By Ann Curry
NBC News
updated 12/12/2007 8:51:27 PM ET 2007-12-13T01:51:27
TRANSCRIPT

This report originally aired Dec. 12, 2007.

On vacation in Mallorca, a Mediterranean island just off the coast of Spain, a family of ten experiences a collection of firsts: their first trip overseas…

Ann Curry: What can you speak in Spanish?
Kelsey: Me llamo Kelsey. And I learned “Buenos dias,” and that is “good morning”…

Their first glimpse of the seashore...

Ann Curry: Did you go in the ocean?
Nathan: Close to it -- and the waves came up on us.

And their first taste of seafood that's never on the menu at home...

Natalie:  I thought it was cheese sticks, but it was actually squid.
Ann Curry: I get those two confused all the time...
Natalie: I’m going to puke if I eat it.

But these were no ordinary tourists. 

For one, the president of Mallorca had invited the family to visit -- all expenses paid to boost tourism.

So for a week in March, the McCaughey septuplets, their big sister Mikayla, and parents Bobbi and Kenny travelled around the island with a private tour guide.

Tour guide: Look at the virgin.  Who can see the sun?

And among the firsts:  the realization that they themselves were a sight to behold.

Spanish teens: Siete es mucho, eh?

They’re famous not just in America, but even in a foreign country, a decade after making news worldwide.

Kelsey: They're like -- oh, I’ve seen you when you were a baby.
Ann Curry: People you never met before said that they knew from when you were a baby?
Kelsey: Yeah, I’m like, “Whoa, you do?”

"Whoa!" is how the world reacted when a young couple in Iowa broke the record for multiple births on November 19, 1997.

Natalie [reading from newspaper]: “At 12:48 p.m., Kenneth Robert came into the world; at 12:49 it was Alexis May; at 12:50 it was Natalie Sue; at 12:51 Kelsey Ann; at 12:52 Brandon James; at 12:53 Nathan Roy; and at 12:54 Joel Steven.
Joel: “...all the infants born to Kenny and Bobbi McCaughey were listed in serious condition...
Kelsey: “The smallest is Kelsey Ann at 2 pounds and five ounces.  The largest is Kenneth Robert named for his grandfather...
Kenny: “Kenneth Robert, who weighed in at three pounds and four ounces, was the first born.  The doctors nicknamed him Hercules because he held up all the others up … Four boys, three girls. All healthy.”

The seven babies would forever be known as the world's first set of surviving septuplets.  Dateline introduced them to the public just days after their dramatic birth and we have closely documented their lives in the decade since.

On our most recent visit, we watched excerpts from our reports that the children once thought were simply their home videos.  Back then, we were amazed by what was happening in their household-- the mischief, the madness, and moments of pure delight.

(In year five)
Ann Curry: Why do you like school?
Kelsey: We get some snacks! (laughter)
Ann Curry: What do you learn?
Kelsey: And you color!
Ann Curry: And what else?
Kelsey: And you sit and be quiet.
Ann Curry: And you sit and be quiet!  (laughter)

Now, we are fascinated by what is going on in their heads:  what they have to say about family, friendship, school, religion, even world events -- including the significance of their birth.

Ann Curry: And when you see how many babies your mom and dad had...
Kelsey: Oh yeah-
Ann Curry: What do you think?
Kelsey: Harsh.
Ann Curry: Harsh? Why is that harsh?
Kelsey: Having my mom do all that work in just six minutes.
Ann Curry: Giving birth to you in six minutes.
Kelsey: Like other people are like two hours.

Video: The lipgloss question Bobbi's c-section may have been astonishingly quick -- thanks to the 66 doctors, nurses, and technicians who teamed up for the once top secret "Operation Snow White."

But Bobbi’s pregnancy was agonizing.


(home video)
Kenny: We are now in the middle of our 27th week…

She had been on bed rest for five months while her family helped Kenny take care of one year-old Mikayla.

Kenny: Smile…
Mikayla: No!
Kenny: Yes!

Her goal was to carry the babies as long as possible.  Every day in the womb would save them two days in intensive care.  But by week 30, she couldn't  take it any longer.

(1997)
Bobbi: I just said “Kenny,” I said, “I cannot be pregnant one more day.”
Ann Curry: I understand at delivery you were two times more the size of a normal pregnant woman at full term.
Bobbi: I was 55 inches around.

Ann Curry: When you think back on that, what goes through you?
Bobbi: Glad it's over. You know, once they were born, it was just relief. You know I’m past that part of my life. And I won't be going back.

As tough as her pregnancy had been she says giving a press conference 24 hours after giving birth was practically torture.

Bobbi: I did not want to go out there. I was sitting out in the hallway, balling my eyes out. Pastor Brown comes up and says 'You don’t want to, you do not have to do this.' And I said, 'Yes I do, Kenny said so' -- went out there.

(1997, during press conference)
Kenny to Bobbi: Say what you want to say.

Bobbi: It was so overwhelming, you know, and I think in part because we may have been completely naive.

(1997, during press conference)
Bobbi whispers: I can't…

Bobbi: But the response was not at all what we had expected. When there was 40 satellite trucks lined up in front of the hospital, and reporters from Hong Kong and England -- it was just like what for? Why are they here? 
Kenny: We couldn't figure out why it was so big.
Ann Curry: Now you understand?
Kenny: In some ways, I feel like we're just one hit wonders, you know? That this was our one time claim to fame. It was quite the time, needless to say.

Video: Septuplet interviews Ann Curry

Until that time, Bobbi, then a 29-year-old seamstress, and 27-year-old Kenny, a billing clerk at a car dealership, had led quiet, simple lives as missionary Baptists.

(reading newspaper)
Mikayla: Kenny and Bobbi McCaughey met in Bible college where their faith in God and each other grew as they fell in love.  They married, settled down in a small two-bedroom frame house in Carlisle, Iowa, and began building a career and a family. About two years ago, Bobbi gave birth to the couple's first daughter Mikayla.

Mikayla was a hard-won baby, too. After three years of trying, she was conceived with the help of the fertility drug Metrodin.  That's the same drug Bobbi was using when she got pregnant with the septuplets.

Doctors had warned the McCaugheys of the dangers to Bobbi’s health and the grave risks for the babies. But because of their religious beliefs, the McCaugheys would not consider a procedure in which some are terminated for the sake of the others.

(1997 interview)
Ann Curry: Why didn't you consider selective reduction?
Bobbi: Because I believe that the life of a baby starts at the moment of conception.

Several of the septuplets may have suffered the consequences of being multiples born 10 weeks early. 

Ann Curry: When the babies were born, President Clinton called and said, "When those kids all go off to school, you'll be able to get a job running any major corporation in America.  You'll be the best organized manager in the United States." 
Ann Curry: And you answered, "Either that, or I’ll be in a straightjacket somewhere."   
Ann Curry: So which is it?
Bobbi: Well, you know, I haven't bought the straightjacket yet. I guess I’m not in charge of a major corporation, just the corporation in Carlisle, Iowa.

Bobbi: Joel, come here.
Kelsey: I can't find my journal.
Kenny: Mom, is this mine?

Fourth-grade homework is the latest "corporate challenge."

Bobbi: You should be able to tell if it’s yours or not.

The septuplets are divided among six classrooms, so only two have the same assignments each night. 

Bobbi: I circled the words that you have to finish.

A tough mandate. But Bobbi takes it in stride, after a decade of determining "best practices" for team McCaughey.

Bobbi: It's been very hard. But the rewards outweigh everything else.

A sense of humor has been one winning strategy for staying sane when raising septuplets, their big sister, and now -- a menagerie.

(Kids playing with hamster)
I think she's going to bite her!

Another top initiative is assigning "action plans" when the kids were preschoolers.

(Year five)
Bobbi: The younger you start with teaching them responsibilities, the easier it's going to be because they are so proud of themselves.

At ten, they are more capable, but not always quite as eager. 

Joel: I have to take out the trash. (grumpy)

(making food)
Bobbi: White cheese, then yellow cheese. Then Alexis can sprinkle this all over the top.
Kelsey: OK.

Fun or not, chores have helped the kids appreciate what it takes to raise a large family. It’s a daunting prospect to some.

Ann Curry: How many children you going to have?
Kenny: Two or four.
Ann Curry: You don't want seven or eight?
Kenny: No.
Ann Curry: Why not?
Kenny: Because that will be a lot to take care of.
Ann Curry: So you're seeing how busy mom and dad are. Do you think they work too hard?
Kenny: Yeah. Sometimes I help my daddy wash the car because he's getting tired of bending his back.

The day when the septuplets would be able to lend a hand seemed so distant when they came home from the hospital, one-by-one, in the four months after they were born.   Video: Joel asks about the news

Back then, 70 volunteers -- relatives, church members, neighbors and friends -- helped out around-the-clock with 40 bottles and 30 diaper changes.

It was a true tempest in a teapot, with so many tucked into a tiny home while a spacious 16 room house was being built for the family.  Everything from the land to the labor was donated.

Kenny: This is like going from a small town to a continent.

Gradually, Bobbi reduced the volunteer schedule. By the septuplets' fourth birthday, she and Kenny were managing the more-play-than-work force all by themselves.

(year four)
Kenny: I'm just tired of changing diapers. It's probably in the hundreds of thousands... (laughs)
Bobbi: Oh he thinks so! (laughs)
Ann Curry: You've changed a hundred thousand.

It's easy to laugh now.  But when they were living through the toddler stage, with the naughty fun, the non-stop commotion, and the never-ending noise, Bobbi and Kenny were nearly pushed over the edge.  In retrospect, even they are incredulous at the scenes from the early years.

Kenny: I can't believe I survived all that.
Ann Curry: You said -- "Literally, there have been times when Kenny and I have just sobbed, ‘Please lord, give us the wisdom that we need to teach these children.’" That was then. What is now?
Kenny: We're still teaching them how to be decent, upright kids.
Bobbi: Building in them a reliance on God, like we have had in  our lives, and when you see all the training and shaping that you've been trying to do actually take hold, it's like, wow, they got it.  Finally, they've gotten it.
Ann Curry: What are they getting?
Bobbi: How it's important to treat others as you would want to be treated.
Kenny: That it's not all about them.
Bobbi: Yeah.
Kenny: There's a bigger world out there, outside of our house.

It’s a big world that Kenny, Alexis, Natalie, Kelsey, Nathan, Brandon, Joel and Mikayla have been exploring in unique ways. They’re making individual journeys that Bobbi has been documenting for 10 years in hand-crafted scrapbooks for each of her children.

Ann Curry: What's your favorite subject?
Kenny: Mostly it's social studies.  Right now I’m learning about the world.

Video: Kenny's fascination with tornados Kenny Robert has been scouting new territory since he was three, when he wandered out of the house to check out the neighborhood alone.
His expeditions have continued -- even in Mallorca, where he left his mark on a 14th century castle.

Ann Curry: Did you throw a rock in Spain?
Kenny: Yes.
Ann Curry: Are you supposed to throw rocks?
Kenny: No.

But this happy-go-lucky kid, who now loves playing football, is sometimes troubled by world events.  During our interview, he brought up a family friend -- whom he calls uncle Charlie -- a soldier stationed in Afghanistan two years ago. 

Ann Curry: If you can have anything in the world happen, what would it be?
Kenny: To let the wars stop fighting over the United States.
Ann Curry: The wars that the U.S. is fighting overseas would stop?  Why?
Kenny: Because people from here are getting killed a lot like -- uncle Charlie. He died.
Ann Curry: He died? Oh I’m so sorry.
Ann Curry: If it wasn't for your uncle Charlie, did you know about the wars?
Kenny: Yeah, we watch it on the news and in the magazines and books about it.

This is Captain Charles Robinson with Kenny as a baby. His death at 29 has made a 10-year-old think about his own mortality.

Ann Curry: What do you pray to God for?
Kenny: I pray that I don't die very early.
Ann Curry: How old do you want to live?
Kenny: I want to live until, like I’m about 60 or 70 years old.
Ann Curry: Not any older than that?
(Kenny shakes head no)
Ann Curry: No?  That's as far as you want to go.
(Kenny shakes his head yes)

But he knows what he would like to do between now and then.

(From year seven)
Ann Curry: Why do you want to be a fireman Kenny?
Kenny: Because I want to squirt out the fire … To save people.
Ann Curry: You want to be a hero.
Kenny: Shakes his head yes.
Ann Curry: What scares you? Anything?
Kenny: Snakes attacking me and falling out of trees.


Like his brother Kenny, Brandon James is preoccupied with battlefields — both military and athletic.

Brandon: Mostly, the part I like about it is tackling. I play a lot, safety, right tackle, left tackle, right guard, left guard. Sometimes quarterback.
Ann Curry: What's your favorite position to play?
Brandon: Linebacker.
Ann Curry: I think you need to eat a little more before you get to be a linebacker… Are they big?
Brandon: Not really. The biggest person on our team -- he doesn't make that much tackles.
Ann Curry: You think you could make more?
Brandon: Yeah.

The strong, silent type, fear has rarely been a factor for Brandon.

(From year four)
Bobbi: Brandon!
Brandon: What?
Bobbi: Do not go over the gate.

He started climbing things as high as seven-foot fences when he was three.

(from year five)
Bobbi: Brandon James, get down...

By four, he was bending branches into bows and arrows.

Brandon: Shoot it daddy!

Video: Septuplet interviews Ann Curry At five, he aspired to be a soldier -- and used anything to shoot.

Ann Curry: What is it about the military that you like?
Brandon: Well I like planes and missiles and stuff...
Ann Curry: Anything else you're thinking about?
Brandon: Fighting and stuff.
Ann Curry: You know what -- Kenny was in here and he was saying, he was kind of wishing that there wouldn't be any wars. Do you think about that at all?
Brandon: Not really.
Ann Curry: Nope.

If Brandon sees the world simply, Joel Steven views it with a critical eye. Since our overnight visit to the science center of Iowa, when he was seven...

Joel: I want to go to the moon and see what it's like on there.

...he has sharpened his focus on outer space.

Joel: Well, some people say there's life up there, but there really isn't. 
Ann Curry: What do you want to be now?
Joel: A scientist.
Ann Curry: A scientist. What would you want to study? Stars? Or planets? Or what?
Joel: The moon has been, like, studied.  I want to study Mars.
Ann Curry: What would be the questions you'd want to answer about mars?
Joel: How come it mostly has, like sandstorms?

Joel's efforts to look at things from another vantage point, nearly ended in disaster in August.

Bobbi: The one athletic thing that he really, really loves, is to climb trees.  And more than once we have seen him clear at the very top of a tree and have had to say, "Joel, let's move it a little lower.” And one particular day, he happened to grab hold of a branch that was already broken off.
Joel: It was so thick in the leaves I can barely even see it, so I grabbed onto it.
Ann Curry: And what happened?
Joel: Just broke off.
Brandon: When he fell, it looked like a really far ways down.
Ann Curry to Joel: You slipped down?
Joel: Flat on the ground -- flat on my back.
Ann Curry:  Ouch. Hurt?
Joel: Yes. I was so stiff I could barely even move a muscle.

He compressed and cracked five vertebrae in an 18-foot fall. But Bobbi calls the accident a blessing in disguise because of something the doctors discovered.

Joel has misshapen vertebrae which may cause his back to hunch as he grows.  Early detection means he will get preventative care if necessary.

Video: Joel asks about the news To recover from the accident, he had to wear a body cast for almost two months and take it easy. At recess, he often sat with Nathan or did homework. It was a sobering experience for a boy who prefers more rugged play.

Ann Curry: Is there a lesson there?
Joel: Yes.
Ann Curry: What's the lesson?
Joel:  Don't climb trees.

As for life on earth as one of seven, he loves this scene from our report when the kids turned two...

(from year two)
Joel: We just start crawling up the stairs in slow motion.

But he isn't too fond of how the septuplets were confined at bedtime when they were three.

(from year three)
Kelsey: Hey let me out! I want to get out!

Joel: And she goes like “got to get out, got to get out, I want to get out!” She's a little squeal.  I hated those cribs.
Ann Curry: Why did you hate those cribs?
Joel: You can't get out to go to the bathroom.
Ann Curry:  Oh.

If Joel has his way, there will be only a couple of cribs in his future.

Ann Curry: How many kids do you want in your family?
Joel: One boy and one girl. Want to name the boy Troy -- and I’ll name the other, the girl, Gabriella.
Ann Curry: Where'd you get those names?
Joel: “High School Musical.”

Natalie Sue may follow Kelsey’s lead when they're a dynamic duo.

Kelsey to camera: Hello!

But on her own, she tends to be quiet and introspective.

Natalie: Sometimes, I’m so into the book I feel like I’m one of the characters in the book.
Ann Curry: What books do you just love that -- that made you feel like that?
Natalie: Um... “The Tale of Despereaux.”
Ann Curry: I love that book.
Natalie: It's pretty good so far.

At ten, she is aware of her character in this story, typecast at a very young age because of her fair face and golden locks.

Ann Curry: Do you sometimes think that everybody talks about you as the pretty one?
Natalie: My dad does.

(from year one)
Kenny: She's my little model. And she was kind of a pretty baby when she was born, too.

Ann Curry: What do you want people to say about you?
Natalie: Nice things about me. They want to be my friend. And that I’m a good friend.
Ann Curry: Would you rather play with your friends or your brothers and sisters?
Natalie: (silent)
Ann Curry: Your friends. Don't worry. It's normal. Most people want to play with their friends at this age.

Natalie has always embraced new friends, from a lifeguard at a water park to a familiar face at a farm.

(from year six)
Natalie: We had some baby movies and we saw you in our baby movie.
Ann Curry: Isn't that funny? I saw you getting weighed and remember what happened?
Natalie (imitating her Mom): “You peed on the scale!”

Ann Curry: Remember when you were a little tiny baby, you couldn't eat?
Natalie: I still have the hole in my stomach.
Ann Curry: You do? Oh, right there. You have a little scar there. Just right there.

Video: What makes Natalie happy? From zero to three, she was nourished through a tube in her belly.  When she finally overcame severe reflux and an aversion to swallowing, she ate with gusto: especially pizza, which still delivers a thrill.

Bobbi: Natalie is getting up there...
Ann Curry: You're above her chin.

As she inches toward adulthood, she can see herself as a teacher or a doctor.  But she can also imagine another life.

Natalie: I might want to be a stay-at-home mom. I like to take care of babies.
Ann Curry: How's she doing in school?
Bobbi: Pretty much straight A's. She could probably be the doctor if she wanted to be.

In contrast to her self-conscious sister, Kelsey Ann is footloose, fancy-free and unexpectedly frank.

Kelsey (to Ann Curry): I love you.
Ann Curry: Oh, I love you too... (looks at camera and mouths "wow”)

Her feelings about school, on the other hand, have run hot and cold since first grade.

(from year seven)
Ann Curry: Do you like school?
Kelsey: Yeah.
Ann Curry: You do?
Kelsey: Well, not that much.
Ann Curry: What don't you like about school?
Kelsey: I don't like being there...
Ann Curry: You don't? (laughs) That's kind of major.
Kelsey: ... Every day.

Video: The lipgloss question Fourth-grade is holding her attention – so far. 

Bobbi: She can be a very hard worker. Or she can be the one who wants to put in the least effort required. Kind of depends on her mood that day.

But Kelsey has always been in the mood for action and at five, envisioned herself fluttering around...

Ann Curry: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Kelsey: Ummm... A tooth fairy!
Ann Curry: A tooth fairy?! (laughs)

The only wings she wants now belong to Tweety. The responsibility of caring for her pet may be preparing her for latest ambition.

Kelsey: I’m going to be a doctor.
Ann Curry: Why do you think being a doctor would make you happy?
Kelsey: I just want to help children so they can be healthy and stuff.

She might be referring to children like her brother and sister who struggle to do things that have come naturally for the other kids.

Kenny: Performing surgery on said child ... It looks like a giant spider bite. Uh oh, maybe you'll become Spiderman.

Nathan Roy may have winced at the removal of a splinter, but he has been as brave as his favorite superhero during far more serious interventions to help him walk.

As a baby, he was struggling to sit up and to roll over when the other kids were already crawling.  The diagnosis: cerebral palsy, which is a broad term for neurological disorders that impair the brain's ability to control movement and posture.

Nathan suffers from "spastic diplegia," which makes his leg muscles extremely rigid and difficult to control.  But his willpower is virtually bionic.

Bobbi: Clear from when he was a tiny baby still on the floor, you could see the determination that he had.

By two years old, leg braces and physical therapy helped him muster the strength to take baby steps.

Bobbi: He is so proud. The cheesy little grin that he gives you when he's walking… If you only saw one of those in a day, it'd be worth getting up in the morning.

Video: A true professional With parents who refused to coddle him, Nathan learned to exercise his ingenuity.

Routine Botox injections relaxed his muscles and improved his mobility, though, at four, he cringed at the thought of the needle.

(from year five)
Nathan: Mom, I don't like that stuff.
Bobbi: But it makes your legs feel better, doesn't it?
Nathan: The medicine is going to be all better.

By seven, he had gained speed, skill, and strength.

But he couldn't walk very far unassisted.  To improve his chance for independence, he underwent two major surgeries at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, Minnesota.

During the first surgery, a selective dorsal rhizotomy, doctors cut more than 60 nerve rootlets in his back to loosen his muscles.  He spent six weeks in the hospital relearning how to sit, stand, and walk. Eventually, Nathan could move in ways once impossible for him.

In the second operation 15 months ago, his feet were realigned and reshaped with bone grafts to provide better support. The doctors also rotated his thigh bones and lengthened his Achilles tendons and lower leg muscles.

After a painful recovery, intense rehabilitation, and ongoing physical therapy, Nathan has given new meaning to the saying "look ma, no hands!"

Ann Curry: What can you do now that you couldn't do before?
Nathan: Get up a lot faster, so I’m not far behind anymore.

No more surgeries are looming – they’re just a lingering day dream.

(from year seven)
Ann Curry: Do you know what you want to be when you grow up?
Nathan:  Spiderman.
Ann Curry: What powers do you want?
Nathan: The web. Like Spiderman.
Ann Curry: You want to fly?
Nathan: Yeah.
Ann Curry: You know, to be Spiderman, you have to bit by a spider.
Nathan: I know, but that wouldn't really happen.

To his parents, Nathan is already a superhero.

Kenny: He was determined to conquer this physical impediment. That's what his legacy might be. You know, I think his determination comes from God too.

"Exuberant" is how the McCaugheys describe Alexis May.

Bobbi:  Alexis has got to be one of the most outgoing people I have ever met in my whole life. There's nothing small in her world. It's all huge and it's all exciting.

She, too, has cerebral palsy -- though she is more floppy than stiff.  "Hypotonic quadriplegia" makes some of her muscles incredibly weak.  As a baby, she couldn't hold any position on her own.  On top of it all, she battled acute eating problems and had to be tube-fed for four years.
But Alexis has had her own victories.

Kenny: Yeah, Lexi May!

At three, she was pushing herself forward with a walker and by five, she was on a roll.

Leg braces, injectable medications, and years of routine physical therapy  have enabled her to move more freely, but it's still hard work.  At school, she has no choice but to walk, yet when left to her own devices, she reverts to crawling.  As incentive to stay upright, her parents have promised her a new set of wheels.

Alexis: If I walk all by myself I get my first car.
Ann Curry: That's a pretty big challenge. You've got to practice.
Alexis: I want to practice, but I don’t have that much time to do it.
Ann Curry: When you think about growing up and having a car--
Alexis: Yeah.
Ann Curry: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Alexis: A teacher -- or -- not a doctor because all the blood things.

Alexis: What is that?
Nurse: This is your leg.

Alexis is being evaluated to see if she is a candidate for any surgical procedures.

Dr. Marcie Ward: All you have to do is say “ow” if anything is hurting you.

Whether she has the potential to walk without assistance remains to be seen.

Bobbi: Whatever happens that's fine. And it doesn't change who she is.

Video: Alexis asks about TODAY Cerebral palsy can also impair intellectual abilities.

Teacher: I’m going to pass out problems of the day for math.

Alexis is in fourth grade like her brothers and sisters, but spends much of her day in special classes.

Ann Curry: How are you doing in school?
Alexis: I’m doing really good, but I’m trying my best to do -- passing my spelling tests and reading tests and I don't really do a good job on it because I missed six on my last spelling test.
Ann Curry: Why are you smiling?
Bobbi: She's about a year behind in curriculum. But for where she's at, she's doing very well.

The McCaugheys knew that having septuplets greatly increased the odds for cerebral palsy, which may be caused during pregnancy, delivery, or in the weeks after birth. Some criticized their decision not to selectively reduce.  But Bobbi and Kenny have always said they would accept whatever challenge God places in their hands.

Ann Curry: Knowing now where Alexis is, do you feel any regret about your decision to carry all seven babies?
Bobbi: How could I? Look at Alexis. There's not a person in this world who loves being alive more than she does. How could I feel sorry that I had all of my children?
Kenny: The answer will be the same from now until 100 years. We don't regret it at all.

The religious beliefs that have influenced her parents are a guiding force in Alexis’s life now, too.

Ann Curry: So do you think God helps you?
Alexis: Yeah. He's right here now.
Ann Curry: Where is he?
Alexis: Inside me.
Ann Curry: What's he like?
Alexis: He's saying “come up.”
Ann Curry: Come up?
Alexis: To heaven, I mean … He's not going to say it until a while I hope.


(Mikayla reads newspaper)
“Lucky seven. Iowa mom gives birth to four boys and three girls. Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey and…,” that's me! “Daughter Mikayla.”

In 1997, she was the first child in the world to have four brothers and three sisters land in her lap all at once. 

(from year one)
Ann Curry: Now which one is this one?
Mikayla: Kelsey.

Back then, a prominent child psychologist predicted Mikayla's normal life was over and warned that she would feel jealous, left out, and very lonely.  But Bobbi and Kenny have been determined to make their eldest daughter feel as important as everybody else.

(from year three)
Bobbi: Mikayla gets to do much more with Kenny and I on an individual basis than the rest of the kids do.

By second grade, she had her mother to herself for home schooling. Bobbi had planned to teach the septuplets, too, but realized it might be good for everyone to spend some time apart.

So the kids have been split among several classrooms from preschool on up. Bobbi continued teaching Mikayla until the fourth grade, when she asked to try public school. Much as she liked it, she missed her mom and returned home for a couple of years.

Now in junior high, Mikayla is back in the classroom.  Her goal, at age 11, is to get the science and math education she needs to become a nurse. She is content here, despite pangs of separation from her mother.

Mikayla: We have a lot in common and we're just really close.
Ann Curry: Why does that mean so much to you?
Mikayla: You know, because some people don’t even have a mom to love them. 
Ann Curry: Are you crying because you miss her? Or are you crying because you love her?
Mikayla: Because I love her. Because she's taken me through everything I’ve been through in my life. And she's just always been there for me.
Ann Curry: And even with all these babies, did you feel that she left you?
Mikayla: Never.
Ann Curry: Never. Why?
Mikayla: It's because even with them, she's, you know, paid attention to me and given me equal amounts of attention. She loves me as much as she loves them.

As for Mikayla’s relationship with her siblings...

Mikayla: "Go on Kelsey!"

At four, she had her favorites.

(from year four)
Mikayla: I only like to take care of my sisters.
Ann Curry: Why?
Mikayla: Not my brothers.
Ann Curry: Why?
Mikayla: Because they keep -- all of them keep pulling my hair.

When they were four and she was six, they made better playmates -- although Mikayla had one major complaint.

(from year five)
Mikayla: I wish I only had a big sister.
Ann Curry: Why?
Mikayla: Big sisters don't get into my room and stuff.

Natalie: Mikayla can I have this?
Mikayla: No.
Natalie: Please?

Five years later, she is still campaigning for privacy. 

Ann Curry: Do you ever wish that you didn't have septuplets in your family?
Mikayla: Sometimes, when they -- get in my room and stuff like that, when they're really annoying. But I’m glad I have all seven of them.
Ann Curry: How do you say being the older sister has affected your life?
Mikayla: My mom and dad do most of the work. But it gives me more responsibility because now I’m practically their only babysitter.
Ann Curry: Do you think it's too much pressure?
Mikayla: No, not at all.
Ann Curry: Do you feel that you're helping your mom raise these babies?
Mikayla: Sometimes. And sometimes I just feel like I’m letting her do all the work.
Ann Curry: Do you feel a little guilty about it?
Mikayla: Yeah.

The McCaughey’s say they have never wanted her to feel like a parent and have encouraged her to be a kid. Video: Mikayla's squid challenge

Yet even with plenty of after-school activities and her own friends -- Mikayla remains loyal to her home team.

She stood by her nervous little sisters during a girls' rite of passage...

(Kelsey, Natalie, Alexis getting ears pierced)
Mikayla: It's not that bad... Now she's happy!

Mikayla has developed a tremendous empathy for Alexis.

Ann Curry: It's hard to see her not walk.
Mikayla: (crying) I wish I could take her place.

If Mikayla has grown closer to her siblings, Bobbi and Kenny are more tightly knit, too, after 15 years of marriage.

Ann Curry: You've been through a lot of stuff that could break up marriages.
Kenny: Oh sure, our perspective on that it's the hard times that bring you closer together. They're meant by God to strengthen, not divide.

Once a week, the entire family attends Bible study.  At times, it has provided marital guidance.

Bobbi: Throughout the past ten years, we've had some courses that were taught at Bible study. And you know he did the exemplary husband and I did the excellent wife. And they were courses based on putting the other person first. Most marriages don't make it because it gets focused on your self. Contrary to what the t-shirts say, it's not all about me.
Ann Curry: So you've become hand in glove.
Bobbi: We'd had to be more of a team because -- you know, we're outnumbered. Four to one. (laughter)

They also band together to support the family. Some days, Bobbi pitches in on the assembly line where Kenny powder coats metal parts.  He appreciates the steady paycheck and health insurance, after stints as a stay-at-home dad and public speaker.

The sale of family photos to the media and occasional speaking engagements boosts their income.

Extravagant donations have eased the financial burden.  Among the baby gifts:  furnishings for the free house, a 10 passenger van, and, for many years, a generous supply of clothing and food.

Early on, they agreed to a few commercial projects, but have long vowed not to exploit the children.  Wes Yoder, president of Ambassador Agency, has helped the McCaughey’s achieve their goals.

Wes Yoder: To make decisions that were good for the marriage, that were good for the children and that it had integrity and honored God. Those three things have been our guiding principles from the very beginning.

After ten years in the spotlight, Bobbi and Kenny are still reluctant celebrities.  But they have allowed Dateline to document their family's life with the hope that it will be a testament to their enduring faith, love, and gratitude.

Bobbi: We didn't feel right about saying “Thanks for all your prayer and support, but you're never going to see us.”  So in many respects, this is like a thank you. And here's a little peek at what our life is like now.
Ann Curry: What would be the thing you wish you could have told yourself, based on what you know now, to who you were 10 years ago?
Kenny: I would say, don’t worry, it's going to be better than you think.
Bobbi: I was just thinking when you said that. “This too shall pass.” There's no stage in your life that's permanent and --  it really wasn't that bad. And it really didn't last that long … I really can't wait to see where the next 10 years takes us.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

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