quadruplets as infants
All photos courtesy of Jamie Valentino
Life

What It’s Like To Be a Quadruplet

“Mutual friends would call my three brothers and me “the quads”, rarely inviting one without the other. I hated the pity inclusion, as though an invisible placenta kept us within close proximity permanently.”
December 14, 2020, 7:09am

Our lives began in the Colombian capital of Bogotá simultaneously, my heart beating to the same rhythm as three others. The media celebrated the birth of David, Pablo, Lorenzo, and me in 1994 as if it were a miracle. It's weird to receive praise for just being born, but newspapers and magazines printed the news as such: ​"The first quadruplets safely delivered in 30 years."​ Even Mom survived despite the doctor's predictions. He had initially suggested aborting two embryos, and I’ll emphasise for the remainder of time that as the firstborn, one of those would’ve been me.

quadruplets

Outside our home in Bogota, Colombia; Pablo, Lorenzo, me, and David.

"How did she do it?" everyone asked as if there's a life hack to being an immigrant, single parent. "She's so brave," they would comment, unsolicitedly, as if she should be afraid of us. "IVF?" mostly older women questioned in a whisper.

There isn’t a history of multiples on either of my parent’s sides, but Mom still achieved the one in 700,000 chance of conceiving natural quadruplets. She always wished for a large family, and I suppose God made it practical for her.

As children, the four of us were inseparable in the same coincidental way hostages kept together during bank robberies form a bond. It might have been different if we looked alike enough to get into the adventures of impersonating each other’s identities like the Olsen twins, or shared some kind of twin telepathy for our own TV show. But being a quadruplet was only different because outsiders couldn’t get over it. For us though, everyday life felt no more special than a family with a herd of brothers. Fraternal twins don’t share any more remarkable genetic similarities than regular siblings.

Photographs of our infancy conceal Mom’s five childcare secrets: a nanny per child and cheap labour. Mom dressed us in the same attire with a determination to emphasise our quadruplet-ness, but I fought this with a vendetta. When my brothers wore ninja costumes for Halloween, I proudly strutted as Winnie the Pooh. 

quadruplets on halloween as superheroes and winnie the pooh

Halloween in Colombia, they chose a superhero theme, I thought Winnie the Pooh was cooler; Lorenzo, David, Pablo, Mom, and me

During the first couple of years of elementary school, after moving to Miami, my brothers and I were forced to be temporarily taken out of class for ESOL every day, and I cried to Mom about this at night. It is the name Florida gave to its programme for teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages, explicitly designed to improve the language proficiency of students whose native language is not English. I considered my Spanglish enough proof that this was not necessary. Experience hadn’t taught me yet the meaning of prejudice or discrimination, but I understood the shame of being labelled different. 

quadruplets in school uniform

Outside a private school in Colombia; the education system there is one of the reasons Mom chose to immigrate to the U.S.; Pablo, David, me, Lorenzo.

Later, when the school labelled me "gifted" along with my other twin, Lorenzo, we distinguished ourselves as the "smart ones." Mom reassured the other two, Pablo and David, left in regular classes, that it didn't make them less. "Everyone is smart in their own way," she would say.

"But some are just​ smarter,​" I’d point out with pleasure, reasoning being that different was okay if the implication meant better. I failed to understand the power of words and how they simmer in a person's self-esteem. 

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Our reality changed when a man and his daughter soon claimed to be part of our family. My brothers accepted their presence almost immediately, and I perceived this like a betrayal. It’s supposed to be us against the world—including them, remember? When I purposefully argued with him, they remained quiet. I felt alone for the first time. 

I enjoyed playing video games with the girl, Joelle, more. My brothers liked Halo; I preferred The Sims. She built beautiful houses with me and didn’t complain when I wasted an excessive amount of time choosing what clothing and accessories the characters wore in extreme detail. Everyone liked Super Smash Bros and Mario Kart, but she didn’t consider it weird that I chose female characters. Hanging out with Joelle felt less forced, and it was the first time I realised I was different from my brothers in a manner that was unexplainable but “wrong”. Throughout middle school, I followed their lead in interests like basketball and skateboarding. We all naturally exhibited distinctive traits, but theirs seemed effortlessly aligned. As I began to refer to her, my sister continued to serve as a refuge for my personality. 

"The quads”, mutual friends would call us, rarely inviting one without the other. I hated the pity inclusion, as though an invisible placenta kept us within close proximity permanently. My brothers and I inevitably drifted apart when we hit our teenage years, embracing our fraternal features and the autonomy awarded by age, desperate to live a life fuller than 1/4th. That's how it felt when I wasn't worthy of being referenced by name. 

quadruplets at prom in tuxedos

Prom, I chose to be different with all black; Me, David, Pablo, Lorenzo.

High school presented itself as the gateway to a new identity when I applied to attend a different school from the rest. I applied to DASH, a magnet programme specialising in the arts. Its ranking as the top five in the U.S. didn't matter, nor was I sure about my desire to be an artist. But I knew my talent distinguished me. What felt like a lifetime of shared birthday parties had created a black hole of greed in me that failed to be satisfied by Mom merely serving four birthday cakes. I despised that their relation preceded my presence, and so, having to take a private bus to the metro to take a public bus to arrive at my new school every day seemed like a small price to pay.

I walked the halls as if in witness protection, except weeks passed, and the omnipotent secret never struck a chord in dialogue. Apparently, “Are you a quadruplet?” wasn't as common of a question as I worried. This is when I realised that the problem wasn't the attention I received from being a multiple, but ​sharing it. This wasn’t to be for long though. One day soon after, the vice principal summoned me to her office and said she was sorry that I would not be returning. Confused, I glanced at Mom sitting in front of her desk. “We'll talk about it when we get home,” she said, which served as my cue to make a scene.

Leaving DASH, never to return again, it stung hearing Mom comment on how outlandish and weird the students dressed. Her concern had begun during a family dinner when I’d shared that my history midterm was sketching a life-size Greek base with charcoal; the best one chosen promised an "A" for the semester.

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"My teacher said ​his​ boyfriend will help judge," I added, unsure why, maybe, to gauge their reaction. The implication that the school's unconventional nature would negatively impact my education angered me but not for the reasons I’d expressed.

Mom initially let me go for the same reason that she let me participate in the gifted programme, refusing to let us pass on opportunities to stay together. However, I’d never considered she was worried about college. In my gut, I felt she didn’t want the environment to change me.

“What about all my friends?” I’d cried, “My brother’s high school doesn't even offer art classes!” Unknowingly, DASH, a school that prides itself in acceptance and diversity, provided the same freedom to be myself like interacting with my sister did.

I never made plans to see any of the kids I swore I couldn't live without, so they never discovered about my extensive experience sharing a womb. 

For years, I struggled to be different but later, quivered in anxiety at the thought of being labelled as such. This was a time when “that’s so gay,” and “faggot” were used without a technical definition and to strike down anything against the norm or lame. I instantly discarded forever any style of clothing, interest, or action labelled as such. Begrudgingly borrowing one of my brother's uniforms the next day, I wore one until turning 20. 

I lived a surprisingly successful straight life, copying whatever my brothers did, picking and choosing to my benefit, like three breathing hetero manuals. Doing the same activities together also facilitated sharing a car. To put it simply: Senior year arrived with us as President of Senior Class, Vice President of Senior Class (me), President of Student Government, and Vice President of Student Government. Our campaign slogan? “Vote for the Quads!"“ (I'm cringing with you.)

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Before high school graduation, my three brothers faced a car crash but made it out with minor scratches and one concussion. I found myself drunk and high somewhere in South Beach that same night, another personal tendency. Mom called around 2 AM, but the news failed to sober me abruptly as it does in movies. I forgot about it until receiving a selfie from the hospital the next day.

“OMG, what happened?!” I​ messaged. I never forgot about that car accident and considered it similar to why a presidential cabinet shouldn't all board the same plane.

Later, each of us attended a different college in a different city, with one of the elementary "dumb ones" heading to Harvard. After research, I chose whatever acceptance would land me in New York. Finally, comfortable in the safe space of early adulthood, I invited my brothers for dinner during a weekend visit and served gay for dessert. They met me with the shrug of unconditional love. Mom called, upset I’d waited so long. My insecurity of being a black sheep in a herd that couldn’t appear more homogenous blurred their idiosyncrasies. Wearing the faux skin of heteronormativity prevented me from letting them get to know me, and in turn, getting to know their innate character differences. 

New friends inquire about our upbringing or ask mundane questions hoping for sitcom answers, but to me, it's more peculiar meeting someone without siblings. ​You've never had to hide your favorite groceries? Who did you exchange test answers and split homework with? Now though, a common question I also get is “Are you the only gay one?” “Yup!” I answer with a smile. 

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The pandemic temporarily reunited us all, living in the same house for the first time since adolescence. It serendipitously struck like an opportunity to get to know each other as if we were still kids living under Mom’s roof. 

quadruplets with four birthday cakes

Our pandemic birthday party but Mom still kept the tradition of four birthday cakes; David, me, Lorenzo, Pablo.

But once again, I was forced to confront my identity without them when Pablo revealed he had cancer. "Does that mean I should get tested?" I asked, still the same scared boy unwilling to confront my real fears. 

The hospital scheduled to remove the problematic testicle and replace it with a prosthetic. “I’ve slept with men who also had a fake, you know,” I disclosed to him the night before. “Really?” he asked. “You can’t tell? I don’t want every girl to know immediately.” I replied, “Not at all; it’s a little more solid but hardly noticeable.” Ironically, Pablo’s real worry was one that only his homosexual twin brother with a lot of field experience could alleviate. 

Our life trajectories, happenstance and decisions will not always intertwine. Still, I’m willing to live in whatever reality arises if it's one we can all be in together. Recently running into a former DASH classmate at a restaurant, I shared the great news of Pablo's seamless recovery.

“Wow, I didn't even know you had a brother,” she remarked. I replied, “Actually, ​I'm a quadruplet.​”

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