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Gang of Four

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Like any new mother of quadruplets, Stacey Beehler is more than a little awed by the turn her life has taken. On June 30, when the last of her newborns came home from the hospital, “I lined them up side by side, all in a row,” she says. “Then I stood back and looked at them, and suddenly it hit home: ‘Four! That’s how many babies I have.’ ”

In Beehler’s case the births were remarkable not merely because they were multiple. On the morning of June 6, as David Austin (4 lbs.), Michele Lynn (4 lbs. 3 oz.), Kylee Ileen (2 lbs. 15 oz.) and Shiann Nicole (4 lbs. 2 oz.) arrived a minute apart, Beehler, 35, wasn’t the one who bore them. Instead, she tearfully held the hand of her best friend Debbie Vibber, 30, who—after six hours of labor and a cesarean delivery at Phoenix’s Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center—became only the third woman in medical history to deliver surrogate quadruplets.

“People don’t understand what kind of gift this is,” says the quads’ father, David Beehler, 35, a supervisor at a Phoenix equipment-rental store. “It’s giving a piece of yourself.” Adds Stacey, who in 14 childless years of marriage endured 10 miscarriages: “Debbie’s an angel. She was willing to alter her life to give us our dream.”

That dream began not long after the Beehlers wed in 1986. Both wanted children, but Stacey couldn’t conceive. “The doctors were puzzled about the cause,” she recalls. “They thought maybe I produced antibodies that would attack the pregnancies.” The couple never seriously considered adoption, says Stacey, “because of all the red tape. I really wanted my own baby.”

And so two years ago Vibber, the mother of two young children who works with Stacey at a “Wells Fargo bank, offered to serve as her surrogate. “It got so hard to see them go through all her miscarriages time and time again,” says Vibber, whose husband, Phil, 32, manages the store where David works. “I wanted to help them have the family they always wanted. So I did it.”

In November, in what by now has become a near-routine procedure, Vibber was implanted with five 1-day-old embryos that were the product of Stacey’s eggs and David’s sperm. Six weeks later, to the Beehlers’ shock, an ultrasound revealed that Debbie was carrying quadruplets. Only about five such “spontaneous” quadruplet births—arising without fertility drugs—occur among the nearly 4 million births in the United States each year. Like the Beehlers, “Debbie and Phil were stunned by the news,” says Dr. Jay Nemiro, director of the Arizona Center for Fertility Studies, who oversaw the pregnancy. “But Debbie had made an unconditional offer, and she and Phil never hesitated in their decision.”

The 5’2″ Vibber, who began her pregnancy at 149 lbs., gained 63 of the 75 lbs. doctors said were necessary just to sustain the babies. At five months, she was ordered to bed. Throughout the pregnancy, Stacey arrived almost daily to help with chores and the care of the two Vibber children, Justin, 4, and sister Jordan, 2. Finally, one morning in her eighth month, Vibber went into labor and was taken to Good Samaritan. The C-section went perfectly, says Dr. Karrie Francois, who delivered the babies assisted by a surgical team of two dozen. “After it was over, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room.”

The same could be said of the Beehlers’ four-bedroom home in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale, where the new parents have stockpiled a month’s supply of disposable diapers, along with three changing tables, four cribs, two double strollers and four car-seat carriers. “When the babies all cry at the same time, they’re a handful,” says David. “But it’s nothing we haven’t been able to handle.”

And they’re getting plenty of support from the woman who made it all possible. “We’ve always been so alike yet so different,” Stacey says of Debbie. “Now, with the quads, we’ll be forever best friends.”

Susan Schindehette

Ron Arias in Phoenix