Triplets without In-vitro Is a Rare, Blessed Event

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Triplets without in-vitro is a rare, blessed event

By Landon Hall

HUNTINGTON BEACH – One by one, the Hulick triplets open their blue eyes. They struggle against their swaddling blankets and begin to cry.

Brendan is the first to wake up from his nap, followed by his brother Connor. Their mother, Jennifer Hulick, puts a pacifier in Brendan’s mouth, and it works … for a few seconds. She picks him up and holds him close. “Brendan usually needs a little more attention,” she says. Meantime, Jennifer’s mother, Nancy Harden, gently lifts the squirming Connor out of the crib. Austin will sleep in, but only for a few more minutes.

It’s 11:10 a.m., long before the expected noon feeding. Sure enough, with help from Jennifer’s “shhh,” Grandma’s rocking, and the rainwater of the electronic sound machine, the three boys drift back to sleep.

Welcome to the house on Potomac Lane in Huntington Beach, with the white picket fence out front and a sign that says “Family is Everything.” Where taking care of three tiny newborns isn’t just a big job, it’s a 24-hour-a-day operation.

The boys are identical triplets, a rare occurrence. How rare? Somewhere between 1 in every 60,000 conceptions and 1 in roughly 200 million, depending on the research methodology. What makes the event even more unlikely is that the Hulicks conceived naturally, without fertility drugs or treatments like in vitro fertilization.

‘WE'RE HAVING THREE'

Hulick already had two children – Brittanie, now 10, and Jacob, 8 – from a previous marriage, when she met Richard at a party on Saint Patrick’s Day (also her birthday) at her apartment four years ago. They dated six months before Jennifer would even introduce him to her kids, just so she’d be sure it was for real. They were married in 2008. Richard is 27, nine years younger than Jennifer, and wanted children of his own. Maybe one now and one later.

It was difficult for Jennifer to get pregnant. One of her children had been a tubal pregnancy, which ruined one of her fallopian tubes and an ovary, so she only had one left. After three months of trying, she got pregnant last spring.

Just six weeks in, Jennifer went to the doctor because something just didn’t feel normal inside. An ultrasound was conducted, and that’s when she saw on the screen one, two … then three tiny dots.

“She came to the house, and she was crying and shaking,” Nancy said. “She went into the bedroom and just sat there with the ultrasound picture in her hand.”

Jennifer called Richard, who’s a truck driver for a sand-and-gravel company. He had just delivered to the Home Depot in Van Nuys and was walking from the receiving department through the lumber department when his cell phone rang. She was still crying.

“Do you remember talking about how it was possible we could have twins?” Jennifer asked him. Both sides of the family had a history of twins, and that, plus Jennifer’s age, made it more likely they would have twins themselves. “I said, ‘We’re having twins!’ and I almost had a heart attack,” Richard recalled. “Then she said, ‘We’re having three!’ I remember just sitting down on a pile of wood. A million things ran through my head. She was crying, and I said, ‘Everything’s gonna be OK. This is awesome.’ “

ACCEPTING THE RISKS

Being pregnant with triplets means multiple dangers, however, said Dr. Melissa Bush, a perinatologist – someone who specializes in risky births – at the Women’s Hospital at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills. The hospital delivered 73 sets of twins and seven sets of triplets in 2009, up from 39 and three in 1996. But Bush had not delivered a set of identical spontaneous (non-fertility-assisted) triplets during her six years at the hospital until the Hulicks.

At 11 weeks, Jennifer and Richard were referred to Bush. She told them all the things that could go wrong: Jennifer’s uterus could rupture before birth; since virtually all triplets are pre-term (born 37 weeks or earlier), there was an increased risk of birth defects or other problems; Jennifer could get pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure) or contract gestational diabetes.

Also, there was the possibility that the fetuses wouldn’t get blood flow from Jennifer’s placenta equally, affecting the growth and development of at least one of them. Fraternal twins and triplets generally come from separate eggs and separate placentas. But with identicals, which are conceived when one fertilized egg splits into two (or three), there’s just one placenta providing nourishment.

“That’s really crazy. You’re asking one placenta to do a pretty incredible job of taking care of three babies,” Bush said.

As is common practice, Bush told the Hulicks that some parents elect to terminate one of the fetuses – it’s called “selective reduction” – to give the other two a better chance of surviving. The couple anguished over the decision, but decided against it.

“We’re both not for that at all,” Jennifer said. “We were blessed the whole time that there were no complications. Each time we’d go in to see Dr. Bush, we’d say, ‘We made it another week.’ “

Bush said Jennifer was the ideal patient: She ate well and got bed rest when instructed. (Which was often, in the last couple of months, to keep the babies in as long as possible). Jennifer made it 33 weeks and five days before the boys were born on Nov. 18. Austin was 5 pounds, 3 ounces; Brendan was 4 pounds, 13 ounces; and Connor was a little smaller, at 4 pounds, 7 ounces. All three weigh at least 8 pounds now.

24 DIAPERS A DAY

The babies wake up to feed every three hours, almost like clockwork, starting at 6 a.m. Jennifer gets up and breastfeeds two of them, while the third is fed with a bottle containing Jennifer’s expressed milk. Some formula is used as well. Between feedings, Jennifer pumps like crazy with her electric pump.

In addition to naming their sons with a handy A-B-C system, the Hulicks color-code them to tell them apart. Austin wears green; Brendan blue; and Connor usually yellow. Also, Austin has a little blue vein mark on his nose, and Connor is easy to spot, because he’s the smallest. They try to line them up, A-B-C, in the crib. Still, Jennifer says, “we put them back in the wrong spots sometimes.”

The babies use up a combined 24 diapers in a day. When they go outside, they’re loaded into a Chevy Suburbanesque triple-stroller, complete with steering wheel.

After the 6 a.m. feeding, Jennifer goes back to sleep, and Nancy gets the older kids ready for school. They and Jennifer are staying at the house for the time being, since the condo Jennifer and Richard rent has an upstairs entrance. Richard, who gets up at 4 a.m. and sometimes works 16-hour days, stays at the condo and comes to Nancy’s house on weekends.

Everyone pitches in: Jennifer’s younger sisters bring food or drop by, according to the needs in an online “triplets care” calendar. Jennifer’s other kids, and their cousin Nicholas, who lives here, help when they get home from school. Nancy’s husband, Ed Harden, pitches in as well. Most days there are neighbors or friends or family members in the kitchen, decked out in red dishes, curtains, coffee mugs.

But mostly it comes down to Jennifer and her mother, who had her oldest daughter at 16 and has never stopped raising children. Nancy, 53, is up for every feeding – midnight, 3 a.m., whenever. “I’ve never been so tired,” she says. “But it’s a different kind of tired. A joyful tired.”

Jennifer and Richard hope to buy a house near Nancy’s. But for now there’s no rush to leave. Jennifer used to work as an executive assistant for an event-planning company, but she’s not going back to work.

“I have a full-time job.”

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