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The siblings are the world's first set of septuplets to survive infancy. They were born nine weeks prematurely in Des Moines to Kenny and Bobbi McCaughey (pronounced "McCoy"), residents of the nearby town of Carlisle, Iowa. The septuplets have one older sister, Mikayla Marie (born January 3, 1996).
The septuplets were conceived as the result of fertility drugs. When the couple discovered that Bobbi was carrying seven infants, they declined selective reduction to reduce the number of fetuses, saying that they would "put it in God's hands". The obstetricians primarily responsible for the medical care of the babies were Dr. Karen Drake and Dr. Paula Mahone. Alexis and Nathan have cerebral palsy although Nathan received spinal surgery in November, 2005 in order to help his walking abilities.
“In the beginning, for every ten letters we would get that were happy for us, we’d get one letter accusing us of exploiting the kids and being selfish to waste the world’s resources on a family this big,” said Bobbi in a 2007 interview. “Our neighbors never gawked; here in Carlisle—they gave us privacy. But we had complete strangers come around to the back door, knock, and ask if they could hold a baby.”
The McCaugheys were the recipients of many generous donations, including a 5500 ft² (511 m²) house, a van and diapers for the first two years, as well as nanny services, and even the State of Iowa offering full college scholarships to the babies upon their maturity and graduation from high school to any state university in Iowa. U.S. President Bill Clinton personally telephoned Mr. and Mrs. McCaughey to wish them his congratulations.
The surviving Dionne quintuplets wrote a letter warning the parents to keep the septuplets out of the public eye and not allow them to fall into the same pitfalls as their parents did, but wished them the best of luck in raising them and their personal congratulations.
By the time of the septuplets' tenth birthday in 2007, the family was declining most requests for interviews, other than annual stories with KCCI and Ladies' Home Journal. Bobbi McCaughey has noted that the preponderance of media attention does not necessarily mean they have granted many interviews, saying, “There was all kinds of stuff in the papers early on—but they never actually interviewed us. Most of it is one paper quoting another.”
Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey occasionally speak at pro-life events and continue to oppose selective reduction. Bobbi has been famously quoted as saying, “Well, come to our house, and tell me which four I shouldn’t have had!” The family continues to attend a Baptist church in West Des Moines, Iowa, where Kenny serves as a deacon. In 2010, TLC made a documentary for their thirteenth birthday that aired on December 28, 2010.