The woman who gave birth to the first surviving set of quadruplets in Australia shares her advice for living a happy and healthy life (and wrangling four toddlers at once)
In 1950, Betty Sara made global headlines by giving birth to Australia’s first set of quadruplets – Alison, Philip, Judith and Mark, who were born over three days. Yes, you read that right, FOUR babies over THREE days.
At the time, the family’s home of Bellingen on NSW’s Mid North Coast was taken over by journalists, photographers and TV crews. The country waited with bated breath for news out of the tiny country hospital. When the final baby was born after an 80-hour marathon, there was a collective sigh of relief (led by Betty).
As kids, the Sara quads met the Queen, graced the cover of the Australian Women’s Weekly (multiple times) and fronted ads for Johnson’s Baby Powder. Their lives were a matter of national interest – and their Mum became a national treasure.
In January this year, Betty celebrated her 100th birthday. When asked how she was feeling on the day of the milestone, she replied, “About the same as yesterday.” What a woman!
Want more women’s health content delivered to your inbox? Subscribe to Women’s Health News for our weekly update.
Women’s Agenda sat down with Betty and her daughter Alison over a cup of tea and a lamington to tap her wisdom. Here’s what we learnt…
Before she went into labour, Betty and her husband Percy, who was the local ambulance superintendent, didn’t know she was having quads. She’d had an uneventful – albeit very large – pregnancy and the doctors had told them she was having twins, maybe triplets. It wasn’t until she gave birth to her first daughter Alison, that they revealed the truth. Three days and three more babies later, Betty had officially made history.
Upon introducing the quads to their older brother Geoffrey, the four-year-old remarked, “Are we going to keep all of them?”
Betty laughs at the recollection now, but admits having four babies was a handful. Well, multiple handfuls. “I’m glad I was young,” she says. “And I had plenty of help. Plus, they were all bottle fed, of course.”
The hardest part for Betty was all the attention. At 30, the shy “British war-bride” whose single claim to fame was once winning a Queen Elizabeth lookalike competition became the talk of the town – and town’s around the world.
In an attempt to keep prying eyes and questions at bay, the family signed an exclusive 16-year deal with the Australian Women’s Weekly, granting the magazine access to their lives – at an arm’s reach.
“I just wanted to raise the children to be normal, even though it was very hard to be normal,” says Betty, who rose to the challenge. “The thing I’m most proud of is my kids: they turned out alright. Having the quads was the most outstanding thing I did.”
Up and at ‘em
Now in triple digits and with nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, Betty still keeps her mind and body active. When Betty’s daughter Alison went to pick her up from her retirement village on the morning of our interview, she found her mother doing her morning exercises. “Oh, I just do some hand, arm and shoulder stretches twice a week,” explains Betty, demonstrating her moves.
When she’s not working out, she’s working her mind with puzzles, crosswords and a pile of books. “I like the old detective novels, history books and a bit of adventure,” she says. “I’m not mad on love stories though…”
Overall, Betty credits her good health to her genes (her own mother lived into her 90s) and attributes her independent streak to surviving the war; “We just had to cope.”
If you can be anything, be humble
With her perfectly styled hair and chic lavender outfit, Betty glances over the birthday cards she received this year from the Prime Minister, the Premier of NSW and, of course, the Queen.
After 70 years in the spotlight, Betty is ever so dignified about her stardom. She dismisses the idea that she’s famous and plays down her extraordinary life. “I think it was just a good news story after the war years,” she says. And who doesn’t love a good news story.
When asked how she stays so healthy and beautiful, Betty says, “I suppose I’m very well looked after. And I have the odd wine…”
Every afternoon, Betty treats herself to a nice glass of chardonnay – and heaven knows she deserves it. Cheers to you Betty!