A delighted couple have celebrated their first ever Christmas at home – with their miracle quadruplets.
Identical twin brothers Gionni and Peppe, and identical twin sisters Melina and Mia, all weighed the same or less than a bag of sugar when they were born three months early in December 2016.
Their parents Anna Savchenko, 33, and Giovanni Sapia, 50, had been delighted when Anna had fallen pregnant after a third and final desperate IVF attempt with the NHS.
But the pregnancy was fraught with complications, with doctors having to use a laser to sever the blood vessels of one of the babies in order to save the other three.
Within 24 hours of their birth, tiny Mia, who weighed just 13oz – a third of the weight of a bag of sugar – had to undergo two surgeries.
Her devastated parents were told her situation was futile, and decided to let nature run its course.
But a year on, Anna and Giovanni, from Harlow, Essex, have celebrated Christmas at home with all four babies – with Anna calling it “the best present ever”.
“Last Christmas was awful. We spent it looking at the babies in incubators in hospital accommodation, not knowing if any of them would survive,” said former nanny Anna.
“This year we are all safe and together at home for Christmas. While the day seemed quite ordinary, it is the best present we could ever ask for.”
She added: “Being told you’re having quadruplets might be daunting to some mums, but to me it was the greatest news I’d ever heard.”
The couple have not had an easy journey to parenthood since they married in 2011.
Produce manager Giovanni, 50, and Anna met on dating site Tau2 in 2010 and after a six month whirlwind romance, moved in together to start a family.
Anna said: “We were trying for a year but had no luck. Every time my period was even a day late, I would get so excited.
“But when I took a test it would be so disappointing. I was beginning to think that there was something seriously wrong.”
In September 2011, the couple visited their local GP and underwent fertility tests, only to be told it was unlikely they would ever conceive naturally.
Although they were entitled to three rounds of NHS funded IVF, Anna was told she would have to shed some of her 16.5 stone, size 18 weight.
She said: “It was a shock to realise that my weight might be part of the problem. But it made me determined to lose it, I would do anything to have babies.”
After 18 months, in April 2014, Anna had shed five stone to 11st 8lbs, and dropped two dress sizes to Size 14, and was ready to start IVF, which began in September 2014.
The process involved removing an egg from Anna’s ovaries and having it fertilised with Giovanni’s sperm in the laboratory.
But after three gruelling months of daily injections, the couple were told the IVF had failed.
And a year later their second round of IVF also failed – which Anna described as “completely heartbreaking”.
Finally, on June 25 2016, Anna had two eggs inserted into her uterus for the couple’s third and final round of IVF.
She said: “We were both praying for a miracle. We would never have been able to afford private treatment so it would have been the end of our dreams.”
Two weeks later, Anna took a test and received the news she had been longing for – a tiny, positive cross indicating she was pregnant.
She said: “I was so excited I burst into tears. Giovanni and I held each other and jumped up and down with excitement.”
And five weeks after that, Giovanni and Anna discovered that they were expecting quadruplets, as both eggs had taken and split into two.
“We couldn’t believe the news. We had hit the jackpot, well the rollover jackpot, as we were going to have FOUR kids. Two sets of identical boy and girl twins,” Anna said.
But the couple were warned there may be complications with so many babies – and Anna said she was on “tenterhooks” knowing that there may be trouble ahead.
And sure enough, at 16 weeks pregnant, specialists at Kings College Hospital told the couple one set of the twins had selective growth restriction.
Anna said: “On October 20, 2016, we were hit with news that would tear our world apart – the words no expectant mother wants to hear.
“Baby Mia was not growing properly and if she died in the womb, I would miscarry the entire pregnancy.
“We were told that same day I would need to have laser surgery immediately to cut the vessels between Mia and her sister in order to save the other babies.
“I was devastated and terrified, but if it was necessary I was prepared.”
But baby Mia was a fighter, and after the 40 minute procedure her heart carried on beating.
And she kept on fighting, despite Anna being told at each hospital appointment that Mia was just days away from death.
Anna said: “I could feel her wriggling. She was a little fighter.”
On December 15, at 27 weeks and three days pregnant and with her boys also struggling, Anna’s waters broke at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.
She underwent at emergency caesarean section, giving birth giving birth first to Melina, weighing 2lbs, Gionni at 2lb 4oz, Peppe at 2lb 1oz, and Mia, weighing just 13oz.
Anna said: “Baby Mia was given a less than one per cent chance of survival, but she still had a small heartbeat and was clinging on.
“I called her my little jellyfish as that’s what she looked like. It was so awful.
“The babies were extremely premature and were as small as my hand. I couldn’t hold them as they were put straight into incubators and cared for.
“Giovanni and I spent every day by our children’s sides willing them to survive.”
Mia had to be put straight on a high-frequency ventilator and have a hole pierced in her tummy and slowly expanded, as air and fluids began filling up her lungs.
Her parents were told that nothing could be done to save her.
But Anna said: “Then a miracle happened and she turned a corner. The surgeons said they had never seen anything like it.
“First it was seconds, then hours, then days of Mia being stable. It was a horrendous situation but also amazing.”
Melina and Gionna were discharged from hospital after three months and a week and Pepe came out a week later.
Mia stayed in hospital for over five months, finally coming home on May 31.
Now, Anna and Giovanni have all their children at home to make it the most special Christmas ever.
Anna says: “We are settling into life with four teething cherubs on our hands.
“It’s a whirlwind. There is always so much to do but I wouldn’t change any of them for the world.
“Luckily I used to work as a nanny, so I am used to a lot of kids, but this is another level of parenting.
“The babies are still so small so obviously they don’t understand about Christmas, but this year it is so special for us.”
“Mia is still much smaller than her brothers and sister, only weighing 14lbs. But they are all quite gentle with her, it’s very cute to watch.
“We are really looking forward to the new year and seeing Mia catch up with her siblings after only spending six months of this year at home.”
Doctors have told her she will face some problems as she grows up, but are not sure to what extent.
But Anna said: “Whatever happens she’ll always have us and her brothers and sister to support her.”