We were on our way to the pediatrician for Danae’s first and Caleb’s second doctor’s appointment following release from the NICU when we got the call.
“Marcella? Hi, it’s Christine [the Tagalongs’ overseeing nurse practitioner] from NICU. James is being discharged today. When can we plan for you to come pick him up?”
I turned to Chris with a look of sheer panic on my face. Caleb had been home for 4 days and Danae for 2 days. We were already sleep-deprived and feeling wholly overwhelmed. And now we were adding a third baby to the mix?
“Sh!t just got real,” I whispered to Chris as he looked at me questioningly.
We spent the remaining few minutes to the doctor’s office trying to figure out who could collect James and when they could do so. We didn’t even touch on what we could expect when we walked him over the threshold later that day. Because we didn’t know. We had no freaking clue what the next 24 hours with infant triplets at home would bring—let alone the next few months.
But we can tell you. Here are 5 things you can expect when you bring triplets home.
You’ll sleep in naps.
The Tagalongs were on a round-the-clock 3-hr feeding schedule the first 3 months they were home. They were inefficient eaters, and Chris and I weren’t adventurous about trying to feed all three at once, so feeds took 1½ hrs. Cleanup, prep for the next feed, and breast pumping took another 30 min. By the time we collapsed into bed after the 9 p.m. feed, it was 11 p.m. The next feed was at midnight. For 3 months, we slept in 1-hr chunks between 11 p.m. and 9 a.m., giving us a whopping 4 hrs of broken sleep a night. We unaffectionately refer to this sleeping pattern as the Round of Naps. We felt like zombies, and I’m sure we didn’t look or smell much better.
Load up on sleep before your triplets come home, and sleep when you can after they come home. Or get used to functioning on zero sleep.
Or get creative. Some fellow triplet parents worked in overnight shifts so each parent got at least 3 hrs of sleep every night. Others hired a night nanny. We powered through the weekdays and got a break on the weekends when Nana arrived to help. Those two nights with Nana were so blissful that I’d cry every time she walked out the door Sunday afternoon. Try to have a game plan in place before your triplets come home, but realize that it might need to change based on your babies’ needs.
You’ll adult in chunks.
During the day, those 3-hr feeds left us 1 hr in which to live life. One hour in which to shower and dress, eat, pay bills, run an errand, do housework, relax, stare at a blank wall … When it came time for the next feed, it seemed like we’d barely sat down to do what we’d set out to accomplish. My Type A personality couldn’t handle it, and I had several meltdowns over a to-do list that seemed to increase more than it decreased.
Establish a routine. For example, pay bills on Monday, do laundry on Tuesday, grocery plan on Wednesday, etc. It’s a little Laura Ingalls Wilderish (see the quote from Little House in the Big Woods, below), but it’s an effective way to tackle adult responsibilities without having everything pile up catastrophically.
If you’re able, farm out some of those responsibilities. We adjusted our budget to keep our housecleaner and landscaper—two chores that were sure to cause marital strife during the Tagalongs’ first months home. And we were blessed with several friends and family who fulfilled their Acts of Service love language by asking to help us with things like doing dishes, folding laundry, and cleaning out the litter box. Come up with a list of chores you need help with, and don’t be shy to assign them to loved ones who volunteer their time. They might want to help but feel uncomfortable feeding a tiny preemie who pukes every time he so much as takes a sip of formula. And that’s OK. Push bottle assembly on them instead! But a word of advice: if they’re going to fold your laundry, make sure all your underwear is out of the pile (#awkward).
You won’t leave the house.
Much. I think we left the house for two occasions, and two only: the babies’ doctor’s appointments and grocery runs. Neither of us felt comfortable taking on three infants on our own, and we didn’t have daily helpers who could pitch in if one of us needed to leave. And we couldn’t fathom taking the Tagalongs anywhere with us. We struggled to get all three to the doctor around feeds, so getting them to the store for a gallon of milk seemed impossible!
And our social life … we didn’t have much of one to begin with, and it became nearly nonexistent that first year. We talked to family and friends via short text messages and kept up with the goings on of others through Facebook. Date night wasn’t really a possibility for at least the first 6 months, and even 3 years later, it’s still a rare event due to childcare and finances.
Take care of as many “necessary” appointments (e.g., medical, hair, business) as possible before your triplets come home. Make online retailers your BFFs, and either prepare freezer meals or see if someone can set up a meal train for the first few months. Make getting comfortable with a 3:1 ratio and/or finding an affordable, trustworthy babysitter a priority so you and your partner don’t go stir-crazy.
Your relationship will be tested.
The first few months of life with triplets home felt like a Katy Perry song come to life. One minute I was gushing over how gentle Chris was with James (aka Pukey McPukester) during feeds, and the next minute I was sniping at him for placing his plate in the sink directly over the drain.
We’d been married for 5 years, but we’d never been a couple for fighting—until the Tagalongs came along. Exhaustion and stress started to boil over regularly, and we found ourselves doing things like punching a hole in a door (him) and throwing a wedding ring (me). Things we never thought we’d do. Things we never wanted to do again. We’d been tested a lot already in our young marriage: the death of Chris’s parents, graduate school and career certification, first-time home ownership, employment changes, major health issues, and infertility. But the stress of those events was nothing compared to the stress of infant triplets.
Cut your partner some slack. They’re doing the best they can under the circumstances—just like you are. Talk about everything, be open to adjusting how you’re doing (or not doing) things, and try to place yourself in their shoes at every moment of every day. And compromise. Hello holy compromise. Our marriage isn’t perfect, but we’ve managed to make it through 3 years of triplets and still be in love with each other. That’s because we are in constant conversation, adjust expectations to our reality almost daily, view things from the other’s perspective, and negotiate till we get something workable for both of us.
And we have a good sense of humor. A sense of humor with triplets—of any age—is a must.
You won’t remember much.
Extreme sleep deprivation will do this to you.
In a way, it plays to your advantage. You won’t remember exhaustedly assembling/disassembling five-part bottles; numbly working through all the crying; and dazedly trying to keep track of who ate, slept, and peed/pooped when and how much. You might not even remember the banshee screeches of colic—I sure as heck don’t. Those first few months will be one giant black hole in your memory.
This doesn’t always work to your advantage. You may not remember those rare times you fell asleep cuddling a baby on your chest or heard your first adorable baby coo. You may not remember whether you enjoyed the infant stage—as many of your mommy friends seem to have done. That giant black hole may take with it as many good memories as it does ones you’re happy to forget.
Cut yourself some slack. For the longest time, I worried that I was screwing up my babies because they were having about as much of a “normal” infant experience as I was a normal mom experience. Then I came to terms with the fact that I’m the freaking parent of freaking triplets—nothing about our experience is “normal.” But what is normal? Normal is as normal does. Create your own normal.
And try. One of our kids’ early intervention therapists once told me that a “good parent” isn’t one who gets it right—a “good parent” is one who tries. Try every day, do the best you can, and show love through words and actions. That’s really all your kids need.
P.S. To the more immediate “problem” of not remembering—keep a memory journal. The Tagalongs’ baby books consist of a few stats, some milestones, and a lot of memories from the year. Every month, I sit and write down the things that stick out most in my mind about each of them. In the early years, I did a weekly review and placed notes in Evernote to transfer at the end of the month. Now, I just remember as best I can. It’s not much, but it’s something, and I hope it shows the labor of my love.
Those first few months with your triplets home will be unique to you, your family situation, and your babies’ medical issues. But expect to experience some of the five things discussed above. The first few months will seem extremely overwhelming, and you’ll wonder every minute of every day if and how you’re going to survive. You will—trust us on that.