July 17, 2009— -- Anne Marie and Randy Hamlet's 6-week-old quadruplets are still so small that they all share one crib.
Michael is the oldest, Michelle is now the biggest at close to 9 pounds, Madison is the quiet one, and Marissa is the baby of these four babies.
The miracle of four healthy infants is especially profound for the Hamlets. After eight years of unsuccessfully trying to have a baby, Randy Hamlet's sister offered to be a surrogate for the family. Both Anne Marie Hamlet and her sister-in-law were implanted with embryos, and each woman gave birth to twins in June.
Anne Marie said she never dreamed that would happen.
"At that point, I'm like, 'We've been trying for years,'" she remembered. "I said, 'If I have to change four diapers, I'll just be so happy about it.'"
Anne Marie and Randy Hamlet met in college and married 16 years ago. They put off having children early on to concentrate on their careers and then moved into a big home in Rye Brook, N.Y., with plans to "fill up the house," as Randy said.
The couple "absolutely" expected to get pregnant right away.
"That's what I thought from the very beginning," Anne Marie, 43, said. "I'm very active and busy and very healthy, so I thought I would have no problems."
For eight years they tried to conceive.
In 2007, after her second attempt at in vitro fertilization, Hamlet got pregnant. At seven weeks, she was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism and recovered. She was given a clean bill of health for the baby, but two months later received devastating news from her doctor after a routine amniocentesis.
"Everyone left the room," Hamlet recalled. "I didn't really catch that anything was wrong. And -- so the doctor called us in, you know, took us out of the office and basically said we lost the baby."
At five months pregnant she had already been buying maternity clothes, and friends were planning a shower.
In 2008, during routine tests for her next IVF treatment, Hamlet's doctors discovered a lump and she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The cancer was caught early and Hamlet underwent a lumpectomy and radiation.
She was told she would be fine, though the doctors said that it would be risky for her to carry a baby because pregnancy would put her at higher risk for cancer recurrence.
Hamlet was more concerned with her future fertility than the prognosis for her disease.
"Instead of ... questions about the cancer, I was asking questions about, 'What do we do for our process now?'" Hamlet said.
The Gift of 'a Lifetime of a Child'
The Hamlets began the adoption process and also began to look for a surrogate. They endured disappointment after disappointment, but leaned on each other for support.
"I guess we took our strengths and we, you know, used that as we went through our journey," Anne Marie said.
When asked if she ever wondered if she wasn't meant to have kids, she said, "I'm sure I said that along the way." But in her heart, she said, "I always wanted to have kids."
Randy Hamlet's sister Marlo Barreto, a 41-year-old married mother of two who works with her brother in the family plastics business, saw the Hamlets' struggle and offered to carry a baby for them.
"Their hearts are always out," Barreto said of the couple. "If you need them, there they are. They're the type of people who deserved to have kids, who would be there to help others. And so, people should help them, you know."
Barreto has a 13-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son, and said she knew what a huge gift she was giving to the Hamlets.
"I just did it to give them the gift," she said. "You know, I just, I just felt like if I can take ten months out of my life and give them a lifetime of a child, then it's worth it."
"It wasn't as hard a decision as people think. I mean, for me, it wasn't," she said. "When you are becoming a surrogate, this is not your child. You're just carrying it. They needed help."
"She's a strong lady," Hamlet said of her sister-in-law. "I knew that. And she loves her family very much."
The doctor implanted two embryos in Barreto, who said she hoped to give the couple twins and complete their family.
"You know, this way they -- they wouldn't have to think about having another child," she said. "They would be done and that would be it."
And despite the risk of the cancer returning, Hamlet had two embryos implanted in her as well. It was a long shot, but she took the chance.
"We were at the point where [we thought] at least we'll get -- maybe we'll get one out of the four," Barreto said. "I mean, what's the chances of not getting one out of the four?"
Both women became pregnant, but they didn't tell the whole family until they were four months along. When friends asked Barreto about her pregnancy she immediately told them she was a surrogate -- "the oven" -- for her brother and his wife.
Hamlet and Barreto's pregnancies were parallel in every way: they would chat on the phone about feeling sick, swollen feet and which babies were breech.
And those names that all begin with the letter M was also something they did together.
"I felt like there was so much sharing in the very beginning, that I had to share back with the names," Hamlet said.
The babies, who are fraternal quadruplets, were born 10 days apart in June. Hamlet gave birth first, to Michael and Michelle. Barreto then gave birth to Madison and Marissa.
"She was in the operating room when they delivered the two that I was carrying, and she kept saying, 'Oh, I don't know how, like, I can thank you,'" Barreto said. "And I'm like, 'You know, just take care of these babies. That's all -- that's the way you should thank me."
The Hamlets are six weeks into parenthood, and loving every minute -- times four.
"I said, 'Anne Marie, you know, when they all cry, you're going to be going out of your mind,'" Barreto said. "She's like, 'You know, Marlo, what I went through, it's music to my ear, when you hear those babies cry. It's just music.' And she hasn't complained yet."
Hamlet says she looks at her children and "can't believe" how lucky she is.
"They're so beautiful," she said. "We just never gave up."
"You could see their faces light up, looking at those kids," Barreto said. "You do. I mean, they're like laughing, when their kids are crying. They're laughing at it, you know? Dream come true."