The Marvel Of Multiples
Triplets, Quads and More
The fastest-growing family in America may be the single child family, but at the other end of the spectrum, the statistics are also exploding. In the past 10 years alone, the number of "higher-order multiples" (triplets or more) has ballooned by 178 percent.
The reasons, according to Maureen Doolan Boyle, executive director of MOST (Mothers of Supertwins) are:
- Increased access to fertility drugs.
- Advancement in the care of mothers expecting multiples.
- Advancement in the field of neonatology. Babies born prematurely not only survive, they very often thrive.
"Families are finding that they're not as alone as they were five or ten years ago," observes Doyle. "I'd say we're on the cusp of finally addressing the issues these families face."
Families face challenges even before their babies are born, when medical personnel frequently, even routinely, advise parents to make a "reduction" in the number of fetuses. After birth, the care of three or more newborns can be an exhausting experience - physically, emotionally, and financially. When children reach school age, their parents often discover local school systems have had little to no experience with classroom assignments. The old "separate the twins" policy doesn't always apply.
"Throw out the policy and look at the family," Boyle tells the growing number of school administrators who contact her for advice.
Triplets: Nancy E.'s story
Nancy is the mother of six children between the ages of 3 and 12, including 6-year-old triplets Matthew, Briana, and Alanna. She is also the co-executive director of Triplets, Moms & More (www.tripletsmomsandmore.org,), an organization serving families of multiples throughout New England.
"We were pregnant with quadruplets but chose to reduce to triplets at 11 weeks. It was probably the most difficult decision we ever had to make in our lives. We had seen the ultrasound and we were so excited, but the fertility doctor immediately said, 'Now you have to make a decision about what you're going to do.' Fertility doctors want one healthy fetus -- that's their goal, so they're disappointed with multiples."
"In the past five years or so, doctors have learned they have to give couples options before infertility treatments, because it's so hard to make this decision after the fact. But in our case we were given no resources, no people to talk to."
On pregnancy and birth:
"It's an automatic high-risk pregnancy, when you have multiples, yet more and more triplets are being born at community hospitals without special care nurseries. There's also a trend toward seeing the high-risk specialists every other week instead of every week, because of insurance costs. Our group is opposed to these changes."
Difference between twins and triplets:
"I can remember talking with parents of twins and thinking, 'They just don't know what it's like.' If you have twins, you have two hands. But for me, getting from the car to the store without one of them taking off was a major ordeal. I remember getting up in the middle of the night and my husband had one baby, and I had one, and we'd argue over who had to stay up and feed the third!"
On play and potty training:
"More often than not, there's an odd man out when they play. Sometimes triplets develop their own language for communicating with each other. Mine didn't.
"They're always thinking things out together, so they get in more trouble. One time they pulled out all the drawers from a dresser and then knocked it over!"
"Everything is intensified because they go through all these stages together. Potty training all three children was so stressful for me, so I just gave up. Shortly after they turned three, they did it by themselves."
Getting through the day:
"You have to be very organized, very regimented. But when I look back at when they were babies, I think, 'I wish I'd spent more time just rocking them, rather than moving on to the needs of the next child.' But that's how you survive."
"We're just starting to deal with three sets of homework. One of them always ends up leaving the table crying because I can't help them all at the same time. They're in the same class, but they may be separated next year. I'm getting the sense that they need space from each other that they're not getting."
Quadruplets: Mary D.'s story
Mary is the mother of two-year-old fraternal quads, three boys and a girl: Cullen, Killian, Riley, and Emma.
"The doctors told us we should do a reduction (in the number of fetuses.) It was very easy to decide not to. At the fertility center they weren't very happy. They don't consider quads a success for them. It doesn't look good for their statistics."
Getting help after birth:
"I had 35 volunteers in the beginning, coming in for two to three-hour shifts, people from church, friends, and family. I still have people come. I even have an 82-year-old retired nun who drives 20 miles to help out!"
Getting help online:
"I belong to an online support group for mothers of quads, quints, and more. There are moms with older kids who help newer moms like me. One mom wrote in saying mothers of multiples have a higher rate of requiring anti-depressant therapy. So often, there's this feeling of 'I can't do this anymore!' I started taking anti-depressants and I feel much better. They help take the edge off.
I never went on the Internet before last June, and now looking back, I don't know how I survived the first 23 months without a computer!"
Financial struggles: "My husband is a custodian. My income, as a day care worker, was a big loss for us. You make do. You learn to live with what you have. We get WIC (federal nutrition program) and fuel assistance. We probably won't do preschool because of the cost of sending all four."
Joys of having quads:
"They look out for each other. If one falls down in the yard, another will run over and say, 'Are you all right?' If one has a runny nose, the other will come over and say, 'Mom, tissue!'"
"They're very social. Having all the people in the house means they have no fear of strangers. They're very adaptable to new situations, which is great!"
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