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Omaha Magazine

Four Children, Five Minutes: One Omaha Couple's Quadruplet-Sized Surprise

Dec 30, 2021 11:49AM ● By Scott Stewart
couple holds quadruplets on grey couch

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

Life is scary sometimes.

Some moments define the direction a person takes in life, such as landing a dream job, saying “I do,” or learning of the loss of a loved one. Good or bad, change means uncertainty.

But sometimes those life-altering milestones aren’t contained to moments. The uncertainty can linger...and linger...and linger.

The birth of a child—or, in the case of Maria and Joseph Sawaged, four children in five minutes—is one of those moments. Facing the challenge of infertility, which the Sawageds did for five years, also preceded the joy, prompting a series of more difficult moments.

They stayed hopeful through 13 rounds of fertility treatments, unwavering in their commitment to grow their family, no matter how long it took.

Maria and Joseph first met at Metro Community College in 2009.

“I still remember she denied me the first time,” Joseph said. “I think it was the day after that she said I may as well take a chance on this guy.” 

hey married in 2014, and both wanted children. Maria wanted to start trying sooner, but Joseph wanted to make sure they had a good financial foothold first.

“When we were thinking of getting ready, my first thoughts were ‘I didn’t know the expense of a baby,’” Joseph said.

He wanted debts paid off and to move into their forever home together.

About six years ago, Maria said he had a surgery—nothing too serious, but enough to question where they were in their lives.

“At that time, we decided we were going to start trying,” Maria said.

After a couple months, they started a simple fertility treatment. It didn’t work.

That would become a recurring theme for the Sawageds. They tried, and tried, and tried, working with a specialist who cautioned them that fertility treatments could eventually do more harm than good.

The treatments were also expensive. They would try for a month and then take a couple months off to relax and save up money.

“It was on and off for five years that we tried,” Maria said. “It just wasn’t working.

Joseph described feeling “just as bad as you can get.” Every time, it didn’t work. Every time, more disappointment, a little more doubt.

“You get really down,” Joseph said, not wanting to revisit the agony of those moments.

Still, he said they didn’t assign blame. They were told it was unexplained infertility, a frustrating diagnosis faced by up to a third of women seeking treatment for infertility, but one that still means pregnancy is possible.

“To this day, there’s no reason why,” Joseph said. “It’s just what our bodies were born with. There is nothing that we did on purpose that had done this.”

They decided to seek out a new doctor with Methodist Health Systems to explore new options.

“We would have [gone] to any length to eventually get there,” Joseph said. 

Eventually, they got there. After 12 unsuccessful rounds of treatments, they were told the intrauterine insemination finally worked, and the moment would soon come when they welcomed their first child into the world.

The Elkhorn couple knew going into fertility treatments that a multiple pregnancy was a distinct possibility. Maria is a twin herself, so it didn’t come as a huge surprise when they learned they were going to have more than one child.

“I thought I was going to have triplets when I got pregnant,” Maria said. “I just didn’t expect four.”

Since Joseph couldn’t accompany Maria to the appointment due to COVID-19 restrictions, she recorded the conversation with the physician, who started out by saying “Don’t be alarmed.”

The catastrophizing began. What’s the worst-case scenario? Maria played it cool with her husband. Then the doctor’s recorded voice said: “There are four babies.”

The quadruplets arrived on April 30, 2020, via cesarean section. They were the first set of quads at Methodist Women’s Hospital since 2017.

The Sawageds had three boys and one girl: Luca Samuel (3 pounds 11 ounces, 15 ¾ inches), born at 10:36 a.m.; Julianna Sophia (2 pounds 12 ounces, 15 ¾ inches), born at 10:38 a.m.; Barrett Eli (3 pounds 11 ounces, 17 inches), born at 10:40 a.m.; and Tychus Cole (3 pounds 7 ounces, 16 ½ inches), born at 10:41 a.m.

The quadruplets spent time in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. Barrett and Tychus went home May 23, followed by Julianna on June 2 and Luca on June 4—all prior to Maria’s due date of June 25.

Methodist maternal-fetal medicine doctor Andrew Robertson specializes in high-risk pregnancies and worked with Maria nearly weekly during the early stages.

He said quadruplets only happen in about 1 in 10,000 naturally occurring pregnancies. Assisted reproductive technology has made it more commonplace.

Quadruplets average about 28 weeks of pregnancy, Robertson said. Maria made it a little past 32 weeks, avoiding complications associated with first-time pregnancies.

“She beat the odds,” Robertson said, attributing that to her “determination and her ability to carry pregnancies.” He added: “We didn’t have to deliver her because she got sick, which is a very common reason we do have to deliver some women preterm.”

Robertson has been part of about 3,000 sets of multiples over almost three decades.

“It is very rewarding to see a successful outcome,” he said. 

Now more than 1 year old, the quadruplets are starting to have their personalities shine through. Luca loves food and to watch everyone around him. Julianna is talkative and likes to be heard—and is willing to be loud. Barrett wants to be held all the time, and Tychus is pretty much always happy.

Looking back, Joseph said he believes their initial delaying was a mistake, but he’s quick to point out that it worked out perfectly in the end.

They both said that those facing infertility should seek professional assistance. “There is nothing wrong with having to go through treatments,” Maria said. “It is sad, and it is hard, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of to have to have help to get pregnant.”

In the end, “having a baby trumps all of the process that it takes,” Joseph said.

Of course, there is a financial cost, too. Fertility treatments generally aren’t covered by insurance, and, in the U.S., they range from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars per round.

The Sawageds said they are blessed with well-paying jobs. They both work in sales at Nebraska Furniture Mart and can work from home—something they did before the coronavirus pandemic made it commonplace. That’s been a godsend since the babies arrived.

Their doctor noted that some women simply cannot get pregnant or have a healthy pregnancy, and the Sawageds showed unusual persistence in the face of unexplained infertility. 

“She went through a lot to get pregnant,” Robertson said. “She went through a lot more cycles than a lot of people would have.”

Maria also spent a month in the hospital before the babies were delivered. “There are some women that would find that very difficult or impossible to do,” Robertson said. “She wasn’t doing anything other than sitting around and helping these kids grow.”

Each one of those moments contributed to the joy the Sawageds now feel, and the many moments ahead for them and their family. 

Visit bestcare.org for more information on Methodist Health System.