With each miraculous multiple birth -- and there are perhaps four times as many as there were 10 years ago -- the snapshots are the same: The dazed but beaming parents and the four or five tiny pink and blue bundles.
And we hear of the cases of formula and diapers donated by cheerful manufacturers, and the relatives and neighbors who sign up for round-the-clock duty.
It was like that in October 1980 when Andrew, Beth, Christine and Daniel were born to Bev and Ed Hemminger of Annapolis. TC They were pioneers in the age of fertility drugs, at a time when doctors were just realizing that triplets, quads and quints might result.
"I have pictures of the kids in front of 15 cases of formula," says Bev. "And friends would come with sleeping bags. We kept flow charts so we would know who was fed when. It sounds crazy now."
The quads are 14 now. Nobody is donating soccer shoes. There are no volunteers to drive them four different directions after school. And there are no nice neighbors who say, "Take a break. I'll teach them their values for a while."
Once they sleep through the night, it seems, your quads are your own.
"Now, it is all the bickering that wears you down. More than laundry. More than picking up," says Bev. "It is the emotional now more than the physical. I remember when they were so much easier to please. A walk would do it. Now, it's crazy trying to please everyone."
Memory is kind to the past, but Ed says it was easy when the kids were babies. "Now, everything is an argument, and they have an answer for everything."
The Hemmingers don't need an extra pair of hands these days -- although another driver would help. When you have four teen-agers, you need an extra heart. Someone with a reservoir of patience and good sense to take over for you when you are weary.
"I read somewhere that your children are 95 percent you," says Ed. "What drives you crazy is that last 5 percent that isn't." Try that four times.
In one sense, Bev and Ed are no worse off than any other parents of four teen-agers. (Their oldest, Michelle, is all grown up and working in Colorado now.) That's because they have always thought of the quads as four different children, not a unit, not a group. The traits that make them such individuals at 14 were clear to Bev in the nursery.
"Daniel is my perfectionist. He was always first, fastest and best at everything," she says. "Andrew is my examiner, spending a very long time with everything. A walk on the beach took forever.
"Beth is my social butterfly, busy minding everyone else's business. She was so tiny she didn't look real to people, and so they have always been drawn to her.
"Christine was the last home from the hospital and the last at all the stages. She is my shy one, my moody one. The one I worry about most."
There are no hand-me-down clothes in the Hemminger household and no hand-me-down experiences either. The kids have moved through their stages en masse, no breathing space for the parents, no chance to do it better with the next child.
The gift is that each is distinctive, and the challenge is that they are busy being distinctive at the same time, sort of like quadraphonic emotion.
Daniel and Andrew love to rescue Christine, and she lets them. But they are so competitive that their wrestling coach wouldn't let them practice together. He thought they'd kill each other.
Christine works hard at being very unlike Beth. But until they were reunited in the same room, one would sleep on the floor next to the other's bed.
"They are the same as normal siblings except that they were born on the same day," says Bev. "I think of them as quads only when I have to buy them shoes."
Or bikes. Daniel the entrepreneur got a job and paid for most of a much more expensive model. "It devastated the others," says Bev. The part that is individual in Daniel emerged to hurt the feelings of the part of all of them that is a unit.
"They are so different, but I try to treat them the same," says Bev. "And still I hear a lot of 'I never' and 'They always.' "
Bev envied the mothers of one baby at a time the luxury of fawning over just one child. There has never been much time for one-on-one in the Hemminger household.
"But we took just Daniel out for dinner one night. And he thought it was totally boring."