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Color Coding Your Babies And Other Tips For Raising Triplets

Audrey Degraaf (left) found out this summer that she's pregnant with triplets. Lorie Shelley gave birth to triplets — two boys and a girl — nearly 20 years ago.
Courtesy of Audrey Degraaf; Lorie Shelley
Audrey Degraaf (left) found out this summer that she's pregnant with triplets. Lorie Shelley gave birth to triplets — two boys and a girl — nearly 20 years ago.

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.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Luke Vander Ploeg

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