Face it: As adorable as they are, having a baby means life is about to change. Sleep becomes a distant memory for awhile, money vanishes into thin air – not to mention the mountain of laundry to do, bottles to wash and dirty faces to clean. Now take the typical scenario and multiply it, not just once, but three or more times. That’s what the parents of higher-order multiples (meaning triplets or above) face every day.
Katy and Michael Sams know it all too well. The Mechanicsville couple got a real life lesson in crowd control, time management, and home construction when Katy gave birth to triplets in 2002. “In the beginning, we had no idea. We went in dumb,” Michael laughs.
Rachelle, Karly and Rhys, pictured on the cover and at left, were born six years ago. The girls are identical twins, and Rhys is fraternal. The first challenge their parents faced: where to put three babies. They renovated their home, giving the two girls the master bedroom with its attached bath. Rhys has his own room, and Katy and Michael built a second master bedroom for themselves. As those logistics were being worked out, an even costlier dilemma cropped up.
“We realized that daycare was out of the question,” Katy says. Home daycare centers in Maryland can only have two children under two years old, so the couple checked into a private childcare center. “They quoted me $25,470 [a year] for three babies in daycare!” she says, still in disbelief. Michael was nearing the end of his career at Verizon when the triplets were born, and he decided to take an early retirement so he could stay home with the kids. So much for playing golf or traveling with his new spare time. “I was retired for two weeks before she went on bed rest,” he says, chuckling.
The then-49-year-old father had his own set of challenges. He went from never having held a baby to caring for three at once. He took it in stride. “People say I’m even keeled,” he says, and jokes, “Maybe my maternal instinct just came out. It really didn’t seem that overwhelming.”
Maybe that’s because the couple created a pattern to deal with doing things in triplicate. Katy refers to it as an assembly line process: “You feed one kid, you put it down. You change one kid, you put it down.” But keeping track of it all proved to be a feat of its own. “We had charts of who’d had a dirty diaper, who’d eaten. One time Michael’s mom was over and he realized he’d just handed her the same kid twice in a row to be fed.”
When the babies were little, going anywhere was a huge undertaking. A doctor’s visit essentially meant Katy had to take a day off work and, together, the couple would arrive at the pediatrician’s office. She says the triplet strollers were too cumbersome, so they’d use a twin stroller and one single stroller. Getting them in the door was hard enough but, “then they’d want you to write a check!” Katy says, laughing. “It took everything for us just to get here and now you want me to put something down?!”
Jackie and Dennis Mulvey of Lusby can relate all too well. They say they felt pretty prepared when their triplets – Grace, Faith and Hope – were born just over a year ago. The Mulveys had some idea what they were getting into. Their son, Joey, was nine when the girls were born, and younger sibling Michael was just three. They’d been through nightly feedings, potty training, and bottle weaning. Their biggest challenge? Leaving Home.
Getting five kids ready to go anywhere takes a full hour. “We can get the boys ready but keeping them ready and not having them take apart the house or undoing preparations while we get the girls ready — that’s another story. I keep telling them, ‘Leave your shoes ON!’” Jackie explains.
The adjustment to the triplets has been tough on their brothers. Joey had been an only child for six years before Michael was born, which was enough of a transition. Then the girls came home. Despite showing some resentment at the sudden lack of attention, Jackie says he’s a great big brother to his little sisters. “He shows them off. He protects them. He really loves his siblings.”
Michael also had some changes to face. Having been the baby of the family, he’s now learning how to be the big brother. He’s also learning how to share attention. While Jackie kept her job as a teacher at Northern Middle School in Calvert, Dennis chose to stay home when Michael was born. “Michael went from having his father’s attention 100% of the time [before the triplets arrived] to attending full-time preschool after they were born,” Jackie says. “Now he’s really missing that quality time.”
Time seems to be the biggest obstacle for the Mulvey family but they’re facing it head on. Jackie says they realize it’s important to spend time with each child and she’s trying to use that as a life lesson for her sons. “I told them, ‘We have a choice: we can bicker and argue, look out for ourselves and let our family fall apart, or we can use this challenge of having three babies at one time as an opportunity to work together and become closer.” As a result, the boys have pitched in, taking on more chores, and the parents have made it a point to spend extra one-on-one time with them.
The Mulveys were fortunate that they didn’t need to relocate when the triplets came, having bought a much bigger place after Michael was born. At the time it seemed they’d never need all the extra room. “Every time we pulled up in the driveway we couldn’t believe we had such a big house. We didn’t know the Lord was going to fill it up like this,” Jackie says.
Their community filled them up with necessary supplies. The family’s church, St. Paul United Methodist in Lusby, organized a diaper drive. Jackie says they haven’t had to buy a single diaper in the entire year since the triplets’ births, and they’ve gotten help with baby formula and food from other local resources.
The Mulvey triplets are just starting to walk and that presents unique challenges. Since they had older children, their home was already baby-proofed, but there are still three little ones to keep up with. Jackie is good-naturedly prepared for what comes next, but “once they learn to climb furniture, that’s a whole ‘nother story,” she jokes.
The Sams triplets proved that. All of the kids were in toddler beds by the time they were 18 months because they were so adept at climbing. “They strategized,” Katy explains. “They’d plot to get something and they’d figure out how to reach it by working together.” The couple had to reverse the locks to keep the triplets contained in their rooms, cutting the doors in half so they could reach the children when necessary. Katy says nothing was trickier than taking her three outside when they were little.
“One would go one way, one would go the other, and the third was eating grass,” she remembers fondly.
Having a sense of humor seems to be a common theme among parents of higher-order multiples. Keeping house is no longer a challenge: There is no such thing as order, just neatly placed chaos.
“Status quo in our house is that everyone is fed,” jokes Jackie Mulvey. “The dishes, laundry and children are mostly clean. Beyond that, anything else can wait.”
Katy Sams says while the challenges of multiples are many, so are the rewards. In addition to the extra love her triplets have brought to her family, she’s gotten an up close and personal lesson in child development. “The neatest thing is we have been blessed with being able to see the difference between boys and girls at the same time. For instance, when it came to potty training, Katy says, “Carly trained in one day, Rachelle in one week, and Rhys took about two years.”
Like all parents, these couples are enjoying each phase of their childrens’ development. They’re coping with the daily stresses of raising higher-order multiples while living a life as normal as possible. Still, two challenges they’ve yet to face? Weddings and college.
Lynn Thorne is a freelance writer and mother of two living in LaPlata.