They are the babies that propelled their mother into the history books and earned her the scorn of millions.
But three months on since 65-year-old Annegret Raunigk gave birth to quadruplets, mother and babies have been given the green light to leave hospital by the end of the month.
According to the head of the Neonatology Department at Berlin’s Charite Hospital, Annegret and her four babies are now strong enough to face the outside world.
Doctors were extremely concerned at the time that the very premature babies would not survive, with tiny baby girl Neeta weighing just 1lb 7oz when she was born.
Neeta’s three brothers were almost as small – with Bence weighing 1lb 8oz, Fjonn 1lb 10oz and Dries 2lb 2oz – and the severely underweight babies had to be kept in incubators for the first week of their lives.
Experts warned that, even if they did pull through, they could suffer lifelong health problems including lung, intestinal, eye and brain complaints.
But Professor Christoph Buhrer has confirmed: ‘All have developed well, they have grown wonderfully in a short time.
‘The children were born through Caesarian section but all four are now as strong and as heavy as it they had been born naturally.’
A few days ago, Neeta, Bence, Fjonn and Dries – now weighing 5lb 11oz, 5lb 12oz, 5lb 13oz and 6lb 3oz respectively – were examined and deemed fit enough to leave the hospital soon.
Professor Buhrer added: ‘Now they are ordinary children who want to go home to be looked after by their mother.’
The children spent months in delicate health, connected to breathing tubes in incubators.
Dries needed surgery four weeks ago after developing fluid on his brain but he has recovered through a procedure which diverts excess cerebral fluid to his abdomen.
Neeta, his sister, also underwent an operation shortly after birth to repair a hole in her bowel.
‘Dries has recovered well but he is going to need physiotherapy as a result of the intervention,” said the professor. ‘Ms Raunigk needs now, above all, practical help.’
Waiting to greet the retired English and Russian teacher is her daughter Leila, aged 10, who persuaded her to seek fertility treatment in Ukraine because she wanted a sibling to play with.
Annegret was forced to travel to Kiev as doctors in Germany refused to give her IVF treatment, because they were concerned that her body wouldn’t be strong enough to survive the stress of pregnancy and giving birth.
I sleep very little but I know I can take care of them
65-year-old mum, Annegret Raunigk
In Ukraine, doctors agreed to use a donated egg and donated sperm to artificially inseminate her – a process which is illegal in Germany.
But even Annegret admitted to being ‘shocked’ when the ultrasound scan revealed she was carrying quadruplets.
‘I sleep very little but I know I can take care of them,’ said Annegret, who will move from Berlin to a country home 300 miles west of the city to raise her new brood.
Annegret is now a mother of 17 children, with the oldest being 44, and a grandmother of seven.
She has always ignored the moral earthquake she has triggered, the gasps of horror from those who say she is selfish, mad or both.
‘Everyone should live as they want to but everyone, it seems, has something to say about this,’ she said, shortly after announcing her pregnancy.
‘This is not about egotism and it is not selfishness. I like children – they keep me young. You get more tolerant the older you get.
This is not about egotism and it is not selfishness. I like children – they keep me young. You get more tolerant the older you get
‘I would never dream of telling anyone to do this or that. I am looked after, consulted, observed. I am fit and I am ready to have these babies and to care for them.’
Married just once, and the matriarch of a clan of 17 created through five different fathers – not including the donated sperm – she said she doesn’t think much of men and says ‘there aren’t many who would fit the bill’ in helping to raise the new additions.
‘My experience with men was that I never found the right one,’ she said.
Annegret is no stranger to the spotlight: she appeared on the Gunther Jauch show – he is a kind of Noel Edmonds of the Fatherland – back in 2005 with her extended brood after she gave birth to her youngest daughter, Leila, who turned ten this year.
Back then she was celebrated as Germany’s Eldest Mum. Now opinion is divided as to whether she should be regarded as a feminist icon…or a freak.
‘It was my daughter Leila who suggested it,’ she said of the quest for motherhood at an age when most senior ladies would confess they could think of nothing worse.
‘”I want a brother or sister!” she said. She got a bit of a shock when I told her there were four babies on the way.’
She is poised to move from Berlin to the small town of Hoexter in the state of NorthRhine-Westphalia where she has bought a much larger house.
‘I want them to be raised somewhere quieter than Berlin,’ she said