Corrie Butler Photography From left: Gabriella, Avery, Grayson, Savannah, Noelle, Preston and Lincoln with parents Chad and Amy Kempel
This past February, Amy and Chad Kempel took their seven kids — including 4-year-old-quintuplets — to Disneyland while visiting Chad's parents in California. Seeing the kids bond with their grandparents on the magical adventures was a priority, even though money has been tight in their Eagle, Idaho household.
"Chad's like, 'I really want to make sure that as we're raising our kids, we get them those experiences,'" Amy, 38, tells PEOPLE. "They'll take that with them forever."
For the Kempels and their kids — the couple also has two daughters, ages 7 and 5 — the journey to that rare vacation has been one of joy but also heartbreak. After Amy suffered the loss of twins at 22 weeks and five miscarriages, the couple uprooted their lives in California to buy a home for their seven children in the more affordable Idaho. Now the Kempels are reflecting on their ups and downs as they prepare to celebrate Chad's first Father's Day since he set a world record while pushing his quintuplets in a stroller during a half marathon in April.
"Despite all of my stress and struggle with where we are at in life and the hand that we got dealt, we truly are blessed with all of the kids that we have, because the most important thing is that they're healthy, and they all are," says Amy. "They're happy. They love each other."
Chad and Amy Kempel's Early Days as a Couple
Corrie Butler Photography Chad and Amy Kempel
Almost as soon as they met in 2001, Amy and Chad knew they had something special. Chad was working at a grocery store in their town of Castro Valley, California, and Amy, then 18, came in with her mom to shop. "We kind of noticed each other," says Chad, 40. "At one point I was letting my manager know and letting other people know, like, 'Hey, I like this girl that's coming in here.' She eventually ran out and said, 'Here's this guy's number, he likes you.'"
During their first date on Dec. 31, 2001, "we both agreed we wanted three to four kids," says Chad, a data scientist for San Mateo County, California. The talk of marriage and kids early on felt comfortable, and they've been together ever since.
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"We both fell hard," he recalls. "I wanted a wife and a family and she was thinking the same thing. We really lucked out. We found a person with common goals right there at the beginning."
After they married in 2007, Chad finished a master's degree and began teaching at San Jose State. Finally, the time was right to begin trying for those talked-about kids. "For both of us, that was the most important thing in our lives," he says.
The Couple's Trying Path to Parenthood
Chad and Amy tried to have children for two years before starting intrauterine insemination (IUI) — a fertility treatment that required Amy to take a medication that stimulated her ovaries to release an egg. Then, Chad's sperm was inserted into her uterus to fertilize the egg.
In late 2012, the couple learned that Amy was carrying twin boys. "We were so elated," says Chad. But Marshall and Spencer, born at 22 weeks and three days on May 2, 2013, each passed away within an hour, cradled in Chad and Amy's arms.
"We said, 'We love you so much,'" says Chad. '"We had all this stuff planned for you.'"
Sad yet trying to looking forward, they continued to try again. Amy would give birth to Savannah in October of 2014, but the pregnancy was fraught with anxiety.
"I was like, 'I don't feel like I can get attached because what if something bad happens?'" Amy recalls. "Every day I was pregnant I was like, 'What if I pick up something too heavy? What if?'"
"I wanted to enjoy my pregnancy, I always wanted to be a mom," she continues, "and here I am in this position where I'm like, 'I'm just so scared and so nervous every day.'"
Corrie Butler Photography From left: Grayson, Gabriella, Preston, Lincoln and Noelle with dad Chad Kempel
Still, Chad and Amy continued to grow their family, and second daughter Avery was born in June, 2016. After her birth, Amy was ready to stop, while Chad wanted to keep trying for the third they'd always talked about.
"There was a lot of times where I was like, I'm just worn out and I'm overwhelmed," says Amy.
Amy agreed to continue for another child, and on Aug. 24, 2017 she learned she was pregnant again. The couple suspected she might be carrying more than one child because her levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) — which is often called the pregnancy hormone — "were through the roof," says Chad, noting that high levels can indicate multiples.
An early ultrasound confirmed their suspicions, but never did they imagine what came next.
"The ultrasound lit up like the 4th of July with heartbeats just all over the place," says Chad. "The doctor just goes, 'Okay, so, here we go. Baby A, Baby B.' We're squeezing each other's hands, and I don't think there's any words said at that point."
After reaching Baby D, the doctor told them, "Wait, I think I found another one," recalls Amy.
"He recounts, and this time, he goes up to E," she adds.
"At that point, Amy's hysterical, crying," says Chad. "And I'm devastated — we knew that that kind of pregnancy usually doesn't last. You're going to lose them."
Despite the urging of doctors to abort most of the fetuses to increase the chances that some would survive, called multifetal reduction, the Kempels refused.
"The doctors went right into saying, you know, the best chance at having any kind of birth out of this is if you guys go in and selectively reduce," says Chad.
Adds Amy: "You're aborting [the fetuses] whether they're healthy or not. And you're not even guaranteed that the one or two that are remaining will actually make it."
The next five months were a whirl of doctor's visits and phone consultations with a specialist in Arizona to increase the chances that all five children would be born healthy.
At 27 weeks and 3 days, on Jan. 11, 2018, Amy gave birth to three boys and two girls — Lincoln, Noelle, Grayson, Preston and Gabriella. "We were so relieved," says Chad. "But again, we're looking at them and we're thinking, 'These don't look that much bigger than Marshall and Spencer, who died in our arms.'"
Corrie Butler Photography From left: Preston, Avery, Lincoln, Savannah, Grayson, Gabriella and Noelle with parents Chad and Amy Kempel
Bringing the Kempel Quintuplets Home — and Adjusting to the Couple's New Reality
After up to 73 days in the NICU, all appeared healthy and had come home. But even as the couple was elated that the children survived, Amy found herself overwhelmed with a flood of mixed emotions over what lay ahead. "How do you care for seven, all 3 and under?" she recalls wondering.
It hasn't been easy. In May 2019, the family moved from their nearby extended family in California to Idaho, where they could afford to buy their four-bedroom home.
Living solely on Chad's salary — he works remotely from a home office — doesn't leave much money for childcare. A weekly trip to the grocery store easily tops $300 to $400, and Amy buys their clothes at second-hand shops.
While Chad is a hands-on dad when he's not working — he has breakfast duty that frequently includes pancakes, and pitches in with all other parent duties — Amy often feels overwhelmed doing everything herself while Chad works. It's become more challenging now that school is out, with all the children home for 80 days.
"I'm constantly trying to multitask, yet I feel like nothing ever gets accomplished," she says. "And for the last year the quints have been at a challenging stage of frequent fighting and yelling."
Corrie Butler Photography From left: Avery, Noelle, Preston, Grayson, Lincoln, Gabriella and Savannah with dad Chad Kempel
"It's full volume — there's always at least two or three people talking at the same time," she continues. "And all day it's 'Mom, mom, mom,' 'I need, I need, I need.' People have told me I am very patient, and we never spank our kids, but it's literally nonstop all day long."
Savannah, who just finished first grade, and Avery, who completed kindergarten, can now help out with the quintuplets by bringing someone to the bathroom, setting the table or grabbing milk for a younger sibling.
"They've always been really good helpers and I'm really thankful," says Amy, "especially for the fact that they are very loving on their little siblings."
Meanwhile, as he works in the office he built in the family garage, Chad feels guilty "every day, all day" that he can't shut off his computer and give more of a hand.
"We need me in here doing this so that we can live and provide everything we need for the kids," says Chad, who hopes his career will someday offer more flexibility.
Corrie Butler Photography From left: Grayson, Gabriella, Lincoln, Savannah, Noelle, Preston and Avery
"The Most Difficult 4 Years"
With all the activity around them since the birth of the quints, Amy and Chad have struggled to carve out one-on-one time.
"I'm hugely grateful that they kids are all in good health, obviously," says Amy, "but I think the last four years have been the most difficult four years of our 20-year relationship. I think I can say that without hesitation. We truly just don't have time for each other anymore."
"Even the older girls, there were so many things I looked forward to being a mom," she continues. "When they're finally at the age where they have a personality, you can go do things with them. You can bake cookies, take them to soccer. We can do those things now, but it's so much more difficult."
"Even going to the park it's like, 'Okay, well, throw on your shoes,'" she adds. "Well, it's seven kids saying they can't find their shoes, where's their swimsuits and seven towels."
A "Loving and Devoted" Father
Amy says she is grateful for Chad's support during their "chaotic" days and his dedication to the children. Chad was there help change 100 diapers a day when the quints were infants, rigged a special table to help with feedings and is always a shoulder for Amy to cry on.
"He truly is a great dad. He's very loving and devoted to them," adds Amy. "Family means a lot to him. And he does so much to try to create memories with our family."
One memory shared worldwide occurred in April, when Chad ran a half-marathon in Oakland while pushing the quintuplets in a stroller built for five along the 13.1 mile race, with Amy riding a bicycle by their side. With a time of 2 hours and 19 minutes, Chad earned the record for fastest male marathoner to push a quintuple carriage, according to Guinness World Records. He made it happen with 4 a.m. training sessions, so that his goal wouldn't take away from family time.
Corrie Butler Photography From left: Gabriella, Noelle, Lincoln, Preston and Grayson with dad Chad Kempel
"They were smiling the whole time," Amy says of seeing Chad's hard work pay off. "And they're saying, 'Oh, mom, go faster. Dad, go faster.' I'm proud of him for doing that."
In 2019, Chad earned his first Guinness World Record when he ran a full marathon of 26.2 miles in five hours and 31 minutes while pushing the quints. Then, he continued running until he hit 27.3 miles, to honor the 27 weeks and 3 days Amy carried the children.
"I did it to honor Amy and all she endured to get us to that point in our lives," he says. "I also want the quints to know how special they are and that most counted them out from the moment they were conceived, but they defied the odds."
Chad has no plans to break another record but now has his sights set on building an obstacle course for the kids in the backyard because they love American Ninja Warrior. He savors teaching the older girls how to ride a bike and leading the quints on rides with training wheels.
"I've kind of always been like, 'We can do anything,'" he says. "Anything is possible."
In the process, Chad hopes he is setting a good example for the kids. This includes devotion to family: several months ago, Chad's father suffered a major stroke, and he's been frequently flying back and forth to California to visit. He's there now until Sunday morning, when he plans to fly back to spend the rest of Father's Day with his brood.
"This is more than I had ever dreamed of on that first date with Amy," Chad says. "I look at it as, it is the ultimate purpose, absolutely, in my life — to just be surrounded by all of these people. I can't imagine anything else that I've done that would bring me this much joy."