Diary of a triplet mom

"Are they natural?"


Jill S. Browning

Editor's note: Jill Browning and husband Tom are the parents of Susannah, Eric and Will, who were born on the same day: May 25, 2000. The following entries highlight their joys, frustrations, complications, hilarity, tears and exhaustion over the last six years, and how triumphing with triplets means taking it all one day at a time.

March 26, 1998

We watched "Friends" tonight. Phoebe's acting as a surrogate for her brother and just found out that she's carrying triplets.

"Can you imagine?" I asked Tom.

"No," he responded flatly and without hesitation.

July 18, 1999

My younger sister called to announce that she's pregnant with kid number two. She doesn't know that we're still hoping to get pregnant with our first after two years of trying. I feign happiness.

Tom and I are caught in the quagmire of fertility treatments. This month, we're using an injectable drug called "Repronex." We read on the internet somewhere that one of its ingredients is the urine of post-menopausal nuns. I think of who first thought to do this every time Tom shoots a vial of it into my rear end.

Nov. 15, 1999

Oh my. Oh my. Oh my. THREE BABIES. TRIPLETS, TRIPLETS, TRIPLETS. We just went in for the first ultrasound, and it showed three heartbeats. I'm seven weeks pregnant.

The prospect of never being parents was horrifying.

This isn't. (But it is alarming.)

June 7, 2000

The babies have been in the neonatal intensive care unit to "feed and grow" but are coming home today. The nurses have trained us to feed, bathe and vigorously burp a four-pound baby. ("She burps like a truck driver," a nurse named Woody always said of Susannah.)

During their 10-day hospital stay people said, "Enjoy this time, your life's about to end." As if we weren't going to be in the hospital every chance we could, commuting an hour each way. As if we weren't going to call at 2 a.m. to see how many milligrams the babies had eaten. As if life as we'd known it hadn't already ended.

June 11, 2000

Today's the day I had wanted the kids to be born, but there's no time to pine and pout over that. They've been born already, and it's time to get the bottles ready.

I take a one-pound can of powdered formula and dump half into a 60-ounce plastic pitcher. I add a half gallon of distilled baby water and stir furiously with a giant whisk. After pouring out 12 bottles, I repeat the process. I put the 24 bottles into the refrigerator to be warmed later. The batch will last 24 hours.

Eight, eleven, two, five; eight, eleven, two, five goes our relentless, three-hour, around-the-clock schedule:

Wake babies up. Change diapers. Warm bottles. Give bottles. Burp tummies. Play newborn games. Put babies back to sleep. Wash bottles. Wash nipples. Take out trash. Throw in a load. Fold a load. Put away a load. Try to take a nap. Hear a baby cry. Hear another. Hear another. Repeat schedule. Aug. 1, 2000

The babies would not sleep. Ignoring the "back to sleep" messages about SIDS, I flipped them onto their bellies. They slept for over two hours.

The silence was peaceful, but I was frantic. I kept creeping into the room to stare at each baby, checking for the rise and fall of chests. Mom said that I was a tummy sleeper. ("Doctors said babies would choke on their own vomit if they didn't.")

I called our pediatrician seeking reassurance.

"Well, you have three. You have to do what you have to do," she responded.

So if I lose one, I have a spare?

Sept. 29, 2000

As the babies cried in unison, I joined them, overwhelmed. I thought about all of the mothers practicing attachment parenting and how royally I was damaging my kids' ability to trust. I was a bad mother.

"Sing to them. Your voice will soothe them just as much as your arms could," Mom advised. I wasn't so sure.

I sang.

May 22, 2001

An airplane trip would have been impossible, so we've driven 20 hours in two days to vacation at my friend's beach house in North Carolina. For our seven-day trip we packed:

one double jogger stroller one single jogger stroller one double umbrella stroller one single umbrella stroller two Costco tubs of wipes three portable cribs seven one-pound cans of formula 20 bottles 24 cloth diapers for wiping faces after feedings 36 bibs 42 swim diapers 42 onesies 126 jars of baby food 210 diapers Sept. 11, 2001

Tom came home from work early today, since the Loop shut down. I took Eric out to the grocery store with me, alone. The store was eerily quiet, but people seemed brightened by my smiling baby boy.

"He's adorable," said one woman.

I soaked it up. It was a drastic difference from the usual barrage of comments and questions when I'm out with all three:

"Are they triplets?"

"Are they identical?"

"Are they natural?"

(Are triplets ever natural?)

"Was it fertility drugs?"

"You've got your hands full."

"Do multiples run in your family?"

"Did you have to 'do it' three times? Ha ha."

"Did you breastfeed?"

"Do they all have the same personality?"

"Better you than me."

"I would kill myself."

Dec. 12, 2001

I heard a thump. Will crawled out of his crib. I ran upstairs in time to see him walking out of the room, waving and saying "goodbye!" loudly to Susannah and Eric. The end of cribs is here.

We had purchased the cribs at a liquidation sale. They were creaky and needed to be thrown out instead of given away. The dismantled cribs made an impressive pile out on the curb, waiting for the trash man.

We rarely buy baby equipment to last. Once we're done, we're done permanently. Strollers, cribs and clothes are all sent out of the house and out of our minds. We're onto the next stage in life, always.

Jan. 8, 2002

Dad bought us a funny looking table from a preschool's garage sale. It is five feet long with three red plastic bucket seats.

"The kids look like a freak show in that thing," said Tom.

I agreed. Our $450 Peg Perego matching high chairs are more stylish. (They were our one and only splurge purchase.)

But the table is special. I can throw food down and the babies take what they want and swap bites. (I never try to contain germs. The sooner they're spread, the sooner an illness will end.) There are no crevices for food to hide in the table, so it's easy to clean.

Having triplets makes me realize it's not style that counts, it's the functionality for our family.

Goodbye, fancy high chairs. The Freak Table stands victorious.

Dec. 20, 2002

I started potty training Will, thinking one at a time would be easier. But the others jumped on the bandwagon too.

Everyone descended to the basement in underpants. I bought all kinds of junky juice to load up the bladders. As I was giving instructions, my daughter stood, wide eyed and legs apart, and soaked the carpet. I remained calm and started mopping.

"Good! You just went potty. Next time, put the pee in the potty!" I cheered.

Then I turned around. Both boys had peed, soaking the floor in different spots. They could have cared less, and kept playing.

Two hours later, after more juice and more accidents, my patience expired.

Mom assured me that they won't go to college in diapers.

April 7, 2003

We didn't sign up for 3-year-old preschool. Our kids started the socialization process while still in utero, and monthly tuition times three is $420.

Instead, we enrolled in a variety of park district classes. "Messy Two's and You," "Tots in Motion" and "Tot Musical Spot" are some of the stimulating courses we've tried.

Today we had a gymnastics class. Parents and children were to roll a ball back and forth to one another. Our ratio of one to three made it tricky. I looked foolish chasing balls all over the room. The instructor stepped in to help. I felt frustrated and ashamed, unable to give any of my kids a normal interaction or attention.

Oct. 13, 2003

Susannah was mad at Eric and Will today. "Boys, go into time out!"

Both went into time out.

Feb. 16, 2004

The YMCA's preschool enrollment was this morning at 8 a.m., sharp. I nervously rushed in to meet the director. It's a competitive sport in the suburbs to secure a preschool spot, and I needed three.

The director was welcoming. She didn't flinch at the word "triplets." She asked their names and interests. The encounter was unlike those with other preschool directors, one of whom sneered, "Three spots is a lot to expect."

Life with triplets exposes you to two kinds of people. The first kind can't fathom the predicament of triplets and treats you like a "Jerry Springer" guest. (They're the ones who say, "My condolences.") The second kind treats you like a normal person. (They're the ones who say, "You are so blessed.")

May 2, 2005

Will was invited to play at Jacob's house and I was irked. Didn't Jacob's mother know that Will has a brother and a sister--the same age--and in the same preschool class as her son? What nerve, inviting Will sans siblings.

I realized, though, that I was being hypocritical. I'm always trying extra hard to foster an independent spirit. Will's entitled to his own friend.

Nov. 8, 2005

The kindergarten teacher conference for Eric was at 7:20. Susannah's was at 7:40. Will's was at 8.

Despite the separate time slots, conversation meandered back and forth and between each kid. Everyone tried to avoid making comparisons, but some were made. It couldn't be helped. It was hard to commend or criticize one without acknowledging the others, somehow.

Just like kindergarten, there are only two sections of first grade next year. We're asked: do we want to keep them together, or separate one?

We'll stick together, for now. There's a lifetime of time for them to spend apart.

May 24, 2006

The kids' birthday is tomorrow.

"Susannah, Eric and Will can each bring in their own treat to share with the class tomorrow," the teacher suggested. "The kids can then choose which treat to eat and then bring the other two home."

I told her that my kids had already voted to bring fruit kabobs. There would be just one snack from the three of them. (Practicality often trumps independence.)

The kids have shared and compromised and celebrated collectively their entire life. Why stop now?

June 1, 2006

Although it reinforces that I'm forever an outsider to their party of three, my favorite thing is overhearing the perpetual kid-to-kid conversations. Their even development spotlights their mutual ignorance and innocence.

"What is water made of?" Susannah asked her brothers.

"We don't know yet," said Will.

"Lots and lots of moisture," said Eric.

"Air. Wet air, I think," Susannah concluded, as always, dissatisfied with her brothers' answers.

Jill S. Browning lives with her husband Tom, and three six-year-olds, Susannah, Eric and Will, in Downers Grove.


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