When you're facing a major life change, it helps to talk to someone who has already been through it. All Things Considered is connecting people on either side of a shared experience, and they're letting us eavesdrop on their conversations in our series Been There.
This summer, everything was going according to plan for Audrey Degraaf and her wife.
They'd just adopted their first child in January, a baby boy named Sully. Soon after, they decided they wanted him to have a sibling close in age. They'd tried artificial insemination, without success, before adopting Sully, but they decided to try again. This time it worked on the first round. Audrey, 36, got pregnant this summer.
Everything was working out exactly as they'd envisioned. All that changed when they went in for the first ultrasound.
"The look on the ultrasound tech's face just made us think there was something wrong," says Audrey. She asked what was wrong, "and they were like, 'Well, there's nothing wrong. There's just several.'"
Several babies, that is. Audrey was pregnant with triplets.
Now 27 weeks into her pregnancy, Audrey says she's starting to get excited, but is still pretty terrified about how she'll manage three newborns at once.
Lorie Shelley knows that challenge well. She got pregnant with triplets about 20 years ago; they just went to college this year. Lorie's story started out a lot like Audrey's. She'd had trouble getting pregnant in the past.
"We were going to try one round of IVF," says Lorie, referring to in vitro fertilization. "If it didn't work, we were going to buy our Porsche and jet off into the sunset."
It worked better than Lorie, who is now 58, could have expected. Twenty-seven weeks later, she gave birth to two boys and a girl.
Raising three kids at once wasn't easy, but Lorie says that for every tearful, overwhelming moment, there's a joyful one right around the corner.
"When you put pots and pans down on the floor, you've got three kids laughing and giggling," she says. "You really can't be in a bad mood when you hear three babies laughing."
Advice from Lorie Shelley
On relentless feeding
You don't sleep. No, I'm sorry. I want to tell you that you do, but you really don't. And my husband and I planned it so well that I was going to feed them during the night, so he could be rested for the daytime. But really it takes a village to feed them, and by the time we'd feed the third one, it was time for the first one. ... And the other thing I would strongly advise is to have a chart and color code your babies, because no matter how different they are, you will forget which kid you just fed. Within five minutes you'll forget.
On keeping the triplets from fighting
One of the very first things we did, before they were even conscious human beings, was assign them a day of the week. And that was their day. When we started doing date days and doing individual times together, everybody knew Monday was Maile's day, and Cal's day was on Wednesday. And that transferred all the way up to high school, when they started to drive, because they had one car to split, and they'd get up and go, "Oh, it's Tuesday, it's Jared's day." So they always knew, and it really cut down on the fighting.
On ensuring your marriage survives triplets
You do have to be committed to the marriage and to raising those babies. And I will tell you, the most attractive thing about my husband now is how much of a wonderful parent he is. I didn't know that about him, and as a matter of fact, during the pregnancy, I couldn't understand why he wasn't as excited as I was. And I was thinking, "OK, we're going to get a divorce. Because he doesn't love these babies." But his parenting helped me in every way and also made me realize just how wonderful he was. Oh yeah, we had difficult times, but we made a commitment to keep traveling. And we traveled. We traveled a lot, even with all of those babies.
On getting through tough days
You will be amazed at your capacity for love. And no matter how hard it is, and in that moment, when you have three sick babies and only you to comfort them, and you think, "Oh my gosh, what was I thinking? How did this happen? How am I gonna do this?" — it's going to be OK.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
This summer, everything was going to plan for Audrey Degraaf and her wife. They had adopted a baby boy in January, their first child. Soon, he had a sibling on the way. Audrey was pregnant. And then came the ultrasound.
AUDREY DEGRAAF: The look on the ultrasound tech's face just made us think there was something wrong. So I just said, hey, what's wrong? And they're like, well, there's nothing wrong. There's just several.
KELLY: Audrey was pregnant with triplets - one boy, two girls. First came the shock.
DEGRAAF: And my wife goes, there goes my Mustang.
LORIE SHELLEY: We also - like you, there was a car involved. We were going to try one round of IVF. And if it didn't work, we were going to buy our Porsche and jet off into the sunset. And it worked.
KELLY: That other voice is Lorie Shelley. She gave birth to triplets almost two decades ago. And this year, she sent them away to college. For our series Been There, we sat her down with Audrey, who's 27 weeks pregnant and says she's still feeling pretty terrified.
DEGRAAF: What were the first few days like - like, after they were born? How far along were you?
SHELLEY: My babies came about where you are right now - at 27 weeks. So when the kids were in the NICU - neonatal intensive care unit - they were a pound 6, a pound 8, a pound 11. They were very, very tiny, very frail, very fragile. And we were scared. So we spent the first four months fearful and hopeful that doctors would be able to fix everything. And they did. Even though my kids were sick and frail - and this was 19 years ago - they thrived.
We were so afraid to have three babies at home - just petrified. And happily, they came home one at a time. So we got a little bit of time to adjust to each baby. And, also, that gave us something that I think we've done that probably other triplet moms have done, too. We celebrate their discharge date. They all have their - we call it D Day. And we celebrate them as an individual.
DEGRAAF: And then once they all came home, did you get any sleep?
SHELLEY: No. No, you don't sleep (laughter). No, I'm sorry. I want to tell you that you do, but you really don't. And my husband and I planned it so well - that I was going to feed them during the night, so he could be rested for the daytime. But, really, it takes a village to feed them. And by the time we'd feed the third one, it was time for the first one.
DEGRAAF: I've heard people say - and it's kind of - like, our little guy right now, who's 11 months - I mean, he eats when he's hungry. We think he's hungry. We give him a bottle. We think he's tired. He's on no schedule. And I'm hearing, with triplets, it sounds like that would be a nightmare.
SHELLEY: Oh, dear (laughter). That's not going to work.
DEGRAAF: Did you put them on the NICU schedule? I've heard people maybe...
SHELLEY: Yes. The NICU has them like a military precision. Every three hours, they feed them. If you stick with their schedule, you'll be golden. And the other thing I would strongly advise is to have a chart and color code your babies because no matter how different they are, you will forget which kid you just fed. Within five minutes, you'll forget. Did I feed baby A? Did I feed baby B? And they're ravenously hungry, so you may end up feeding a kid twice and skipping one altogether.
DEGRAAF: What about you, like, getting - 'cause I think of, like, dividing up our time with each of them, so they each feel like they get individual time. I don't even know if individual time is something that they'll get.
SHELLEY: It is.
DEGRAAF: OK. So how did you figure out how to divide that up with all the needs of the different kids?
SHELLEY: That's a great question. One of the very first things we did before they were even conscious human beings was assigned them a day of the week. And that was their day when we started doing date days and doing individual times together. Everybody knew Monday was Miley's day. And Cal's day was on Wednesday. And that transferred all the way up to high school, when they started to drive, because they had one car to split. And they'd get up and go, oh, it's Tuesday. It's Jared's day. So they always knew. And it really cut down on the fighting.
DEGRAAF: That's neat. That's neat. So were you always known as, like - oh, she's the triplet mom. Or how did you keep your own sense of self and who you are in the midst of being really engulfed by triplet mom?
SHELLEY: I was the triplet mom. And I've been a professional woman all my adult life. But for some reason, that's all gone. I am the triplet mom. And I have to say, it's OK. I - you know, some of my closest friends are fellow moms. And so you kind of slip into that role of mom, no matter if you have one or four.
DEGRAAF: So my main concern with having triplets and additionally taking care of them and all the things is, you know, clearly, I married the person I love because I love them, and I want to be living a long life with them and travel. And you have all these visions on your wedding day of like, we're going to go here and have an annual trip internationally - all these things.
And so the reality of having now four children all pretty much under a year - they're going to be - how did you maintain your marriage? Because that's, like, so important to us. And how did you kind of keep that person that you love as - kind of not lose them in the midst of all these needs?
SHELLEY: It is - that's a tough one. You do have to be committed to the marriage and to raising those babies. And I will tell you the most attractive thing about my husband now is how much of a wonderful parent he is. I didn't know that about him. And as a matter of fact, during the pregnancy, I couldn't understand why he wasn't as excited as I was. And I was thinking, OK, we're going to get a divorce because he doesn't love these babies.
But his parenting helped me in every way and also made me realize just how wonderful he was. Oh, yeah. We had difficult times. But we made a commitment to keep traveling. And we traveled. We traveled a lot, even with all of those babies. So I know you said you travel.
DEGRAAF: We thought those days were over (laughter).
SHELLEY: No, they're not. They're just a lot less enjoyable.
SHELLEY: It's just not as fun, I'm sad to say. It's just more work.
DEGRAAF: What do you think was the hardest thing about having triplets? Like, is there one thing that stands out as...
SHELLEY: One thing that stands out for me - it was a moment where we went to the grocery store. And two of the kids were fussy. So our nurse - she - I said, would you stay in the van with two of the kids? And I'm going to just take Cal into the store. And I walked him in. And we were holding hands. And he just was incredulous. And he looked at me, and he said, wow, Mom. And I said, what? And he said, this is what it must be like to be an only child. And it broke my heart. And it still does.
But you will be amazed at your capacity for love. And no matter how hard it is, no matter - in that moment, when you have three sick babies and only you to comfort them, and you think, oh, my gosh. What was I thinking? How did this happen? How am I going to do this? It's going to be OK.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THREE IS A MAGIC NUMBER")
BOB DOROUGH: (Singing) Three is a magic number.
KELLY: That's Lorie Shelley. Her triplets are 19 years old and just left for college. She was speaking with Audrey Degraaf, who is 27 weeks pregnant with triplets. They spoke together for our series Been There. If you want advice about a big change in your life, email us. We're at firstname.lastname@example.org. And put Been There in the subject line.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THREE IS A MAGIC NUMBER")
DOROUGH: (Singing) The heart and the brain and the body give you three as a magic number. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.