The 1-in-10 million rarity has an expert in maternal-fetal medicine playfully suggesting that Ashley Ness, 35, should play the lottery: “She would be very rich”
By Jeff Truesdell
The last thing Ashley Ness expected to hear when she visited her gynecologist in February with a straightforward goal — to renew her birth control prescription — was that she was pregnant.
It took two more weeks for her to find out how pregnant.
“I’m having twins?” Ness, 35, replied to the ultrasound technician, who responded with a puzzled, “I don’t know, honey,” and then stepped out of the room.
“I’m now in the room by myself panicking, like, ‘What’s going on? What did she see?'” Ness tells PEOPLE.
“I felt like it was 20 minutes. It could have been an hour,” says Ness. “Then she comes back in, and she was like, ‘Did you tell anybody you were having twins?’ And I was like, ‘Why?’ She said, ‘Can you just hold off on telling people?'”
“So she starts the ultrasound back up,” Ness says. “And she goes, ‘Honey, there’s actually four babies in here.'”
But not just four babies. Further tests revealed four babies in two placenta sacks, indicating two sets of identical twins — a rarity of “like 1 in 10 million,” says Dr. Ahmet Baschat, director of the Center for Fetal Therapy and a professor in the Johns Hopkins Medicine Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics, who is not involved in Ness’ care.
“If she were playing the lottery, if she’s this lucky,” says Baschat, “she would be very rich.”
The phenomenon occurs, he says, when two eggs are fertilized at the same time — and then each fertilized egg divides again. Because each split egg remains encased in its own placenta — unlike traditional quadruplets, where each of the four would represent an individually fertilized egg and be encased separately — two sets of identical twins are the result.
“It’s a high-risk pregnancy,” says Baschat, a 30-year veteran of his field. “That variety I haven’t seen. We see a lot of rare stuff, but this is the first time I’m hearing this in my entire career.”
The same goes for the ultrasound technician who briefly abandoned Ness. “I had to step out of the room to Google it to make sure,” the technician said when she returned, Ness recalls.
“I’m like, ‘Okay. That makes me feel great,'” she says.
The mom is a part-time hair stylist who shares a three-bedroom home in Taunton, Massachusetts, with her 8-year-old daughter, Chanel, and her boyfriend Val, 47, a small-engine mechanic, and his two youngest sons, Isaiah, 10, and Zayden, 7. (Val has another child, 24, who lives outside of the home.)
On the way to conceiving again, Ness suffered four miscarriages. “I just kind of accepted that I was blessed with one child, and I took on his boys as my own,” Ness says. “So, I’m like, ‘My life is complete,’ never expecting to find out that I’m having another baby.” After everything, the news came as “a big shock,” she says.
Her very first thought: “It’s twins. It’s a common thing. We got this.” Indeed, twins run in her family. Her mother had twin brothers, her grandfather was a twin and her aunt had twins. Her boyfriend’s mother is also a twin, and his sister had twins.
But learning she’s carrying two sets of twins? “What am I supposed to say?” she asks. “Like, I don’t even know what I was supposed to say at that moment.”
Further consultation with her fetal-medicine specialists at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston revealed that one set of twins will be male, the other female. It’s a joyous discovery that doesn’t entirely mask Ness’ anxiety over having two pairs of kids who will look alike.
“It’s truly been just a blessing after a blessing,” says Ness. Even so, “I was like, oh man, I’m going to mix them up. I’m going to forget who’s who. They’re going to play tricks on me. This is going to be crazy.”
Friends have stepped up to help with finances. “The average cost to raise one child is 17k per year,” they wrote on a GoFundMe page that has raised more than $6,500. “The average cost for quadruplets is above 68k. These expenses do not include specialized treatments for preemies, which they will be. The babies are due in October; however, for the health and well-being of Ashley and her babies, they will most likely be delivered in mid-August. Ashley cannot return to work as these tiny miracles will need round-the-clock care for most of their first year.”
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A full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks. Ness, who is currently 24 weeks along, says her doctors have discussed a delivery by Cesarean section at around 30-32 weeks, “but not past it, just because then they feel the risk just gets higher.” Calls by PEOPLE to her doctors were not immediately returned.
For now, “I’m rearranging a lot in the house,” Ness says. “They’ll be in my room as long as they have to because, unfortunately, I don’t have a room for them. And we have to get a new vehicle because we can’t, I mean, obviously you don’t have an eight-passenger, nine-passenger vehicle just lying around.”
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“We’re fortunate. We have two vehicles, so we’ll have to take two vehicles everywhere we go. But I’m like, that’s the least of my worries right now. My main concern is to be able to save every little bit so we can build an addition, so the babies have a room.”
In the meantime, people have stepped up with the items she’ll need for the babies. “I have amazing clients that have blessed me with gifts,” she says. “Honestly, just people I don’t even know that have gone on my registry and bought me stuff. I have my car seats. I have high chairs. My father’s actually making me a table for the quads. It’s a special table that has four seats for them to sit and have their dinner. I got the Pack ‘N Play. I received some clothes.”
While Ness says she’s “very excited” about this new chapter, she admits she’s “also very nervous at the same time.”
“Because I’m a very scheduled person. I like everything on a schedule,” she adds. “So, I’m like, how am I going to get four kids on a schedule? Like, infants? It was easy having one and putting her on a schedule. I’m going to have to obviously kind of let that go a little bit and not be so crazy, because it’s not going to happen overnight.”
One thing she’s crossed off: All four kids already have names. Keeping with a family tradition that starts names with CH, she’s decided the two girls will be Chesley and Chatham, and the two boys will be Chance and Cheston.
“My sister actually started that whole thing, and she had three children that all three of their names begin with C-H,” Ness says. “So when I fell in love with [daughter] Chanel’s name, I was like, ‘Perfect, it’s a C-H name.’ We can keep that going. And then, when I found out I was having four, I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m not changing it now.’ It was very challenging, though, to find four names.”
Fortunately, her boyfriend is already “an amazing dad,” she says. But as one of four siblings herself, she knows she’ll be pressing her own sister and two brothers into service as well to help out.
“Even if they didn’t want to be part of the team, they’re going to be part of the team,” Ness says. “They have no choice.”