After several doctors told Monae Mazzeo Burke and her husband, James, that they had no chance of having children, they changed doctors and were on their third attempt at artificial insemination before they could move on to in vitro fertilization.
It was a shock to find out she was pregnant with four babies. A specialist sat them down for hours and recommended aborting two of them, a process called “selective reduction.”
“How could you choose which one to do that to?” Burke said. “And there was no valid reason. He just said we would target Baby B because he was the smallest of them.”
Getting badgered for a decision, they walked around the gift shop and Monae saw a shelf with four bears on it.
Everything started coming up “four.” Even the clock read 4:44.
“I just started crying,” she said. “I’m like, ‘I can’t do it.’”
Today, over 18 years later, quadruplets Morgan Burke, Jimmy Burke, Shannon Burke and Lindsay Burke will graduate from Vernon Township High School. Baby B was Jimmy, the only boy.
They will be graduating with honors, as all were in the top 15 in the school’s Class of 2022.
Lindsay, the youngest of the quadruplets, is the class salutatorian.
“They’re all smart, but this girl is crazy smart,” Monae Mazzeo Burke said, indicating the quiet and autistic Lindsay.
Shannon, who was born third, is right behind her at third in the class. She plays the bass and has a “Disney addiction,” according to Jimmy.
“I saw what she was doing, and it motivated me to try and do really good,” Shannon said of her younger sister.
Monae described her as a “deep thinker” who wants to know how things work and where they come from.
Jimmy is eighth in the class. He’s into museums and enjoys military artifacts. He also enjoys fixing old electronics. “I just wanted to be a single digit number because it seemed like it’s better than a double digit.”
Morgan, the firstborn, meanwhile, snuck into the top 15 grabbing the final spot. She’s the family musician. They’ve all played an instrument at one point in their lives, but Morgan plays seven instruments.
What they’ve accomplished scholastically isn’t as impressive as where they came from.
They were born at 26 weeks and five days on Aug. 14, 2003, the first day of the massive Northeast Blackout, and each had a moment where it looked like they may not make it.
Morgan was born first at just one pound, 13 ounces, and spent 96 days in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Morristown Memorial Hospital, as she needed stomach surgery. She had the earliest health problems.
“They thought she didn’t have a stomach because she wasn’t gaining weight,” Monae said. “So, they went in and did this surgery to make a stomach for her out of her intestines, and when they went in, they found her stomach was lodged in her esophagus. So, they pulled it down and gave her a feeding tube.”
“I’m a special snowflake,” Morgan said.
Jimmy was next, with a weight of one pound, 15 ounces, and spent 71 days in the NICU. He almost died from a staph infection before he came home.
“You couldn’t even open the doors on his isolette,” Monae said. “I would open the doors and talk to them, but I wasn’t allowed to do that, and he was just limp and lifeless. He needed blood transfusions and it didn’t look good. The day we were bringing him home, the nurse said we were so close to losing him.”
Shannon was third, at two pounds, one ounce, and was put on an oscillator the first night. The doctor said on the first night that it didn’t look good for her either, but she recovered after a few days.
Finally, Lindsay, was born at two pounds, five ounces. She had some bleeding in the lungs and the brain. Both she and Shannon went home from the NICU after 60 days.
Eventually, they all came home. The family went through 32 diapers and bottle feedings each day – about 960 per month and followed a strict schedule. The family even implemented a color-coding method for everything: Morgan (pink), Jimmy (blue), Shannon (orange), and Lindsay (yellow).
They still use it today.
The next step is college. Their academic success has gotten Morgan, Jimmy and Shannon into Sussex County Community College through the Stars Program, and from there they can transfer to a state college, most likely The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township.
“I never really thought about what it be like just to go into college,” Shannon said. “I didn’t want to think that far ahead because I don’t know what it feels like to not be with them.”
Lindsay, however, is going away. She will attend the New Jersey Institute of Technology, despite earning early acceptance to Cornell University. However, she received a full scholarship to the Albert Dormans Honors College at NJIT.
“She decided one night she was going to apply to Cornell,” Monae said. “It was the night before the deadline. She applied to Cornell and wrote a last-minute essay. Boom. She got accepted, but not only did she get accepted but she got one of Cornell’s early acceptance letters. They only send those to the top one percent of applicants.”
Morgan, Jimmy and Shannon will remain at home while Lindsay is hoping for a single-room dorm in Newark.
“It’s going to be weird,” Morgan said. “It’s like when you have a shopping cart and three of the wheels work and one of them doesn’t. You can’t use it. You can’t function because you can’t make the left turns, so you have to go around making the right turns.”
It’s also going to be a big adjustment for Mom, who will have to get used to only having three of her miracle babies around the house.
“I’m going to feel broken because I don’t know anything other than doing stuff for them and being around them,” she said. “It’s going to be a big adjustment for me.”
But that’s not for about a month. Immediately after graduation, the family will be heading to Walt Disney World for a well-deserved vacation, and to satisfy Shannon’s Disney “addiction.”