When I first discovered that my first baby was in fact three, it was at my twelve week scan. When the nurse said those unbelievable words, ‘There are three heartbeats’, my husband and I had very different reactions. I couldn’t stop talking and began waving my arms about in shock. In contrast my husband became very quiet and still. We had somehow managed to naturally conceive triplets. The nurse kept telling us how amazing natural triplets were, but I have to admit I didn’t share in her excitement. I was scared and confused; I am a twin myself and remember my Nan telling me how dangerous my mother’s twin pregnancy had been and how hard it all was. After the initial shock had worn off, we drove home from the hospital in silence. As soon as we closed our front door we looked around our tiny, rented, one bedroom flat, and realised we had to move!
Life with one baby could have been manageable financially, but with three babies everything would have to be trebled. Three cots, three car seats, high chairs, a triple pram, the cost seemed never-ending. Fortunately I have always been very good with making very little go a long way. I took any second-hand baby equipment that was offered to me and went to second-hand shops for the rest. Our family bought us the major things like cots, car seats and prams.
I persevered and made sure we left the house at least every other day.
When I reached 31 weeks my two daughters and son were born. After a difficult, emotional and long six weeks in special care, we finally took them home all together. We could only afford a two bedroom first floor flat when the babies were born, so tried to make the best of the space that we had. It was hard, but we had three healthy babies and we were very happy to have them here safe and well. During a triplet pregnancy you are terrified out of your wits that something awful is about to happen at any stage, so I hadn’t even thought about what life would be like after they finally arrived. Thankfully after a few weeks of finding our feet we got all three babies onto a good four hourly schedule and after three months they were sleeping through the night. It took a lot of trial and error and seemingly never ending sleepless nights, but we got to the golden 7pm to 7am schedule. That changed everything and made life much more manageable. We changed every nappy, gave every dose of medicine and every feed. No one offered to help with the night feeds so we did it on our own. It really was just the two of us.
My husband and I often say to each other that the babies are our greatest gift and our proudest achievement. However, adjusting to life with triplets was very, very hard at first. We had never been parents before and were very quickly introduced to a somewhat guerrilla style parenting experience. I had not understood that the very day my three babies came home from the hospital, would be the day I lost my freedom to leave the house with just my handbag! I could pride myself in getting ready to go out in less than 15 minutes before the babies came along but it had now become a military style operation just to leave the house. Some days it really was a huge ordeal to go out with the babies, but staying at home felt too claustrophobic. Our tiny flat had begun to burst at the seams with plastic baby stuff, so getting out seemed like the better option. We had a flight of stairs to contend with each time we left the flat – and came back – but I persevered and made sure we left the house at least every other day.
I remember getting ready to go to the beach one day. After packing all the nappies and bottles, dummies and hats, I realised it had taken me two and a half hours to get everyone ready and out of the house. We only stayed 20 minutes at the beach because the babies wouldn’t stop crying. We literally spent more time getting ready to go out than we actually spent being out.
I’ve spoken to another mum of multiples about the envy I sometimes felt towards a mum with one baby. I would watch them with their one tiny pram and small changing bag. They would sit and feed their baby then walk into a shop without apologising every two seconds to people for banging into them with the pram. No one stared or made ignorant comments. They simply blended in. Of course a mum with one baby has her own struggles but I remember feeling completely separated from other mothers. My experience was completely different to theirs in every way.
Isolation can be an inevitable experience of a new triplet mum. I went through periods of desperation and could feel the walls literally closing in on me. Post Natal Depression can be much more prevalent in mothers who have had a multiple birth and isolation must be one of the major contributing factors. I fought off depression with all my might. I dragged myself out of the house with my three babies, and later toddlers. I walked to the park or the shops and frequently went shopping in my local town centre on my own. I will admit that many times I came home in tears after some trips, promising myself to never go out again as it was just too hard, but I persevered and truly believe that my determination to not feel trapped at home helped me to keep depression at bay.
My parents had moved to another country and my husband’s parents worked full time, so we really only had each other for support and help. Having no one else to turn to has made my husband and myself a much closer couple, but, and it is a huge but, it has also pulled us apart on many occasions. The stress of raising a family can be hard on any parent, but I truly believe that surviving triplets as a couple, requires a great deal of determination and commitment by both parties, and a much higher level of patience and understanding than the average couple may need. To be blunt, having triplets can make a couple stronger or tear them apart.
My husband and I have learnt to support each other much more than we did at the beginning. We have learnt that after five years of raising triplets we can still laugh about how insane our lives have become since our carefree days in the beginning of our relationship. We enjoy our children much more the older they get, and are having a lot more fun as parents now. Of course we had fun when they where babies and toddlers (sort of) but it really does take a lot of time to get the hang of this triplet world.
Six months ago I joined a multiple mums group on a social networking site and have been amazed at how many triplet and quad mummies there are out there. I offer advice to other mums and take advice on a diverse range of subjects. Baby proofing the house being one of the major problems. Many of the triplet mums on the site have finally climbed that mountain of getting their triplets sleeping through the night and are excited at the sight of them crawling for the first time. Which is just as it should be as it’s wonderful when they finally reach those milestones, but I look back on the baby years as the ‘good times.’ When my triplets began to crawl and walk I looked on in horror at the real work that was yet to come. I had to take everything I cared about out of the living room and basically leave the TV and sofa. It looked like an insane asylum with padded cushions everywhere, blankets taped to all the sharp corners.
A triplet mother’s experience of motherhood is so vastly different to a mother of one baby that finding common ground can be hard.
My children, at the age of two, seemed to have a fascination with trying to find different ways each day to hurt themselves, or each other. They would hurl themselves off the sofa hitting their heads, hang off the wall lights and attempt to destroy the TV by climbing on top of it every 10 minutes or so. At times it was Hell… Yes it was wonderful too, but triplet toddlers are very difficult for one person to handle. Even two people. I am surprised I haven’t developed some kind of facial tick through the sheer mental stress of watching them destroy everything in their wake. I can only speak for myself and from my own personal experience, but I quickly realised that I had a mountain to climb as a parent of triplets. Just when you get them through one stage and get to the top of that mountain, you have to climb the bloody thing all over again.
I never really felt like I fitted in at mother and baby groups. Mothers of one baby never really knew what to say to me and to be honest I never really knew what to say to them. A triplet mother’s experience of motherhood is so vastly different to a mother of one baby, that finding common ground can be hard. Of course motherhood itself is the obvious link, but having babies doesn’t always mean you will get on with each other, or have anything else in common. On the multiple birth forums, I often felt like an outsider there, as the other triplet mums had experienced the difficulties of infertility and IVF, and they had an understanding of each other’s experience that I simply didn’t have. They had a language of Hormone treatment, IUI and IVF that I had no knowledge of. Some of the mothers of triplets had already been on such a painful and difficult journey just to get pregnant. I quickly realised that my experience of having natural triplets was in the minority within other triplet groups. I had a relatively easy ride getting pregnant; I had not fought for it in the way mothers who had fertility issues had, or experienced the pain of losing a pregnancy. I wondered how they viewed me as a fellow triplet mum. Although we all had triplets, our journeys to having them had been so vastly different. When I am asked if my triplets were IVF, I find it such an incredibly personal question. Unless I tell a stranger on the street my biological history, people always assume I am IVF. There are people at school who still think I had IVF because I have never told them either way. My triplets were natural, but what difference does it make if they were or not? A life is a life no matter how it is made. I tend to ignore the question now, after 5 years of answering it my tolerance level can be quite low some days. On occasion I have just nodded and agreed to them being IVF.
Mums of triplets are different and we are adapting and living in a world that is designed and set up to deal with parents who have one child at a time. At my children’s primary school I am called the triplet mum by some of the other parents. Not Vanessa the mum who has two girls and a boy. I am referred to as the triplet lady. Just the other day I was introduced in the school playground as the triplet lady. Other mums do not have that label, multiple mums do. I don’t mind it, but it re instils that difference I feel as a multiple mum compared to singleton mums. I am different, and I will always be viewed as different by other parents. When I speak to another mother who has multiples we seem to have a kind of verbal shorthand with each other that doesn’t appear when talking to a mum of one child. I have on occasion, felt that some people have invited me to school parties and other events because I have triplets and other times I feel I have been excluded for that same reason.
I could write so much more about life in the triplet trenches as every parent of multiples knows only too well, every day is packed full to the brim with tantrums and tears, smiles and laughter (sometimes by the kids and sometimes the parents!). My days are very full, filled to the brim with love for my children and love from my children. Of course there are the days when the noise level becomes almost too much to bear, but clichéd as it sounds, there really is something truly magical about being a mother of triplets and I really do consider myself more than blessed to have my children. They bring me so much more joy and love than I had ever expected them to bring and I simply cannot imagine, or remember, my life before my three babies came. Would I do it all over again? Absolutely not!
No seriously, I cannot imagine my life any other way…
By Vanessa Cornell