, nurse-midwives, a genetic counselor and sonographers who do ultrasound imaging.

Rebecca Wineland, M.D., was among the first from that team to meet the stunned couple. “I remember seeing them March 18th. They had just come from Coastal Fertility. We talked about the risks of a pregnancy with four babies,” she said.

But they also talked about what the Hamptons had in their favor. “Alexandria is an extremely healthy person. The majority of people with a singleton pregnancy have aches and pains,” Wineland said. “But she was such a trouper and a fabulous patient.”

The Hamptons visit Ava and Blake, who needed to stay in the hospital a little longer than their sister Colby and brother Colt. 
The Hamptons visit Ava and Blake every day, waiting for the day they can bring the girls home. Photo by Sarah Pack

Ally and Justin understood the risks. “It was always, ‘Don’t anticipate everyone making it.’ So we were always on edge. We literally called them baby A, B, C and D. We didn’t want to get too attached,” she said.

“We’re very realistic,” Justin agreed. But as the weeks passed, their attachment grew — and so did the babies. 

Quadruplets' story

Ally and Justin Hampton were not planning to have quadruplets, but they're thrilled with their new life.

Colby and Colt Hampton. 
Colby and Colt were strong enough to go home with their family. They returned, with their parents and older sister, for the family's daily visit to see Ava and Blake. Photo by Sarah Pack

“From the beginning, they told us they were all in their own amniotic sacs. So they're not identical. That actually increases the chance for survival. They also had their own placentas, which meant that they were getting their own nutrients. And so we were just more and more like, ‘This is real,’” Justin said.

Barbara Head, M.D., tracked the babies’ growth through ultrasounds, using high-frequency sound waves to create images that let her monitor them in the womb. And she had not only regular ultrasound but also higher-tech 3D and 4D ultrasounds at her disposal. The quadruplets needed to be watched closely.

Name tags on a window with Ava, Blake, Colby and Colt. 
Name tags on the door of Ava and Blake's room. The quadruplets, three girls and one boy, are not identical. Photo by Sarah Pack

“Higher order multiple pregnancies have a variety of potential complications, including growth abnormalities. Monitoring the babies' growth and amniotic fluid with ultrasound allows us to ensure that growth is normal and if it’s not, appropriately time interventions such as glucocorticoid therapy to enhance lung maturity before delivery,” Head said.

Wineland said one baby was growth restricted, meaning he was below the 10th percentile in size for his gestational age. “And so we were watching him to see how far along we could carry this pregnancy.”

On Aug. 3, when Ally was 29 weeks pregnant, the maternal fetal medicine team said it was time for a C-section to give each baby the best chance at a healthy arrival. They were born that evening.

“We had the C-section, and they popped out,” Ally said. “It was 8:49, 8:50, 8:50, 8:51. They were all here, and it was just crazy. I mean, it was just such a surreal moment. I think they had 13 nurses waiting to help — they had everybody lined up.”

Foot of quadruplet Ava Hampton. 
Ava's foot is hooked up to a monitor. Photo by Sarah Pack

The nurses took the babies to the neonatal intensive care unit. They were the first quadruplets born in the hospital since it opened in February of 2020.

“As crazy as it sounds for somebody who went from one to five kids in two minutes, I knew that everything was okay, because every doctor — from the fertility center until now – even all of our stays in downstairs in the antepartum room, in the labor and delivery area in here, they've all been part of the MUSC family. It was just incredible,” Justin said.

Three girls, Ava, Blake and Colby, and their brother, Colt — the smallest one — are going home one by one as they grow strong enough to thrive without being in the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital. 

And their parents are growing used to the idea that while plans can be good, life’s curveballs can be even better. “I think we’ve already gotten into that, like, ‘This is our story’. I don’t know how we did it before,” Justin said.

He and Ally thanked the health care team that gave the first part of that story a happy ending. 

“It’s been just like our second home; we’re here all the time. We love everybody,” Ally said.