One new baby at a time is a handful for most parents, so the thought of bringing home six infants -- when you already have twin toddlers -- is downright terrifying, from the cost of formula and diapers to the logistics of multiple 2 a.m. feedings. But even if you don't envy Jon and Kate Gosselin, the often-overwhelmed parents of this young octet, their unusual circumstances are undeniably fascinating, and great fodder for TV. "Jon & Kate Plus 8," the docu-series that has followed the Gosselins for four seasons, is TLC's most popular program.
So how did this Pennsylvania couple end up with two sets of multiples, and how do they manage eight rambunctious kids, now aged eight (twins Madelyn and Cara) and four (sextuplets Alexis, Aaden, Collin, Leah, Hannah and Joel, in order of their birth)? And how do they keep their marriage from collapsing under the strain? As you'd expect, it's not easy, but as the title of their family biography (written with Beth Carson) would suggest, the Gosselins view their lot as "Multiple Bles8ings."
"It's what God wants for us," believes Kate. "It's stressful, but I do love it." Nevertheless, as we'll explain in the next section, that doesn't mean she wasn't completely shocked when she discovered she was pregnant with six babies, the result of fertility treatments.
In the Beginning
Jon Gosselin was working at a hotel in October 1997 when Kate, a nurse, visited a friend who also worked there. The chemistry was instant between them when they were introduced, and Jon split with his then-girlfriend. The couple married June 12, 1999, in the garden of a friend's home and honeymooned at Disney World. At the time, Jon was 22 and Kate was 24, and she wanted to have a child right away. However, she discovered she had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, which would make conception difficult, if not impossible. "Basically, I didn't ovulate and would need help getting pregnant. So we decided to check out a fertility doctor."
Kate had intrauterine insemination, which involved implantation of Jon's sperm via a catheter. She compares the procedure with in vitro fertilization, stating "there are no eggs removed or put back, as with IVF." She became pregnant on the second attempt, and gave birth to Cara and Madelyn on October 8, 2000. When the girls turned one, she started thinking about having another child. As with the twins, the second fertility treatment worked, but this time the news was a shock.
"I will never forget this day as long as I live," Kate vividly recalls. "There were seven sacs with four yolk sacs, or babies, in four of them. At the count of four, I was scared. At five I started crying and at six, I was shaking, absolutely sobbing. We were told that there was a possibility of four, but we were truly unaware that there were seven on the day that our procedure was done, or we would not have gone through with it," she emphasizes, noting that one of the embryos didn't develop. Eliminating any of the eggs was not an option. "We were absolutely opposed to reduction."
Kate went on bed rest at seven weeks and was hospitalized at 20 weeks. The sextuplets were born just shy of 30 weeks on May 22, 2004, weighing around five pounds each (2.27 kilograms). Kate weighed 205 pounds at the time, and later had a tummy-tuck to tighten the stretched skin and muscles in her midsection. Both she and Jon had lost their jobs, compounding the financial strain, and they relied on an army of dozens of volunteers that helped with feedings and diaper changes. "There were days I just wanted to cover my head with a pillow. But I knew my babies were counting on me, and I had to keep it together," Kate remembers.
Rescue came from an unexpected source: reality TV. A news report about the Gosselins had reached a Discovery Health channel producer, which led to the special "Surviving Sextuplets and Twins" in May 2006 and its sequel the following year. Their popularity made a series a no-brainer for Discovery, and financially enticing for the family. Also, "we didn't have time to film and we like having pictures and video," adds Jon, who'd landed an IT sector job. But having cameras in their home and following them around four days a week definitely took getting used to.
Life in a Fishbowl
Kate, who prided herself on neatness and organization at home, saw those give way to pandemonium and chaos as the cameras rolled. TV also highlighted the couple's divergent temperaments and parenting styles -- Kate is Type A and bossy, Jon is laid back -- and that often leads to arguments. Kate thinks they're just being honest. "Our marriage is going to go through many more years of fine-tuning. Right now it's taking a beating, because we have a house full of children."
This warts-and-all view of marriage is a breath of fresh air to many but has earned the Gosselins their share of negative feedback, which they ignore. "First of all, we don't have time to worry about what people are saying, and second of all, we know that our show is benefiting so many people that we need to continue. Any flak we receive is just typical stuff that anyone on TV on a regular basis receives," reasons Kate. "Furthermore, although this is the absolute hardest job --aside from raising eight kids, that is -- that Jon and I have ever had, it is also the most amazing blessing that we can be home with our children while working."
While it's sometimes hard for them to watch scenes where they conflict or don't handle situations well, they realize that's part of doing a reality show. "You get the good, the bad and the ugly, and we are determined to be the exact same people that we are when the cameras aren't there. Many people have been helped by our honesty. So are we sorry that certain things are aired? Never," Kate insists, assuring audiences that she and Jon are "closer than we've ever been." "We're still working on ourselves and our marriage. Isn't everybody?"
Managing a household and eight kids is, of course, a challenge. "I feel overwhelmed at times with the amount of organizing there is to do!" Kate exclaims. "All I can say is that I am constantly running over in my head ways to make things go smoother -- trips, closets, laundry procedures, et cetera -- to ensure that each process is as seamless as possible."
The Gosselins have meals catered on shooting days but otherwise, Kate cooks from scratch, organically. There's no time for special orders. "If you don't want the dinner I've made, the next meal is breakfast," she declares. The family has part-time help, but receives no assistance from Kate's parents or Jon's mother, who variously live far away, or disapprove of and don't want to take part in the TV show.
Traveling with eight children is always a major enterprise, but it hasn't stopped the Gosselins. "We are determined to travel and always have been, even in the days of two kids," says Kate, who relies on DVD movies to keep the kids occupied. "Since the kids don't watch a lot of TV normally, it's exciting for them to see a movie on the road. I always take plenty of snacks and car toys -- little toys that are amusing but don't annoy us with loud sounds. And we do it a lot so they are very accustomed to long drives…I really don't sweat it anymore."
The Gosselins use shorter drives for one-on-one time with individual offspring. "There is an errand rotation," says Jon, who'll take one kid at a time to the supermarket or the bank. They have to plan time with each other, too. "When the kids are in bed, we like to hang out, have conversations and watch movies together," says Kate.
Eight is Enough
"My roughest day now doesn't compare to what we went through in those early months," Kate reflects, but if having eight infants was incredibly daunting, an octet of rambunctious, verbal children poses a new set of challenges for the Gosselins. "It doesn't get easier as they get older," she confirms. "It's just different. Now they can talk back to us. We have a whole bunch of talking, running-around kids with opinions so it's getting scary."
That apprehension increases when she contemplates their teen years: the image of a houseful of 13-year-olds is "too painful to think about." Nevertheless, she's even more concerned about the kids leaving home some day. "I'm already worried about that empty-nest syndrome," she says.
That doesn't mean she expects to be expecting again. "I can honestly say, unless God has other plans, I will never have more kids!" she declares, though she looks forward to being a grandmother. "I have very vivid dreams of our family in the future -- a house full of love, laughter, and lots of grandkids to spoil!"
For lots more information on Jon and Kate, their brood and related topics, skip on over to the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
- ABC News. http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Parenting/story?id=6042238
- Good Housekeeping. http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/names/celebrity/jon-kate-plus-eight
- Gosselin Family Web site. http://www.sixgosselins.com/
- TLC. Jon and Kate Plus 8 Fan Site. http://tlc.discovery.com/tv/jon-and-kate/jon-and-kate.html