When you are the mother of triplets, you are a magnet for all sorts of well-meaning, strange and personal questions. "Do multiples run in your family?" "Are they natural?" The most common question from the curious is the perennial: "What did you do when you found out you were pregnant with triplets?"
For six years our superficial answers have included "we freaked out" or "we demanded a recount!" What really happens, though, is that you begin a process of living that is not unlike the five stages one goes through when faced with death (according to the late grief expert Elisabeth Kübler-Ross—who was herself a triplet).
Accepting in stages
First stage: Denial ("No, not me.")
We had undergone fertility treatments and were on our last cycle before trying in-vitro fertilization. The idea of multiples while undergoing treatment sounds like hitting the jackpot. The reality of being told you’re pregnant with triplets is like getting hit over the head with a cast-iron pot.
The seven-week ultrasound showed three heartbeats. The stunned technician wordlessly held up two fingers and a thumb.
"Does that mean three?" my husband asked, wanting an explanation for the thumb. For him, the thumb didn’t count as much as either one of the taller fingers. But given the circumstances, it was a digit that could not be ignored.
"It is three babies," she responded in a Slavic-tinged accent.
Maybe there was some kind of cultural counting barrier that made our technician mistaken, I thought. But a doctor came and confirmed the undeniable fact: I was pregnant with triplets.
Second stage: Anger ("Why me?")
During infertility treatments, I was frustrated that I couldn’t become pregnant. Now I was angry that I was overly pregnant.
Even though I was technically three times more pregnant than most pregnant women, I was still jealous of them and their cute little tummies. I had to purchase maternity clothes in two waves: the first at 12 weeks, when I looked seven months pregnant, and again at 31 weeks when I looked 27 months pregnant. Instead of Lamaze classes, we toured the neonatal intensive care unit. A shopping spree for top-of-the-line baby equipment was called off in favor of buying three discounted cribs and borrowing stained swings.
When I excitedly made my first appointment with the obstetrician, the receptionist coldly asked: "Coming in for a selective reduction?" Unaware, she had thrown a bucket of cold water on my enthusiasm for the family growing inside of me.
Third stage: Bargaining ("OK, but not yet.")
I put my anger aside and began to focus on anything but the imminent onslaught of infants. I threw myself into work, collecting a big bonus and promotion. I also packed my bags and we took one last trip. Destination: Hawaii. Purpose: procrastination. One last hurrah before the party was permanently over. I ignored the stares from people wondering why a nine-month pregnant woman was on vacation. (I was four months pregnant.)
The final stages
Fourth stage: Depression ("What difference does it make?")
Near the end of pregnancy, I stopped working. Staying at home with nothing to do but rest depressed me. I began my daily routine in bed, eating the banana and drinking the milk delivered by my husband, and then I stayed in bed all day watching the television show "A Baby Story," crying at all of the "normal" delivery experiences.
My depression continued even after our three healthy babies were born. They stayed in NICU for 10 days, and I watched longingly as the other new mothers left the hospital with their babies. I also felt guilty about not breastfeeding. After pumping for six weeks, I was completely exhausted. After interviewing everyone I knew about whether they were breastfed and assessing each person’s intelligence, I concluded that formula would suffice. My husband, a bottle-fed baby, was thrilled.
Fifth stage: Acceptance ("I’m ready.")
Now that my triplets are 6 years old, I’ve accepted the fact that I’m pregnant with triplets.
Acceptance came gradually. It came when the kids were babies and I’d line them up for a picture. It came when I’d contort my arms and legs unnaturally to feed them simultaneously. It came when they were 2 and I’d watch in disbelief as they walked around the house holding hands. The memories keep multiplying, and the laughter that fills my house is louder than I ever could have imagined.
So although I grieved the loss of a typical pregnancy experience, today I accept with joy my three-part parenthood alternative.
Jill S. Browning is a writer and mother of triplets in Downers Grove.