When the Tablada girls — Elizabeth and Emma, Rachel and Rebecca —walk across the BankUnited stage Thursday to receive their Southwest High School diplomas, parents Les and Lisa will feel the obligatory pride, of course. They will get teary-eyed at the first strains of Pomp and Circumstance and sniffle when the quadruplets’ names are called.
But their hearts will fill with a good deal of relief, too. “When they were little and I wasn’t getting much sleep and it was such hard work, I couldn’t have imagined this,” says Lisa, 46.
And from Les, 58, some nostalgic regret: “How did they get from being so little to where they are now?”
At 18, the Tablada quads are still something of a phenomenon. In school, teachers pepper them with questions and new friends express shock, even doubt, when they find out.
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Accustomed to the attention and sometimes embarrassed by it, too, the girls shrug it off. “We don’t make a big deal of it,” says Elizabeth.
But a big deal it is. Twins, their friends have seen, triplets maybe. But four of a kind? Quads are rare —1 per 600,000 births.
Rebecca explains it this way: “It’s like having three other sisters all the same age.”
Though the sisters have diverse interests and, according to their mother, “very, very different personalities,” the four plan to attend Miami Dade College. Elizabeth wants to do “something with children,” maybe become a speech therapist. Rebecca, who taught herself how to play the guitar, plans a degree in music therapy. Emma is trying to make up her mind between business, computer science and biology, and Rachel will likely go into sociology or science.
All will remain at home — but don’t ask about bedroom assignments. While Emma has her own room, a teeny one on the first floor of the family’s home in Westchester, two of the quads share a bigger room and a third bunks with a younger sister, 16-year-old Mara. Each of them wants their own room, a little privacy and some extra space, but as Lisa tells them, “It’s not going to happen.”
Born on an Easter Sunday, the quads have had their milestones chronicled by The Miami Herald: when they were baptized at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, at a first birthday celebration at Jackson Memorial Hospital, when they turned 13 while attending Rockway Middle School.
Their father, who owns a translation business, has taken hundreds of pictures of the girls over the years. “I sit there every day and look at them on my laptop and I think, they’re grown up. They’re all grown up.”
Lisa and Les have been married for 23 years. Early on, a fertility doctor told her she had only a 25 percent chance of getting pregnant. Obviously he was wrong. When an ultrasound technician initially announced she was carrying two, “I could get that. I had toyed around with the idea of twins,” she recalls.
But then the staff counted two more babies. “My husband went white as a sheet,” she adds. “I had to laugh.”
Born at 28 weeks, the babies spent about two months in the hospital while their lungs developed. Because some of the girls came home before the others, it gave the Tabladas time to adjust, namely to move into a bigger house.
“The first months were a blur,” Lisa says. “The family helped here and there, but mostly on the weekends. It was a 24-hour job for us.”
Feeding was assembly line, and for a while the quads slept two to a crib. When little sister Mara came along two years later, “she was such a breeze. The pregnancy was wonderful. I could walk. I could breathe,” Lisa remembers with a laugh.
As the quads grew, they shared birthday parties and clothes and bunk beds. They traded class notes and helped each other with homework. They formed — and broke — alliances. “Some days they get along better,” Lisa says, “and some days they all gang up on one.”
The sharing, though, has always been an annoyance. Not one of the four sister hesitated when asked about the hardest part of being a quad.
Emma: “I never really had a special day all my own. I was always one of the girls, one of the four. Sometimes I would just like to be considered Emma, by myself.”
Elizabeth: “I didn’t like sharing birthdays.”
Rachel: “We pretty much had to share everything and sometimes we got into fights.”
And Rebecca: “You don’t get as many birthday gifts, that’s all.”
But the sisters added that the benefits outweighed the price. They had more clothes to pick from. They always had at least one playmate nearby and, because their talents are varied, they were able to help each other in school.
“I think,” says Rachel, “it made me more aware of other people and what their needs are.”