SUMMER REPLAY: What is it like to have multiples?
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HeyReprotech is a weekly newsletter exploring the ripples caused by assisted reproduction, written by freelance journalist Alison Motluk.
"There was no way to ever prepare yourself for it. People would ask, 'Are you ready?' I didn't know what to expect, so I wasn't ready."
More than a decade ago, as part of a documentary I was making for CBC Radio's Ideas, I interviewed a woman who had triplets through surrogacy.
I will never forget watching her feeding the three infants. With three highchairs lined up in a row, she sprinted from one to the next to the next and back again. Just as the slurp was cleared from the bottom lip of one, a spoonful had to be fed into the next, all to the soundtrack of a third boy whimpering in anticipation. The diaper change I witnessed next was the same kind of Olympic challenge.
I often wondered what life was like with triplets. In 2019, when her boys were 11 years old, I caught up with her to ask.
7 minute read
I have to ask about sleep.
Sleep was tough. We went from sleeping all the night through to suddenly having three preemies. They had to be woken up every two and half hours to be fed. There was no sleep.
My poor husband. He was up every single night with me. He had to — these kids had to eat, and for me to do it all by myself in the middle of the night would be difficult. But he went to work every day. He never had paternity leave.
I remember he would take one and I would take another. And the game was: whoever finished first got the third. You kind of want your baby to finish — you're so tired you just want to get through it — but on the other hand, you kind of want to let the other person get the third one so you can fall back asleep quicker.
But I will say this — I felt like it brought us closer together. We ended up spending a lot more time together than normal. Instead of being short-fused and angry, it was the opposite. We were in this together as a team.
Any trouble getting a babysitter when they were little?
Not easy! I'd always be scared telling the babysitter, 'Hey, I have triplets!' I always had my kids bathed, fed — I would actually put them in bed. But I'd pay extra. It was very expensive!
How did you manage at the playground? How could you keep an eye on all three?
We just didn't go. It was way, way, way too difficult for me to take care of the three of them. A lot of times my friends would say, 'We're just going to meet up at the playground — do you want to come?' And I'd always have to say no. There was no way. I couldn't do it.
I learned to hate playgrounds. The idea of going to a playground made me cringe. Now they're eleven and I still have this hatred for playgrounds.
What about playdates?
The moms would all sit around talking, but I wasn't really able to do that. I had to watch three kids. I had one crawling this way, one walking that way... because, you know, they didn't all walk or crawl at the same time.
And music classes. I'd sign up for these Mommy and Me classes and I'd always have to ask my own mom to come! Which was great — she came, it was really wonderful — but I could never go by myself.
There was a Gymboree class that I could never go to. Everybody went to Gymboree. But to me that was like the impossible, trying to watch three kids in a gym. So my kids had to miss out on those classes that everybody else went to.
Things were hard. The easiest thing for me to do was to put them in the car and go for a drive, or walk around the mall because I could put them in their stroller.
Anything else that was more challenging with three?
We didn't do many birthday parties. Because, to be honest with you, three birthday parties, three classes of kids, that's a lot of kids. So then it became let's do a birthday party but let's agree on who we can invite.
Some people would come with three gifts and some people would come with one gift. They would think, well I'm just friends with one, so I'll bring him a gift. And that was okay. I never wanted anyone to feel they had to bring three gifts.
But when my three kids went to a birthday party, we brought three gifts. That was something I was very conscious of. They're inviting all three of my kids. I don't know if they actually wanted all three of my kids or they felt like they needed to have all three. Regardless, there's three of my kids attending your birthday party. I will bring three gifts.
That could get pricey.
Everything about having triplets is expensive. The day we found out we were having them, my husband, who is a teacher, kind of looked at me and said, 'How are we going to do this?' I was working at the time as a casting director. I knew that I had to give up my career to have these kids — it wasn't going to be worth us paying to have daycare or getting a nanny in, so I was going to stay home with them. We went from two careers to one career and from two people to five people — overnight.
Finances are the scariest part of it. It's not just the diapers and the formula. We had three playpens, three Jumperoos, three bouncy seats, three high chairs. Now we have three of the same bikes, three of the same scooters, three pairs of roller blades, three tennis rackets. They all play baseball, and you have to pay the fee: Three kids on travel teams, three uniforms, three pairs of cleats.
What's the room situation like at your house?
We live in a great house, but it's too small. The boys all share the same room. My mom refers to their room as The Orphanage! Their three beds, all lined up.
For a long time, they had a hard time going to sleep because they would always talk, they would always joke around, they would get into each other's beds. As they got a little older, we put a TV in their room, and we'd give them thirty minutes of TV before bed. And we'd say, 'When the TV goes off, that's it, lights out.' And that worked pretty well. Only now they fight over the remote! And let me tell you, they all want to watch something different. One son always wants to watch basketball or baseball. My other son wants to watch the baking championships on the Food Network. The third one just wants to watch cartoons.
What about parent-teacher interviews? Any scheduling issues?
I would barter with other parents. I'd say, 'Look, I've got 3 to 3:30... Please let me have that 3:30 slot! Don't make me come back at 5 o'clock!' I'm known in my school now. Everyone just lets me make my appointments first. A 20-minute parent-teacher conference is 20 minutes for someone else, but it's 60 minutes for me!
Did having triplets change how you think about yourself or how other people think about you?
I lost my identity when I had these kids. I didn't just become a mom — I became a mom of triplets. And everyone knew me as the mom who pushed that really big stroller around town. People recognize me today — 'Hey, it's Triplet Mom!' I have no idea who they are. But I'm 5 feet tall, I'm petite, and I have triplets.
I remember when the kids were really young, I went out and got my nose pierced. I wanted to do something that made me stand out and be myself.
What about for the boys? Is there anything uniquely challenging about being a triplet?
Three's a tricky number. Because they are all boys, and all the same age, the competition is very difficult. Watching these kids grow, it was always who walked first, who walked second, who was potty trained. They're all the same age but they're three different kids.
One of my guys always feels left out. He has to struggle every day to get to be where the other two are and it's really hard. Two of my kids made the A team in baseball, and one of my kids made the C team. That is super tough. He tries hard too. If you had an older sibling, you could always say, 'Don't worry about it. He's older.' That's not the case here.
Do you ever wish you could have had them one at a time?
I would say no. I can't imagine them not being triplets, not being all in my life at the same time. But I wish I could have had one more, just to see what it was like to have one!
We went from husband and wife to entire family — instafamily! I'm very fortunate that I have three. I look forward to the future. I think there are fun times ahead!
This interview has been condensed and edited. It was originally published in HeyReprotech, in a slightly different format, on April 16, 2019.