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Triplets – Three’s a crowd.

We loved seeing Claire’s story appear in Prima Pregnancy and Birth. The photography was beautiful and the story tells itself

What to do when triplets arrive! Claire’s honest account of the changes and challenges faced by a mother of triplets was wonderfully articulated and got us all feeling a little broody at the site of Claire’s gorgeous kids. I’m sure it’s not as easy as it looks…

 

Triplets changed our life – three times over!

“All we wanted was a little brother or sister for William, now four. Paul had dreams of walking his daughter down the aisle one day, and I just wanted was a little brother for William to grow up with.  But what we got was three little playmates for William! Thomas, Edward and Harry were a little bit more than we were expecting, but they’ve been the making of our family.

William was two when we started trying. It didn’t take us long to get pregnant, but in June 2011, at 11 weeks pregnant, I had a miscarriage. I just knew something was wrong and my sister rushed me to hospital while Paul stayed at home with William.

A few hours later the doctor confirmed that I’d lost the baby and they couldn’t say why. We were devastated. We had been so excited about our dream coming true. But we had to remember we still had William and we still had each other.

It took us a few months to recover. We had to grieve for the life we’d lost. We booked our first foreign holiday as a family, just the three of us, to Gran Canaria in August 2011. It was just what we needed.

A month later, I realised I was pregnant again. I walked Paul down to the end of the garden and pulled out the positive test stick. His eyes filled with happiness as he wrapped his arms around me.

Paul wanted to wrap me in cotton wool this time. He was terrified of something going wrong.

‘Let’s just focus on getting to 12 weeks,’ I said. And luckily, we did.

But things felt different. I began to show a lot earlier than I had with William. And I was exhausted. We’d moved house and I was busy trying to redecorate, but I just felt so tired.

My 12 week scan arrived at Wickham General Hospital. As the sonographer smoothed the cold gel over my belly, his eyes bulged.

‘Oh my,’ he said. I squeezed Paul’s hand, expecting to hear bad news.

‘I’m sorry to startle you,’ he said. ‘Everything’s fine. But you’re having three.’

We were both speechless. We stared at him, then each other. Paul swore and lost all colour in his face. My mind went blank. Three babies? There had to be some kind of mistake.

‘As far as I can see, there is only one placenta, which means they’ll be identical,’ the sonographer said.

Paul likened the news to being hit around the head with a cartoon frying pan. It felt overwhelming, terrifying, exciting and wonderful, all at once.

‘Claire doesn’t seem big enough to carry three children,’ Paul said. ‘Will she be okay?’

The doctor explained that I would have to look after myself and my babies and I knew that there would be no more climbing ladders to paint the rooms in our new house – I was going to eat healthily, exercise gently and do everything I could to be the perfect home to these growing babies.

Of course, we panicked about how we’d manage financially. Three babies at once sounded like a minefield of expensive kit. We didn’t even know where to buy a three-baby buggy, let alone know how we could fit everyone in the car at once. So much needed to be considered and bought.

But we talked – a lot. We told Paul’s parents and went to visit my mum, who was the only person who already knew I was pregnant. We handed Mum a picture of a baby. Then another.

‘Twins!’ she said. So we handed her a third picture. ‘Triplets?’ she stuttered, hardly able to say the word. She nearly passed out and had to sit down!

William was too young to understand that he was getting three little brothers, but we told him straight away.

For weeks friends would ask us if we were really sure we were having triplets. No one could believe it.

Although it was fun telling people, it hadn’t really sunk in for us what lay ahead yet. We just felt a bit special and lapped up the attention.

The care we received from the hospital was second to none. From the word go, I was looked after. I had scans every fortnight, dropping to every week as we reached the end. Everyone on the maternity ward knew I was expecting triplet boys and they were treated like kings in waiting!

At 16 weeks it was confirmed they were boys. Because they were sharing a placenta, we were told selective reduction was not an option, but it never would have been for us anyway. If three babies were growing inside me, we wanted three babies.

The magic number for gestation was 28 weeks. I knew if I could keep the boys safe till then, they would be okay. They might have lung, breathing or heart problems but they would almost definitely survive if we passed the 28 week mark. That was my goal.

We spent the pregnancy preparing ourselves. We joined Tamba, the twins and multiple births association. We imported a buggy from New Zealand which we had bought on Ebay. We spoke to other multiples parents.

The gestation period for triplets is just 34 weeks and I made it. By then, I was bed bound and in Stoke Mandeville Hospital awaiting a planned C-section, desperate to meet my babies.

On the 13th April 2012, I had a Caesarean and the boys were born one minute apart – first Thomas, weighing 4lbs 5oz, then Edward, weighing 4lbs 11oz, then Harry, weighing 4lbs 3oz.

The consultant was impressed – she’d expected the babies to weight 2lbs!

Thomas was held up so I could see him, but there was no time for cuddles. The boys were incubated in the neonatal unit for 24 hours. By the second day, they were using their own lungs to breath.

William was one of the first visitors. He didn’t quite understand why his brothers were out of my tummy but not yet ready to play. But we made sure the triplets had a present for him – some crafty bits and pieces – and he bought them each a teddy bear. I could see their bond forming already, he was such a proud big brother.

The first month, the boys were kept in hospital, to monitor their breathing and ensure they were okay. They hadn’t developed a sucking reflex so were tube fed for the first few weeks too. They had some heart murmurs but they soon fixed themselves.

It felt strange leaving the boys at hospital but it meant I had a chance to recover from the operation. We spent time with William and made sure we had the house ready for the new arrivals. We visited the boys every day.

Then it was time for the boys to come home. And that was when the challenges began.

The first surprise was the sheer volume of stuff – I felt like a machine, constantly changing nappies, feeding, loading the washing machine, then changing nappies again. The early days were surreal. Paul and I waved goodbye to a good night’s sleep. The triplets could get through an average 35 nappies a day – their personal best was 54. We needed 19 milk bottles and sterilised bottles constantly.

The washing machine was on three times a day and there seemed to be an endless conveyor belt of baby demands to be met. If one of them woke up, they’d all wake up. Within weeks Paul had to return to his job in recruitment and I was left to cope alone – even the simplest thing, like leaving the house, needed militant planning.

All the while, I didn’t want William to feel like he was missing out. Paul and I agreed his childhood was still of paramount importance. We always tried to make time for William too.

Frazzled is the best word to describe how I felt. For seven months, Paul and I survived on two hours sleep. Some nights, all three of them would be screaming so loud they’d wake William too. Paul’s performance in his job suffered, as did my sanity. My emotions were all over the place and I found myself incapable of doing the simplest task.

Paul and I snapped at each other plenty in those early months. I’d cry over the silliest things. All we needed was a good night’s sleep but that seemed like a pipe dream.

When the boys were about four months old there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Their personalities began to shine through. Thomas and Harry were active and inquisitive, Edward was more chilled. Harry was the smallest but he was a little fighter. He was always the first to do anything.

Thomas followed Harry’s every move. Edward was never in any rush – he did everything in his own time.

We’d walk down the high street with the four boys in their buggies and beam with pride. Complete strangers would stop us and tell us how amazing they were. We didn’t dress them the same because we wanted them to feel distinct, but people adored them.

With a bit of communication and a strict routine, things were getting easier.

The biggest step forward for me was when I accepted that it was okay to ask for help.

It sounds silly, but I thought I was supposed to do everything myself or I’d fail as a mother. Now, I’ll accept help from anyone! Our parents, neighbours, friends, the kind people at Bernardo’s – people want to help and we are glad to have it. If our neighbour wants to drop off a lasagne and I don’t have to think about cooking for one night – brilliant!

We learned that it’s okay to cry, to moan, to shout. The worst thing you can do is bottle it up and resent each other. You’ve got to work as a team.

William has been incredible. I wouldn’t have survived the early days without him. He passes nappies and cream to me, sits in the bath and washes their hair and he’s their chief entertainer. They’re all mesmerised by him.

We’ve always been very conscious that William is still only a toddler himself. We never want him to feel that he’s not as special as his brothers. We’ve been amazed to see that everyone else is just as sensitive – even strangers peering into the buggies will tell William that the the big brother role is most important.

Before the triplets, I’d worked hard to qualify as a cardiac rehabilitation nurse and I am back at work now, for one day a week. My career is important to me too.

I am back in my old size six jeans. I measured 47 inches across at my biggest but I put my return to shape down to breastfeeding, cutting out sugary food and gentle exercise, like swimming and Pilates.

We get through 18 pints of milk a week now and every day is a whirlwind. I never thought I wanted a big family but I love every second of it. If I lost everything tomorrow but I still had Paul and our four boys, I wouldn’t care.

Those early days were tough – at times I thought we’d never get through it. But we did – and if we can do it, anyone can!