It's time for a family photo. Two-year-olds T.J. and Kiley climb into the laps of their parents, Stacey and Tim Cavanagh. Three-year-olds Ryan and Jack decide to climb onto the back of the couch, while 3-year-old Charlie lies on the floor nearby and refuses to cooperate. Two-year-old Kate has discovered the nearby closet and is opening and closing the door to peek out while Tim patiently jokes with her and encourages her to come join her siblings in the photo. In the meantime, Stacey and Tim have resorted to bribes to get Charlie into the photo, offering lunch at a favorite restaurant if he will cooperate.
"This is going to have to be quick," Tim says under his breath, as both sets of their triplets finally land on the couch for the photo. Tim and Stacey are unflappable as photos have to be re-shot because Kiley has a wadded-up Kleenex peeking out of her fist, Charlie is struggling to break out of Stacey's grasp, and Jack and Ryan have squirmed down out of sight behind Tim.
This is life in the Cavanagh household.
For Stacey and Tim, life with two sets of triplets under the age of 4 is their normal. After the dark days of thinking they would never have a child, to have six healthy, happy kids is like winning the lottery for the Lincoln Park couple.
Tim and Stacey met 10 years ago at a legal firm downtown where Tim was a lawyer and Stacey was a law clerk. As their relationship grew more serious, they talked about kids. Tim is from a family of five kids, while Stacey is the oldest of three girls. They both knew they wanted children of their own. After several years of marriage and numerous rounds of unsuccessful fertility treatments, the couple despaired of ever having their own biological children.
Stacey was beyond discouraged. "The stress it puts on you as a person and your marriage, it's palpable. You could sit next to me and feel the pain. It was a hard time."
Elated when they realized in vitro fertilization finally worked, the joy wore off when they saw three little blips on the ultrasound screen. Having triplets is inherently risky and Stacey had even more risk factors: she was over 35 years old, this was her first pregnancy and she was a petite 5-foot-3-all things that increased the possibility she wouldn't carry the triplets to term.
"I was very scared but I was going to do everything in my power to keep them healthy, and the rest was out of my hands," Stacey says. On Dec. 24, 2006, at 36 weeks, Stacey developed pre-eclampsia and had an emergency C-section. She gave birth to Ryan, Jack and Charlie, three healthy little boys who spent only a short time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit before heading home.
Life became a blur of triple feedings and diaper changes. Time passed quickly; then Stacey was surprised to find out she was pregnant again-without any fertility treatment-when the boys were five months old. Because it was an ectopic pregnancy, the pregnancy ended, and Stacey and Tim focused on their boys. Jack, Ryan and Charlie were 11 months old when Stacey realized she was pregnant again.
Then came the stunner-three dark circles on the ultrasound screen. "It took my breath away," Stacey says. She began crying and laughing, not sure how to feel. "The thought of having triplets again was overwhelming. I had tears streaming down my face."
Always optimistic, Tim looked at Stacey's tears and said, "Why are you crying? We just won the lottery."
But realizing there would be six small mouths to feed, six little bodies to hug, six babies who would need some one-on-one time, Stacey worried. Because they could afford to hire help, Tim and Stacey knew they'd have no problem keeping the kids fed and healthy. "But I worried, can I meet their needs as a mom?" Stacey recalls. "Is there enough of me to go around for six needy children?"
On July 22, 2008, Stacey took a deep breath as T.J. was born-oh my God, four boys, she thought. She relaxed when minutes later Kiley and then Kate were born. It was time to buy some pink. All three babies were healthy, born at good weights and doing well.
As Stacey lay recovering from her C-section, Tim told her, "I've got good news and bad news. The good news is, they're not going to the NICU. The bad news: They're all coming to us." Prentice Women's Hospital gave the family the largest room available, and Tim and Stacey prepared to care for their latest set of triplets.
The family's Lincoln Park home, purchased before they had any children, was now filled with six cribs. They added a second triple stroller to their stockpile of baby equipment. Bouncy seats lined the floor.
It became like triage, the couple remembers, a whirlwind of feedings and naptimes. "It was crazy. It was kind of a blur," Stacey says. "But when you come from the dark days of not thinking you could have kids and then to have six healthy kids, there's never a bad day."
They reach all the typical developmental milestones times three-and then they do it all over again. When it was time to potty-train the boys, Tim teased Stacey that her impeccably decorated powder room was about to become a urinal. At Halloween, it was six pumpkins and six costumes. Six parent-teacher conferences at the kids' preschool.
Tim and Stacey delight in it all. They watch the kids' different personalities develop. The younger set of triplets interacts more. T.J. becomes upset if Kiley is upset. But he also metes out his own justice: if Kate hits Kiley, then he hits Kate. The older boys play together for hours, although all the kids can resort to bickering and fighting.
"You have to be patient and keep yourself in check, but usually those moments are short-lived," says Stacey, who works part-time so she can be home with the kids.
At the triplets grow, so does their need for more space. Stacey and Tim have reluctantly put their house on the market and are looking for a home in the suburbs where they can have a backyard and a swing set. Tim, a personal injury lawyer and founder of Cavanagh Law Group in Chicago, knows the kids need more room but dislikes the idea of being far away from them. "One of the nice things about living downtown, I'm only two or three miles from work. I can be hands-on because I have my own business and I can zip home and run to the school and work my schedule around it," he says.
Their Suburban is jammed to the roof with car seats and kid-gear; they know a bigger car is in the near future as well. When they let themselves, they know the challenges in the future are even bigger: teaching multiple teens to drive, getting six kids through college. "But we'll find a way to get it all done. Right now we're just having fun with them," Tim says.
"This wasn't the way I envisioned building our life," Stacey says. "We didn't have kids the way we planned, but our dreams came true."
Liz DeCarlo is the senior editor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Liz's stories here.