How does one woman carry and care for three babies at once? And then, what does she do with three 3-year-olds?!
I was thrilled to meet Lorena, a real-life mother of triplets (plus one) this spring. She is cute, capable and, obviously, superhuman. I am fascinated with her family and the way they are successfully raising their multiples. Here are Lorena's thoughts on tripling your pleasure...
#1--If you don't mind sharing a little of your story, how did your miracle triplets come to be? How was your pregancy? Were you on bedrest? Were they preemies? How did you cope that first mind-blowing year?
We found out after we had been married a year that it was highly unlikely that we would ever conceive a child naturally. The doctor then told us about a generous couple, who had anonymously started a fund for young couples attempting in-vitro fertilization. Six months later, after FBI background checks and social worker interviews, we found out that we had been accepted. (Click here for more details of the story.)
The IVF process is a roller coaster, but we had very good embryos to choose from. On the morning of the transfer, the doctor showed us a picture of our three best embryos and asked us if we wanted to transfer 2 or 3. Our chances with three embryos were:
· 75% chance of one baby
· 20% chance of twins
· 5% chance of triplets
We had to wait two weeks to find out if I was pregnant. We were told that the blood test should come back somewhere between 100-300. Mine came back at whopping 1848.
When I was 6 weeks along (4 weeks after the pregnancy test) we had the viability ultrasound saw 3 heartbeats.
At my first OB appointment when I was 8 weeks along, I measured 18-20 weeks along. At 16 weeks along, I was put on home rest. Three weeks later, I started feeling weird and called the OB's office and told them my symptoms. They had me come in to be monitored. In half an hour I had 4 contractions, and my cervix was dilated to a one. Strict bedrest started then.
That next week we went to see our perinatologist and he told us that something had to be done to save the pregnancy as 1/3 of my cervix had thinned, or effaced. He told us that we could do a cerclage, a stitch in the cervix to keep it shut. We talked and prayed and both felt that we needed to do the cerclage to give our children a chance.
The surgery went great! We printed out a calendar and posted it in our bedroom to count down the days until it would be safe to deliver our babies.
At 27 weeks and 6 days gestation, we delivered our miracle babies. They weighed about 2 lbs each and went straight to the NICU. Andrew came home after 8 weeks, Cassie after 10 weeks, and Elena after 12 weeks. They all came home on oxygen and apnea monitors. We would spend hours in the evening untangling all of the cords and tubes, but we were happy to have them all home…and tired. Detailed journals of their stay in the NICU and more pictures can be found here.
To be honest with you, I don’t remember much about the first year unless it was documented by pictures, video, or journals. Dane was still attending BYU and working at the MTC, but he had amazing professors and co-workers who took good care of us, as well as a wonderful ward and extended family that lived in the area.
My favorite story from the pregnancy came one day in the hospital elevator. A volunteer looked at me and asked me if I knew what I was having. I said, “Yes, two girls and a boy.” Her eyes popped out of her head. She was not expecting that one. We still giggle about it. We also used to say to other pregnant couples, “Oh, you’re only having one?” We were so used to seeing 3 babies on ultrasound every two weeks. One baby was just…BORING!
#2--How did you handle the transition from a young, married couple to an instant family of five? How do you keep your marriage strong with so many needy little ones?
I really think that Heavenly Father prepared us for what was to come. The infertility was hard and when you go through a struggle like that, the only people you can turn to are each other. We went on trips and did things that we wouldn’t be able to do with children. We feel that it strengthened our marriage and gave us a great foundation to deal with what was to come.
I must give my husband credit where credit is due. He is amazing! Most fathers are not as involved. We were both hands-on in the NICU every day until the babies came home. After that, we kept them on a strict schedule. He fed, bathed, changed, and did everything else I needed.
We used to take 4-hour sleeping shifts, with one of us asleep in our room and the other in the babies’ room on the recliner. I think the sleep deprivation is the main reason why I really have limited recollection of that first year. But, we tried to make life as normal as possible. We wanted to make the triplets feel special because they were our children, not because they were multiples. We went to the store together, to parks, and to church. And, yes, it did take us longer to get in and out of everywhere, but that’s just how life was going to be.
My best memory of Dane is when we had had the babies home for a month. I would put them down for their 2-hour nap in the afternoon and would spend that entire time washing baby bottles (we lived in student housing and didn’t have a dishwasher). All I really wanted (and needed) was sleep. I cried in exasperation one night and then Dane appeared with a brand-new portable dishwasher.
Dane took care of all of us and was always excited to hear what we had done during the day. I used to take pictures and videos and then play them for him when he got home so he could get caught up on all of the goings-on.
I think we keep our marriage strong because we are living out our dream. As crazy as our life is, we really have no reason to complain. I have never wished that we hadn’t been given triplets. We had prayed for a family for so long and we finally have one.
#3--What are your top tips for mothers with multiples?
FIRST-- Listen to your inner-Mommy. I want to let mothers of multiples know is that these are YOUR children. Not everyone is going to agree with decisions that you make and how you do things, but it doesn’t matter. Take constructive criticism, but listen to your inner-Mommy. I had many times when I felt inadequate because of the “advice” others tried to give me.
A pediatric nurse told me one day that I needed to hold each of my children as they ate. I looked at her in exasperation and told her that I was doing my best. I then realized that she did not have premature triplets, I did.
I learned to seek out those people that I felt were helpful and would boost my self-esteem. I also read every book and magazine that I could get my hands on about raising multiples and applied those things that I thought were useful.
SECOND: Organize, organize, organize! Color-coding worked well for me. Everyone had their own binkies (although they would steal each other’s), bottles, blankets, and bowls. It helped me to know who had eaten what and which binky to stick in which mouth when I would get confused.
THIRD: You don't need three of everything. That just takes up space. I bought 3 bouncy chairs, but never used them. I bought 3 of those huge high chairs, but could have done well with car seats and then just the seats that attach to the chairs. They take up less room.
I had a triplet stroller, but it was so big and bulky that we rarely used it and it cost $500. We bought a double umbrella stroller and a single one for less than $100. When there were two of us, that was all we needed. When I was alone I would clip them all together.
We only used one crib at first and then slowly moved them over to two and then three cribs. Ditto on Pack-n-Plays. But I only had two swings and could have used three. So, don’t worry about having all of your gear at once, you won’t need it.
FOURTH: Schedules worked for me. Most babies can usually go a few months without a schedule, but I really think it is a must for multiples. I kept them on the schedule they started in the NICU. The babies were sleeping through the night by the time they were 5 months old. Because of a strict schedule, we all knew what to expect and so did the “helpers” that we had come over. We also instituted a bedtime routine--we'd read, sing songs, and say prayers. They loved that!
FIFTH: Shop for the car ahead of time. We test drove minivans before I was put on bedrest. You won’t have a lot of time to test drive after the babies come. We took the triplet stroller and tried it out in each of the minivan trunks. There were only two fit, so we went with one of those.
SIXTH: Look into the Podee feeding system. I read about these in a multiples magazine and tried them on a fluke. It changed our lives. Our children could sit up and drink their bottles. This system had a nipple that was attached to a plastic tube that went into the bottle like a straw. Our babies ate more and spit up less because they were seated and getting less air. Much more than that, they could all eat at the same time. I highly recommend these, although you will have to wait until your child can hold their heads up and have a good suck.
#4--What is the greatest challenge of having three children in the exact same developmental stage? How do you deal with it?
I didn’t think of it as a challenge when they were younger. We baby-proofed as we went along because they were all doing the same things. They all ate the same things, were interested in the same things, and had the same schedule.
I guess the biggest challenge is that if one would come up with an idea, the other two would make it a bigger idea. I still don’t know how the sword fighting with my knife set came about, but I’m sure it started with some wooden spoons, went to fake swords, and then ended up with all of the knives, even the butcher knife. The fact that everyone still has 10 fingers is amazing!
We saw a real benefit the summer before kindergarten. Cassie figured out the whole reading thing and was reading to all of us. The other two decided they could do it, too, and all three were reading by the time they entered kindergarten in the fall. They stunned the teachers by knowing all 100 sight words. They really do challenge each other.
#5--Now that your triplets are older, how are their personalities developing? Are they more alike or less? Do they get along with each other, or is there usually a "third wheel"? How do you help them develop as individuals?
My kids are nothing alike and they never really have been.
Andrew is a sweetheart. He is friendly and polite. He knew every student’s name in Kindergarten (first and last) and would address their parents by Mr. or Mrs. The 1st grade teachers called him the Homecoming King because he was so popular. He loves math and music.
Cassie has always been independent. She was the one who would sit in the swing and wait while we dealt with the other two. She is smart, cute, and caring. She is actually the most shy of the three. She likes to stay in the background and observe before joining in. She loves to read and write.
Elena has always been our wacky child. She was the only triplet with any long-term effects from her prematurity. She had respiratory issues after being on the ventilator for so long. She attended Special-Ed preschool for speech and some sensory issues. However, she is doing spectacularly now. She makes friends easily and is very caring and sensitive.
They all get along really well, but Drew is usually left out of playing Littlest Pet Shop and Barbie. (I don’t think he minds too much.) I have never really seen them “gang up” on each other. Sometimes they walk to the car from school holding onto each other like a train. As different as they are, they share a common bond.
As you can imagine, we used to get stopped, a lot, when they were younger. The triplet stroller usually gave us away. We always tried to be polite and friendly because we thought that if someone had taken the time to stop us and ask about the kids, they maybe had some reason for doing so. Maybe they were struggling with infertility or had a family member with multiples. We usually got the same questions about ages, names, and the like.
One day we were talking to a couple who had stopped us when another lady walked up to us. Cassie turned to her and said, “I be Cassie, we be 3, we be triplet.” It was so funny to us because the babies didn’t usually address those that came up to us, and to blurt out a whole sentence was impressive!
To help develop their individuality, I try to find each child's interest and let them pursue it instead of trying to force them to all do the same thing. (Ask me about piano.)
The most important thing I did was to keep them in separate classes. They were together in preschool, but once elementary school started I requested separate classes. I also request that they be separated at church, if possible. It has helped them each become their own person and not just a triplet.
#6--Tell us about your "singleton". Was one single baby a complete breeze after three-in-one? How does she fit into the mix these days?
Brooke, oh Brooke. Remember how I said that it was highly unlikely that we would ever conceive on our own? Well ...we beat the odds, again!
I will admit that even though I was happy with my little family, I really did want to have a normal pregnancy, deliver one baby, breastfeed, and bring the baby home with me. I would dream about it. However, I never prayed about it or spoke about it. I felt it was a very selfish desire. But, we have a God of miracles and that is what Brooke is-- a miracle. I was stunned when I found out I was pregnant, but I quickly realized that she was my unspoken desire, my gift straight from Heavenly Father and it makes me feel very loved.
Yes, it was quite different being pregnant with just one, but I did have three 3-year-olds at home. They had to endure a formerly hands-on mom who had extreme (all-day) morning sickness and was put on bedrest at 29 weeks. I had wonderful friends who came and cleaned my house and fed them lunch, but they were in the middle of potty training and I did have to get up to wipe bums.
I was amazed when I carried Brooke for 38 weeks. She weighed more than the triplets all put together. She was beautiful! And when the triplets walked in to meet her, they seemed so big and she seemed so small. I worried those first few hours because she was not hooked up to anything and I was used to hearing the beating of a heart from the monitors, so that was a little freaky.
I also took her first poopy diaper up to the nurse’s station to be weighed and they looked at me like I was crazy. I was just used to doing that in the NICU. I attended the New Parent’s class, where everyone laughed at me since this was my fourth. But, I had never brought a newborn home. I didn’t know how to nurse and I didn’t have any idea what to do with the umbilical stump. It shocked me that she did not come home connected to anything. She was free, there were no cables and tubes to untangle every night. It was definitely a different experience.
Even though Brooke is 4 years younger than the triplets, it only appears like she is 2 years younger because the triplets are still small for their age. People often think that the 3 girls are the triplets.
The triplets fight with Brooke more than they do with each other, but she will play with any of them. They each have strengths that make them fun to her. However, she has asked if she could only have only one sister, not two. The one she wants to keep changes daily based on each sister’s playing style.
Is she spoiled? Yes, but she should be. When she makes comments, like she did the other day about becoming a triplet when she turns 8, it made me realize that she does notice that she is different, and we need to make her feel special.
#7--How in the world do you do it all?! What do you do for yourself? How do you keep sane?
I don’t know if I would call myself sane. I feel special to be a mother of triplets. I love to talk about them. I always tell people that they could raise triplets if they had to. It’s all about survival and I have to remind myself that these children deserve as normal a childhood as possible.
I do what every other homemaker does. I like to go to the gym, meet up with girlfriends, and blog. I also work three nights a week at a local hospital, so I do get the best of both worlds. And, sure, I don’t look as good as I used to, but heck, I had triplets! It’s my favorite excuse for my bulging belly!
I realize that this is my life and I love it! Don’t get me wrong. I yell, threaten, complain, and have “bad mom” days like everyone else. But, at the end of it all, I realize that I’m just human, and there’s nothing wrong with that.This picture (well, the whole interview, really...) makes me weep. So sweet! Thanks, Lorena. You are amazing.
Lorena's daily adventures are posted on SixSillySeeleys. Check 'em out.