I have a love-hate relationship with Mother’s Day. I feel bad saying so, but there it is.
My ambivalence toward the holiday surfaced that first year Chris and I tried to get pregnant. As we struggled to start our family over the next 2 years, it snowballed with a heavy lean toward the hate side. Although I’ve proudly borne the title Mommy for the last 3 years, I still greet the day with some hesitation. I want to embrace it and the sentiment it holds, but something holds me back from fully enjoying “my” day.
I wrote about these feelings for my now defunct blog, Not Just a Triplet Mom, on my first Mother’s Day. In reviewing it while preparing to write this post, I discovered that time hasn’t necessarily made the heart grow fonder. While my love-hate relationship with Mother’s Day has slowly softened and now leans more toward the love side, the driving forces behind it haven’t changed.
Marcella’s first Mother’s Day.
Three years ago, exhaustion played a large role in my love-hate relationship with Mother’s Day. The Tagalongs were on a 3-hour schedule 24/7, so my sleep came in rounds of naps that were rarely longer than 1 hour each. When you averaged 2 to 3 hours of sleep a night, it was hard to muster up excitement for much of anything—except sleep.
The Tagalongs’ schedule is now less regimented, and they usually sleep through the night for around 10 hours. But I’m still exhausted. Three-year-old toddlers are no joke. While we have some amazingly good days, many days feel like a bomb that’s exploded in a cloud of cacophonous chaos.
I’d love to spend the day kicking back and trying to put a dent in my to-read list with a carton of ice cream in each hand. But (as moms everywhere will tell you), there are still meals to cook, dishes and laundry to do, and kids to play referee between—times three in my house. I try to take the day off from chores that don’t have to be done, but wrangling three toddlers into dress clothes and herding them out the door to church is exhausting in and of itself. I’m usually maxed out by the time we pull into the church parking lot.
Don’t get me wrong—I love that my life includes three crazy, imaginative, lovable tiny humans. I just might regard “my” day differently if it happened at a slower pace and had a lower volume level.
The Mother’s Day Wall
I’m sure my Mother’s Day Wall plays the largest role in my love-hate relationship with Mother’s Day.
Three Mother’s Days passed during our IF journey—three Mother’s Days in which I clapped at church mothers’ recognitions with a glazed expression and clenched jaw and plastered a smile on my face during family get-togethers. In a twist of irony that would be included in an Alanis Morisette song, I spent Mother’s Day #3 going through my second (and last) egg retrieval. I guiltily avoided the world—including my own mother, who I’d lied to about why we couldn’t attend family lunch—like the plague as I lay in bed wondering if the seven eggs my RE had retrieved were turning into tiny humans.
I spent 3 years building a wall that would make Mother’s Day hurt less, so it makes sense that the wall didn’t magically come down that first year I celebrated being a mommy. And while it affects how I view the day, I’m not sure I want it to fully dismantle it. My Mother’s Day Wall has given me a consideration and empathy I don’t know that I would have without it.
It makes me aware of the women who won’t celebrate Mother’s Day despite desperately wanting to. The women who don an unflattering hospital gown and surgery hat as they shake back egg-retrieval jitters. The women who have “Mom” written on their heart but don’t officially bear the title yet. The women who aren’t sure they’ll ever hear “Mama” spill sweetly and innocently from their baby’s lips. The women who’ve mourned the loss—any loss—of a child. The women who are a special kind of brave that I admire and respect: the women who choose to not have children. My wall makes me, to paraphrase one of my favorite literary characters, walk around in the skin of my fellow sisters and understand things from their point of view.
I don’t mean to take away from what Mother’s Day is about. Having worn the shoes of motherhood for 3 years, I think moms definitely deserve their own day (or several). However, I also know that Mother’s Day can be a difficult holiday for some, a holiday that alienates them from a group they so desperately long to be in. I’ve felt that alienation, that pain and frustration and anger, and I don’t want to be a source of it for others.
So I try to make Mother’s Day a quiet holiday—as quiet as quiet can be with three toddlers. I pay homage to the mother figures in my life with a simple quote about love on social media and then go about my day like any other day. It’s my way of honoring mothers without doing so at the expense of women whose story I don’t know. It’s my way of showing other women that I see them and I can (try to) understand them and I support them.
The mother figures in Marcella’s life.
During the second year of our TTC journey, a friend sent me an article about Mother’s Day from the perspective of a woman who’s not a mother. It deeply resonated with me, and I spent the next year writing my own post in my head. You can find the article that inspired me below. An Open Letter to Pastors (A non-mom speaks about Mother’s Day)
How to feed triplets is a good question—a really good question. It’s a question we asked ourselves multiple times before we brought the Tagalongs home from the NICU. It’s a question fellow triplet parents asked themselves, each other, and the Internet before they brought their own trios home. Is it even possible to feed three babies at once?
The answer is yes, but … We found that every triplet parent chooses to feed their triplets differently. Some parents choose to prop bottles, while others choose to use hands-free bottles. Some parents have enough help that each baby can receive an individualized feeding, while others contort their bodies into crazy positions because they’re going it solo. We chose a graduated approach that ended with our triplets feeding themselves.
We thought long and hard about how to feed our triplets before deciding on our approach. We didn’t enjoy having each feed take 1½ hours, but we didn’t feel comfortable with the ideas of bottle props and hands-free bottles either.* And while the Tagalongs were healthy for preemies born so early (at 28 weeks), we did experience two feeding issues common to preemies: reflux and slow feeding. Our approach helped us feel in tune with our babies, which allowed us to respond to their reflux cues or pacing needs.
Most important to us, though, was that our approach gave us some much-needed one-on-one time. The Tagalongs spent their first 2 months of life in the NICU attached to wires that stretched only so far from the machines they were connected to. We couldn’t hold our own babies until they were 7 days old, and kangaroo care could be done for only 60 minutes at a time. Our time with them was further limited by our decision to work through their stay in the NICU and take parental leave when they were discharged.
When they did come home, snuggling with a baby was a luxury. There was always someone who needed something, bottles and formula to make, or sleep to try sneaking in. We struggled with whether we were really forming that crucial parent-baby bond, and our approach made us feel like we were—if only for 20 to 30 minutes every few hours.
*This statement is not meant to judge families who choose these methods. It is simply an expression of our personal comfort level.
One Bottle at a Time
We started out with each of us feeding one baby at a time. Chris usually tackled James in all his reflux glory, which left me to wrangle slow eaters Caleb and Danae. It took anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour to feed James, sit with him at an incline, and clean up the puke that inevitably came with each feed. Both Caleb and Danae had to be paced almost as much as James in the beginning, so Chris generally finished feeding first.
The time of day determined what Chris did next. If the sun was up, he usually fed the baby who hadn’t been fed so I could pump or prepare sandwiches for us to eat. If it was dark outside, he made formula or prepared bottles because they were mindless tasks he could do while sleeping with his eyes open.
This approach went on for the first 3 months the babies were home. Feeds took about 1½ hours.
Two Bottles at a Time
We changed our approach slightly when our parental leave was over. Chris’s work schedule meant that I’d be flying solo 1 day a week, and I sure as heck wasn’t going to spend all day feeding babies. I had to pee and eat at some point. And the babies weren’t going to be on one schedule with us on the weekends and another schedule with our nanny on the weekdays. So we looked into how one of us could feed two babies at a time.
We initially used their Leachco Podsters, either bringing them up to us by placing the pillows on a low table or going down to them by sitting in front of them on the floor. Then a Table for Two popped up on a local resale site. We snatched that sucker right up and used it until the kids were 1 year old. (See our review of both products here.)
We were still trying to get James’s reflux under control then, so we needed all eyes and ears on him while he ate. This meant that he wasn’t placed in a seated device and continued to be fed one-on-one. When there was just a single feeder, the baby who hollered the loudest got fed first. That baby was usually Caleb, so he and Danae ate while James played. This placed James slightly off schedule from the other two, but not enough to make that big of a difference.
What happened if all three babies were screaming at equal volume, and there was only one feeder? We got creative. Usually, we broke our “rule,” placing James into the mamaRoo or a bouncer (we recommend the Fisher-Price Comfort Curve) placed next to the Table for Two and rotating between feeding the three as we sang and acted like an idiot to distract the one who didn’t have a bottle in their mouth. That 3 a.m. feed where Chris handed me a hangry James—who wanted the contents of the bottle he’d just spewed all over Chris the third time that feed—with an, “I can’t do this anymore,” and walked to bed? I propped James up between my legs and balanced his bottle with a bicep while feeding the other two. It wasn’t always pretty, but we always got the job done.
Although James was still Pukey McPukester, Caleb and Danae needed less pacing help. This, coupled with our newfound approach, reduced feed times to between 45 minutes and 1 hour.
A pretty accurate picture of what feeding two babies at once could look like. Note the foot in the top picture. It’s trying to entertain Danae because Marcella’s other hand is feeding James, who’s in a mamaRoo off camera.
Bottles on Their Own
Having one baby hold their own bottle was a game changer. Danae was the first to do it, and I cried big fat tears of elation the first time she held her bottle for an entire feed. The boys followed suit not long after. This milestone brought feeds down to 30 minutes—30 minutes! We could do more with the babies, accomplish more around the house, and adult for longer. We were like Julie Freaking Andrews frolicking through the mountains of Austria. And boy did it feel good!
The downside to this was not getting as much one-on-one time with the babies. That hadn’t been happening as much since we’d moved to having one person feed two babies at a time, but with all three babies holding their own bottles, there wasn’t really a need for someone to hold a baby during a feed. Nevertheless, we tried to do so when there were two or more feeders present. And we tried to rotate who was held so that everyone got equal snuggle time.
That was a lot of info! The following are our top 3 takeaways on how to feed triplets.
Develop a feeding plan before your triplets come home. But be flexible to accommodate for their individual medical needs.
Get comfortable feeding at least two babies on your own shortly after your triplets come home. Prop them in Podsters or Boppies, secure them into a bouncer or a reclined high chair, balance them against your inner thighs—the choice is yours. But find a way to make feeds faster and give you more time with your babies, partner, and life.
Work one-on-one feeds into your approach. Your babies will be short-changed from “normal” one-on-one time by nature, so be intentional about inserting it into the little moments where you can.
The first time Danae held her own bottle the entire feed. She was 9m/6m.
A Final Word
Figuring out how to feed triplets was one of the most stressful parts of our babies’ early years. Just know that, as we did, you’ll figure out something workable. And remember that bottles are only a season. Then you get to introduce and transition to solid foods. Start the wailing and gnashing of teeth now.
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.
The Tagalongs’ first night home together.
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).
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods.
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.
Our first social family outing was to Chick-fil-A for dinner. The Tagalongs were 6 months old.
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.
An image from our maternity session. We had no idea what to expect. Used with permission from Kimberly Jarman.
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.
51, 53, 55—the number of days each of our triplets spent in the NICU. Just 1 day shy of 8 weeks total. This was remarkable, considering they’d been born at 28 weeks, 4 days. Even more remarkable was that they were simply “growers and feeders.” With the exception of a few worrisome medical issues early on, we didn’t experience nearly the NICU roller coaster we’d prepared ourselves for.
That said, we did experience the NICU in all its glory. Our first parental act was to authorize blood transfusions mere hours after delivery. We were restricted from holding our babies until they were almost 1 week old. We handled our babies around bili lights, CPAP machines, nasal cannulas, nasogastric tubes, and apnea monitors. We split time between two levels of the NICU when two of our babies advanced but one didn’t. We agonized over whether we were spending too little time at the NICU and cried when we got sick and couldn’t visit. Our NICU experience wasn’t as dire as it could have been, but it still put us through the wringer.
If we learned anything from our 7 weeks in the NICU, it was the 5 tips outlined below. We impart them to you in the hopes that they help you breathe easier as you embark on the NICU’s road less traveled.
Tip #1: Tour the NICU Before You Deliver
There are so many things you do to prepare for bringing home your little bundles of joy. Touring the NICU should be toward the top of that seemingly endless list.
Picture it: You’re plodding your way into the NICU for your first visit after having delivered three (or more!) babies via emergency C-section several months early. You’re an exhausted, emotional wreck who’s equal parts excited and terrified to see your newborns. Wouldn’t it be better to have walked the halls and seen the sights before now than to never have set foot inside the doors at all? The air wouldn’t seem so cold and sterile and the quiet ding and hiss of the machines so daunting.
A NICU tour won’t prepare you for the NICU roller coaster, but it’ll take some of the shock off the sticker price. You’ll poke your head into the various sections and eyeball the equipment. Doctors will smile and nod their heads as they pass, and nurses will wave and offer quick words of encouragement. You’ll sit down with the NICU case manager to discuss the ins and outs of the NICU and answer any questions you may have (Sign up for our mailing list to receive our recommended list of questions!). A NICU tour will allay some of your fears and help you breathe a little easier about what happens “after.”
Delivery with multiples seems to be a crapshoot, so don’t wait too long to get your tour in. We took ours around the 20-week mark.
The Tagalongs at 1 week old. Top to bottom: James, Caleb, and Danae.
Tip #2: Establish a NICU Care Team Early
This is something we wish we’d done much sooner than we did. In fact, I get a little jealous every time I see a fellow triplet mama post a picture of a visit with their NICU nurses. I wish we had that lasting relationship that seems to bring both parties such joy.
We didn’t establish a care team until our babies were in the step-down unit of our NICU. By that point, our babies required much less support—and by extension, so did we. Additionally, many of the nurses we’d grown to like during our stay were unavailable because they’d accepted other care team invitations. We ended up with just two of our eight requests. Having that additional personalized support would have been a help and comfort during those times when the roller coaster of the NICU really took its toll.
A separate, but related, word of advice: do NOT be afraid to request that a certain nurse be removed from your babies’ rotation. Channel your inner capital B or A, and put up a stink if you have to. This is a critical time in your family’s life, and you don’t need the added stress of knowing that someone you feel uncomfortable around is handling your babies for 12 hours.
We did this with one nurse. She was brusque to the point of rudeness, made us feel like we were in the way during our visit, and practically pulled out every wire attached to James when transferring him to me for kangaroo care. I put in a phone call to our case manager as we walked out the NICU doors, and we never saw her again.
Marcella and James doing kangaroo care in the NICU.
Tip #3: Keep a NICU Journal
It doesn’t have to be profound. It doesn’t have to be in prose. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be in words. But journaling in some fashion or another might help you work through the NICU roller coaster.
I’m a writer who once journaled quite extensively to work through what was going on in my life. But my NICU journal contains no thoughts of my own. It holds simple notes on the babies’ daily progress. I started it at the recommendation of a fellow triplet mama who said it might help me keep track of the who, what, when, where, why, and how that was whirling in my brain. This journal from Project Sweet Peas is fairly similar to the one I kept in a pregnancy journal I was gifted at my baby shower.
Although my journaling took the form of bullet points rather than prose, it gave me power. It made me feel like I was doing something in a situation where there was very little I could do. This slowed down the busyness in my brain and gave me a sense of peace that helped me process the information thrown at me and work through what I felt toward it.
Pages from the Tagalongs’ NICU journal. Left: The babies’ progress for the week. Right: The notes Marcella took during our care conference.
Tip #4: Create NICU Connections Early
This really starts outside the NICU.
Ask your doctor about any local moms of multiples groups (MOMs). If they don’t know of any, hop onto Multiples of America and search for a local club.
Social media is also a great way to connect with other MOMs—locally, regionally, and internationally. In addition to being a member of my local MOMs group, I’m part of a Facebook group for triplets born the same year mine were as well as a group for triplets who live in my home state. Even Chris is connected; he’s part of a Facebook group for dads of triplets.
The support these groups will offer is tremendous. Local groups may organize meal trains and NICU care baskets as well as provide tips and tricks for navigating your particular NICU. They may also be able to connect you with other parents in the NICU with you. Online groups can provide much-needed moral support, advice, and reassurance—at all hours of the day and night. Find your tribe early, and stick to them like white on rice. Their support will extend long beyond the NICU.
Connecting with other parents in the NICU can be a great boon. While your NICU situations may be different (singleton vs multiples, feeder/grower vs micropreemie, etc.), the fact remains that you’re both in the NICU experiencing the same worry, fear, and helplessness. The parents you meet might be just seasonal friends, but this is a season of life you don’t want to walk through alone.
The logo and hashtag used by Marcella’s Facebook group of triplet moms.
Tip #5: Check the Guilt at the NICU Doors
In “Are You My Mother?”, I wrote this about the NICU: “The mommy guilt starts early when your babies are in the NICU.”
You feel guilty about your babies being in the NICU. I should have done X, Y, or Z differently. Even though you know prematurity is a hallmark of a multiples birth.
You feel guilty about the medical issues your babies are facing. What did I do to cause this? Even though you know the condition is a result of your baby’s prematurity.
You feel guilty that you aren’t living at the NICU. I should be where my babies are. Even though you know it’s not possible, between work and the rest of the adulting you must do. You feel guilty that you’re living at the NICU. The rest of my family needs me, too. Even though you know this is where you’re needed most.
Whatever you have guilt over, check it at the NICU doors. Unless you did something to intentionally endanger your situation, your babies aren’t in the NICU because of something you did. They’re in the NICU because they’re multiples, and the NICU is part of life with multiples—whether it be for just a few short hours or for almost an entire year. Put your energy toward being present and doing what you can do. Then put your trust in the very capable hands of your babies’ medical team. Being in the NICU is the best thing for your babies right now.
And strange as it may sound, your babies being in the NICU is the very best thing for you right now. When they come home, life will morph into a level of craziness that will make you feel like you’re living out a dream that comes only when you’ve eaten too much ice cream right before bed. There will be little sleeping, little eating, little personal hygiening, little adulting, and no you time. Use the time your babies are in the NICU to take care of you and yours, shower, and sleep. Cuz you won’t be doing much of that when your babies first come home!
The NICU journey will be one of the wildest rides of your life. But with these tips in your back pocket, you should be able to breathe a little easier as you navigate through your journey.
I love to read. As a kid, I took a book with me everywhere I went—school, the bathroom, a friend’s house, family outings to MLB games. I changed my major from pre-physiology to English literature halfway through college because my science classes were making me cry. If I was going to cry my way through college, I preferred it to be because I had to balance the reading for my survey course (three anthologies, five novels, and countless printed pieces) with that semester’s five other English courses rather than balance chemical equations. Even now, I usually have more than one book going at a time: a fiction book, a parenting book, and an audiobook.
That’s one of the reasons why the first year with triplets was so difficult. When you’re doing three- or four-hour feeds and working and adulting, there’s very little time in your day for doing something you enjoy. Still, I managed to squeeze a few books in—while holding my eyelids open with toothpicks.
Most of them were parenting books that gave us key insight into what the Tagalongs were struggling with. This post provides short book reviews of the parenting books that helped us survive the first 2 years with the Tagalongs.
When You’re Expecting Twins, Triplets, or Quads
Dr. Barbara Luke
Chris loves to tell the story of our engagement—particularly the “after” part. I’d no sooner had the ring on my finger than we were browsing through the wedding planners at Barnes & Noble. It’s no surprise, then, that I did the same shortly after that grainy ultrasound revealed three fluttering heartbeats. It didn’t take me long to learn that there are no books about a multiples pregnancy on the market.
Then, a fellow triplet mama directed me to When You’re Expecting Twins, Triplets, or Quads. Based on Dr. Luke’s research into the relationship between maternal weight gain and baby birthweight as well as the results from Dr. Luke’s Multiples Clinic, the book provides guidelines on all aspects of multiples pregnancy. I found the chapters on weight gain, nutrition, and dietary strategies to be particularly helpful—especially when my MFM simply advised me to “do the best [I could]” about eating. While Dr. Luke’s recommended 4,000 calories/day proved too much for me, I used it as a baseline from which to determine a daily caloric intake that made me feel like a beached whale—not like a balloon on the verge of bursting. The recipes in the appendix provided me with good ideas on how to help me reach my personal daily goal with nutritious, calorically dense foods that best served my growing body and babies.
The book was met with mixed reviews within my MFM’s practice. Most of the doctors were familiar with it but wouldn’t commit to agreeing or disagreeing with it—except one physician. He questioned the science behind the book but begrudgingly admitted that he didn’t have alternative literature to point me toward. While frustrated at my MFM’s advice on eating, I feel that combining his mentality with the nutrition knowledge I gained from the book helped me make decisions during my pregnancy that contributed to my babies’ good weights and health—despite being born at 28 weeks.
The last picture we have of Marcella pregnant.
The Premature Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Premature Baby from Birth to Age One
The Sears Parenting Library
I wish I’d read The Premature Baby Book sooner. The book covers everything from the machines parents will see in the NICU to the emotional rollercoaster parents will experience to the issues parents may encounter after discharge from the NICU. It’s a veritable bible on the preemie experience. I wish I’d had the book when the Tagalongs were in the NICU just so I could refer to it when the nurses and doctors updated us. Is that the ventilator or the C-PAP, and why the hell is it dinging again?!
Most parents can’t predict that their babies will be preemies, but most multiples parents can. This book is a must for multiples parents—even if your babies are delivered closer to term. If you have a friend or family member who unexpectedly delivers early, do them a favor and gift them this book. They’ll thank you.
The Tagalongs at 1 week old. Top to bottom: James, Caleb, and Danae.
The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems
I turned to Hogg, aka the Baby Whisperer, around 8 months/5 months, when we started to reap the consequences of having let our babies fall asleep while eating or being held. The term “cry it out” (CIO) sounded inhumane and cruel (I’d later change my tune.), so I’d taken to the Internets to find an alternative. I stumbled upon a blog post that sang the praises of Hogg’s pick up/put down (P.U./P.D.) method, which sounded like a much better alternative to CIO, so I bought the book.
While the P.U./P.D. method was helpful in moving toward teaching our babies to self-soothe and put themselves to sleep, the most helpful sections of the book were those on scheduling. With Hogg’s guidelines, we established a rock-solid schedule that we tweaked here and there as necessary—and still follow to some extent today at age 2.
I wish we’d started implementing what I learned much sooner, so if you think you’d like to explore Hogg’s ideas, I suggest you read this book while pregnant and refer to it once your little ones arrive.
The Binder of Doom. Marcella put together a schedule based on the Baby Whisperer’s recommendations, and she updates it as needed.
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Marc Weissbluth
Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, Richard Ferber
There’s a picture or two floating around on social media from when the kids were about 9 months old. It shows me reading a book somewhere between the hours of 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. while listening to the fusses/cries/screams of one or more of my children. Hello holy 9-month sleep regression. Hello sleep books.
I’m going to talk about Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems in one section because I feel that they complement one another well. They supply eye-opening information on the science of sleep; provide practical solutions for helping your child learn to fall asleep and stay asleep on their own; and address common sleep problems such as colic, night terrors, and medical-related sleep issues. I advise reading one or the other before your babies are born so you understand appropriate age-related sleep and patterns that interfere with your children’s sleep. Which book do you read if you have time for only one? This post on the Baby Sleep Site provides a good comparison of the two.
I’m also going to use this opportunity to step on my soapbox for a short bit …
Ferber is associated with the term “cry it out” (CIO). This term does NOT describe an act in which parents leave their babies alone in their cribs to cry until they fall asleep. This is an incorrect interpretation that I suspect comes from parents who implement a method they haven’t taken the time to look into. Parents, please please please do your homework before “sleep training” your babies. Doing so will make a world of difference.
Please also know that parents who use the so-called CIO method—or any of the other methods described by Ferber and Weissbluth—are not horrible parents. They are parents who want to teach their babies the very important skill of learning to put themselves to sleep. And unless these parents are made of steel, employing these tactics is likely very, very difficult on them. The first few nights we used Ferber’s method with the Tagalongs, I sat outside their room crying along with them as I stared at the clock and begged the minutes to move faster. But I don’t regret it for a minute, and I feel our kids are better for it.
All right, I’m done. I’ve stepped down and pushed my soapbox to the side.
Raising Your Spirited Child
Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
The Tagalongs’ developmental pediatrician recommended Raising Your Spirited Child at the kids’ 12-month appointment. “Thanks,” I said. “This sounds like it will be really helpful with Caleb.”
The doctor looked at me strangely. “I was thinking of Danae when I suggested it,” she responded as Danae ran down the hallway screaming in delight at nothing in particular.
I loved this book. Loved. It gave me great insight into my two (maybe three—the jury is still out on James) children who are “normal but ‘more.’” It helped me understand exactly why my children are spirited and provided guidance on helping them—and ultimately Chris and me—be successful in everything from sleep to transitions to social interactions. The guidance is practical, and I feel that, even though I’m in charge of three tiny people, I can employ a good chunk of the tactics on a regular basis.
My favorite part of the book, though, is the chapter on labels. Although it’s very short—just 12 pages—the message in it is powerful. The labels we slap on spirited kids are not always positive—demanding, defiant, exhausting, stubborn, and inflexible, to name a few. These words, Kurcinka explains, elicit the fight-or-flight response in both children and parents, resulting in a negatively charged environment that can damage the parent-child relationship. Kurcinka instead encourages parents to transform the negative words they use to describe their children into positive words that highlight their children’s strengths. Children who are demanding, defiant, exhausting, stubborn, and inflexible therefore become children who are standards driven, principled, energetic, goals oriented, and traditional. Following Kurcinka’s guidance teaches children to be empowered by their strengths and allows parents to see their children in a different light. This fosters a positive environment in which both children and parents can thrive.
This might sound like a bunch of hooey. Some days it feels like it. Some days, it’s really difficult to think of my whining child as expressive and my “out of control” child as energetic. But then I try to consider how I’d feel if I were described by the sets of adjectives in the previous paragraph. Why wouldn’t my children feel the same way I would? That exercise is enough to change the trajectory of my day—or at least remind me to try again the next day.
Anyways, this book is a must if you’re a parent who feels like you’re the only one in your circle raising a child like your child. Trust me, you’re not alone.
Caleb on top of the bookcase. Note the baby gate surrounding it.
Jane Nelson, Cheryl Erwin, and Roslyn Ann Duffy
Positive Discipline is the exception to the rest of the books. It’s not a book that helped us survive; in fact, I hated it. Well, that’s not entirely true. This book was another recommendation by the Tagalongs’ developmental pediatrician, and because I loved the spirited child book so much, I thought I’d feel the same about this book.
Nope, not so much.
The premise of this book was good: discipline is less about punishment and more about teaching and guiding. But it provided no real strategies to employ. Or maybe I just didn’t like the strategies. Or maybe I thought the strategies weren’t doable in my circumstances.
I mean, yes, I can use redirection and distraction when I’m present with the kids, but what do I do when I’m up to my elbows in dishwater at the kitchen sink and see Caleb try to reshape Danae’s head with a toy car in the playroom? Or how do I handle disciplining James for horse-collaring Caleb off the ridable train, disciplining Caleb for headbutting James for the illegal move, and keeping Danae—who is empathetic, not sensitive—from having a meltdown herself? And how the heck do I discipline a kid who laughs at my attempts and then directs the offensive behavior at me?
How do I discipline positively all the time with three children who are the same age? And how do I do it when I’m on my own—which I am, 75% of the time?
And that was my biggest hurdle with this book. This book didn’t seem relevant to my circumstances. It seemed more suited to parents of singletons or children of different ages or daycare teachers who have a co-teacher because of student-teacher ratios. Or parents who have it more together than I do. All I know is that I got more and more discouraged the farther I got into the book.
There was, though, one quote I absolutely loved in the book: “It takes courage to raise a child; it also takes courage to be one” (viii). That sentence made me stop in my tracks. I’ve thought of how it takes courage to do things as a child—walk, climb, try new foods, go to crowded areas, poop on a potty and not in a diaper, see Santa or the Easter Bunny—but I’ve never thought of how it takes courage to simply be a child, to simply exist as a tiny human. I try to bring these words to mind on days when I’m particularly struggling to give me new perspective and change my attitude.
So I won’t encourage you to read this book. But I won’t discourage you from reading it either. Read it, and form your own opinions about it. If you’re a multiples parent and figure out how to follow the guidance in the book, please make me your BFF and teach me your ways.
It goes without saying, but I’ll mention it anyways: the opinions given in these book reviews are entirely my own. I know multiples parents who’ve been able to successfully employ the ideas in Positive Discipline and multiples moms who’ve found When You’re Expecting Twins, Triplets, or Quads to be a bunch of BS. My family’s needs are not your needs, and my parenting style may not align with yours. Read what feels relevant to your situation, and ditch the information that’s irrelevant or contrasts with what you inherently believe to be true.
“I don’t know how you do it!” is a comment Chris and I hear a lot when people learn we have triplets. Usually, we mutely shrug our shoulders. What are we going to say to this? To steal Nike’s tagline, we just do it.
There are, however, quite a few products that make “just doing it” much, much, much easier. This post describes the baby products we couldn’t have survived without during the first 2 years with the Tagalongs. I’ll try not to wax poetic about too many of the items, so if you want more info, hit me up in the comments.
Baby Product Review: Apps
With three babies, it was hard to keep track of the who, what, when, where, why, and how. The app Baby Connect saved our sleep-addled brains from trying to remember all this. Best of all, it could be synchronized between multiple users. That meant Grandma and the nanny could track when they cared for the babies. And it made doctor’s appointments a snap. When doctors wanted to know how much the Tagalongs were eating, pooping, and sleeping, we just whipped out our phones. Our medical team loved Baby Connect as much as we did!
White Noise Baby
I don’t remember how we stumbled upon White Noise Baby, but it was a lifesaver. We were in the throes of c-o-l-i-c with Caleb, and his high-frequency DEFCON 1 screeches quieted to DEFCON 5 squalls when the app’s Conch Shell sound was played. We downloaded that sucker onto every electronic device in the house and played it at all sleep times. Long gone are the days when I walked the house with Caleb in my arms and the app playing from my phone, which was shoved in the shelf of my nursing bra, but Conch Shell still graces us with its presence between the hours of 1:00 and 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. each day.
Baby Product Review: Feeding Gear
Many preemies suffer from feeding issues that can affect their digestion and nutrient intake. Dr. Brown’s bottles use a fully-vented design that’s touted for reducing these issues. They’re expensive and have a gazillion parts that are a pain in the butt to assemble and disassemble at 3 a.m., but we fully believe that they were the right bottle for our preemie babies who suffered from reflux.
Table for Two
The first 2 months they were home, the Tagalongs ate every 3 hours. Because Chris and I weren’t comfortable experimenting with how to feed all three at once, feeds (as we called them) took 1.5 hours each. Then we stumbled upon the Table for Two feeding system. Game changer. Now we could feed all three at once and get done in around 45 minutes—30 minutes if James didn’t puke. I wish we’d discovered it sooner than we did, but we were able to use it from the time the Tagalongs were 5 months old to the time they were a little over 1 year old. This gift from heaven is expensive, but we were lucky to find one on a yard sale site.
Kids are uncoordinated, messy eaters. Case in point: I’m pretty sure that only 25% of what James picked up ended up in his mouth. Bumkins waterproof sleeved bibs saved us mucho dinero in the stain remover department. And we could use them when we wanted to do messy art projects. And they were machine washable. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
Boon SNUG lids turn any cup into a sippy cup. Yes, you read that right: any cup. Oh yes, and they’re spill-proof … unless you have a kid who likes to shove pretzels in the air vent and stretch it out (I’m looking at you, Caleb). They come in spout and straw varieties.
Images of kids dumping bowls of spaghetti over their heads are cute—unless you have three kids doing it at once. That’s why I was uber excited to learn that there were suction plates on the market. We ended up going with the Nuby Sure Grip Miracle Mat Section Plate. While not as sticky as other brands, it got the job done for a price that didn’t make our bank account cry.
Top: Dr. Brown’s bottles. Bottom Left: Caleb and James in the Table for Two. Bottom Right: Using the Nuby section plates, Boon sippy cup lids, and Bumkin bibs at breakfast.
Baby Product Review: Sleeping Gear
The Tagalongs slept in the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play (RNP) or Leachco Podster the first 2 months they were at home. Like many of our fellow triplet families, we were doing this to help our 5 lb teeny tinies transition between the diaper-box sized NICU isolettes and their cribs as well as to combat reflux. If you use inclined options like these, make sure you’re offering your babies plenty of time on flat surfaces, or use positioning techniques to aid in the development of their head shape.
The price tag of the 4moms mamaRoo turned us off considering it for a baby swing. Then we were gifted with one in the middle of c-o-l-i-c. We used it the first night we had it, and Caleb and I got the first night of sleep we’d gotten in 2 weeks. When another set of friends heard about this, they showed up on our doorstep with another mamaRoo—one for downstairs. Something about the motion and sound the ‘roo offered spoke to Caleb, and he spent many a night in one or the other. The ‘roo proved useful after c-o-l-i-c left the building. It functioned as a swing, a feeding seat, and a white noise machine. I cried the day we sold the last one because I felt that we were truly losing a good friend.
Top: Tagalongs in their RNPs the first night all three were home together. Bottom: Tagalongs in their podsters.
Baby Product Review: Diaper Pail
We had both the Diaper Dekor and the Ubbi. The Dekor served us well until the Tagalongs moved to solids. Then the stench of the poop that table foods create—times three—overpowered the Dekor’s rubber seal and spring-loaded trap door. We could smell the upstairs diaper pail downstairs. We’d heard that the Ubbi was God’s gift to multiples, so we snatched one up when we saw it for cheap on a yard sale site. Our noses were thankful we did. The Ubbi contains the stench of even viral diarrhea.
Baby Product Review: Cloth Diapers
When Mom handed Chris and I the box of cloth diapers left over from my brothers and me, we were very grateful. But we were also very amused. We had no plans to use cloth diapers with the Tagalongs. We’re all for reducing waste (no pun intended), but cloth diapers sounded like a giant headache we didn’t need to add into the equation of caring for three tiny humans. So instead, we used them for burp cloths and to clean up puke. They came in especially helpful with the latter, since James spent half his waking and sleeping hours puking up everything he ate.
Brothers, if you’re reading this, no need to worry about us passing the diapers on to you. We’ll be burning them when we’re through.
Baby Product Review: Teething Aids
Some parents swear by amber teething necklaces. We swore by Punkin’ Butt teething oil. Made of essential oils, it can be applied directly to babies’ gums. We used it to take off the edge of teething, which was sometimes all the Tagalongs needed. When it didn’t work, we went straight to Tylenol, which we bought in bulk from Costco.
They got—and still do get—so excited to go for a ride!
Baby Product Review: Travel Gear
I can’t sing the praises of the Radio Flyer Triple Play Wagon enough. We were skeptical about spending so much money on something that wasn’t a stroller, but it’s probably one of the best baby purchases we ever made. The wagon’s body straps all three kids in, and the wagon comes with an attached bag that’s big enough to hold our Skip Hop Duo Double diaper bag and my largeish Coach purse. Yet the wagon is compact enough to fit in the trunk of our Dodge Grand Caravan. This makes it possible for one person to take the Tagalongs anywhere by themselves. We’ve rolled up to doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, the zoo, church, and the park in that sucker.
Wrangled at the pediatric gastrointestinal specialist’s office.
Oh, and it makes the kids look even cuter than they are. Our diaper budget would be funded if we had a nickel for every time we heard “Now that’s how you travel in style!”
Another pricey but perfect purchase was the Summer Infant Pop ‘N Play Portable Playard (PNP). Finally—one person could wrangle three movin’ and shakin’ babies out in public! I plopped two babies down in it when I wanted to slide or swing with one baby at the park. I confined three babies in it at library story time so they wouldn’t trample all over the other moms and their nice, quiet singletons. We penned up three babies at doctor’s appointments so they wouldn’t destroy the exam room. The Tagalongs have outgrown the PNP, but it was a seasonal friend who was worth its weight in gold.
While not a product, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Arizona Early Intervention Program (AzEIP) as something we couldn’t have survived without. I’ll be doing a separate blog post on early intervention (EI), so I won’t go into too much detail here. Instead, I’ll include excerpts from a Facebook post I made when the Tagalongs celebrated their first “birthday” with EI:
Today is the Tagalongs’ one-year evaluation with early intervention (EI). The “side effects” of being a preemie are not always pleasant, but this is one for which I will be forever grateful. I couldn’t imagine the past year without the support of our EI team … They have a wealth of knowledge and experience, and the coaching they’ve provided has helped our kids stay on track and, in some cases, even excel. More importantly, they’ve been some of our biggest advocates and cheerleaders, and we are a better family for it. Every child should come with their own team of developmental therapists.
Top: SLP and OT using Play-Doh for therapy. Bottom Left: PT demonstrating an exercise to correct Caleb’s head tilt. Bottom Middle: PT encouraging Danae to stand and walk with bubbles. Bottom Right: OT playing a water-gun game with the kids.
Family and Friends
Last, but certainly not least, is family and friends. We couldn’t have made it through the first 2 years without them. I’m a firm believer in recognizing people for going above and beyond, and I so very badly want to recount every instance of every person who helped us—whether it was by driving 4 hours every weekend to help the first 2 months the Tagalongs were home; by bringing dinner (DQ blizzards) and helping with a feed or chores around the house (and not saying a word when you fold the undies your friend thought she’d pulled out of the laundry pile) several times a week; filling in when we were without childcare for 2 months; by being available day or night by phone or text or Snapchat; or the countless many other ways people pitched in. But I can’t. Suffice it to say, we were very blessed to have in our lives so many people who love us. If I could bottle up and sell our family and friends as a baby product, I would.
It goes without saying, but I’ll mention it anyways: these baby products are entirely personal and situational. What worked for us won’t work for others, regardless of whether you have a singleton or multiples. I know triplet families who’d choose entirely different baby products, and I know triplet families who’d agree with just about every baby product in this post. Use what works for you and your family—regardless of what I or another review says.
I had spent the last week up to my elbows in what was apparently a case of viral diarrhea (as if plain ol’ diarrhea wasn’t bad enough). As the PA told me to give the Tagalongs a break from milk and went over the details of the BRAT diet, I expressed concern about the lack of protein my little poopers would be getting.
“Psh,” she said, waving a hand dismissively. “It’s only for a few days. They’ll be fine.”
“I know,” I responded, “But they’re preemies and …”
She held up a hand to stop me and then gestured at my diaper-clad 18-month-olds. Caleb and James were engrossed in some game that involved throwing open a cabinet door, slamming it shut, and laughing hysterically. Danae was very methodically and intently ripping apart an issue of O, The Oprah Magazine (Sorry Oprah!).
The PA laid a hand on my arm. “They’re not preemies anymore, mama.”
The Tagalongs at 19 months in front of the doors to our NICU.
Always Be My Preemies
My mom tells me that my babies will always be my babies—even when they’re 32, married, and raising kids of their own. I’ll add that my preemies will always be my preemies. They might be in the “normal” range on the growth charts and be inching closer and closer to the magical preemie age of two, but my mind still holds fast to the images of them at their most vulnerable.
They might poop their birthweight, but in my mind, their diapers are still the size of my credit card.
The Tagalongs at 1 week old. Top to bottom: James, Caleb, and Danae.
No Preemies, New Worries
It’s a parent’s prerogative to worry, and that right is mine three times over. But I hope that one day I won’t worry—at least about the influence my kids’ prematurity is having on their lives. I hope that once James, Caleb, and Danae are declared caught up to their peers, I can move from worrying about things like whether their little lungs can handle less oxygen pressure on the C-PAP to “normal” things like how the heck I’m supposed to potty train three kids at once. I hope that once we kick this adjusted age business to the curb, my mind can be present in the here and now and not in the in between.
I hope that my preemies won’t always be my preemies.
Day 1 of potty training.
More Preemie Info
For more information about what to expect with preemies, visit the following webpages: March of Dimes
No one wants to be subject to Plan B, and certainly no one wants to be buffeted by the winds of Plan WTC. But poet Robert Burns was right about the fate of best-laid plans, and we sometimes find ourselves looking around in the midst of a situation thinking, “What the …?!”
I don’t know about you, but my first instinct in times like these is to fight tooth and nail against the new circumstances. I’m a very plan-oriented person, and anything that threatens the vision I have in my head of how things should go is treated as a Class 1 offense. It’s only when I’ve exhausted all attempts to get Plan A (and even Plan B) back on track that I give in to my new circumstances. And then I do so begrudgingly, digging my heels in and stockpiling an arsenal of sarcastic comments to make at opportune moments.
Acting this way might make me feel better, but all it really does is rob me of the plan’s merits. That’s right—I said merits.
Plan WTC might have come out of left field and completely upended my world, but it isn’t arbitrary. It means to impart wisdom, and it usually prompts personal growth. It’s not easy, but then very few things in life are. As Jimmy Dugan told Dottie Hinson in A League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
The great is often difficult—and sometimes damn near impossible—to see while you’re in the midst of Plan WTC. And sometimes it takes a little hindsight to get that 20/20 vision of Plan WTC’s merit. But it eventually comes to light—you just have to be open-minded enough to see and accept it.
Our first picture as a family—at 35 weeks, when Caleb was discharged from the NICU.
My latest Plan WTC is still unfolding. I put up quite the fuss in the beginning—I was supposed to go to 34 weeks, and I did not want to be put on mag. But somewhere in between my water breaking and delivery, I gave up fighting. I knew that my body couldn’t take the pregnancy anymore, and the inevitable was going to come whether or not I liked it. Fighting was only making things worse.
I have no idea why my babies were born so early—or even why I got pregnant with three—but I do know that there was a reason. I can’t see it yet, but it’s there somewhere.
In the meantime, I’m learning to take things one day at a time. And I’m rejoicing in the three tiny miracles that open their big, bright eyes for me every day.
In discussions about our infertility journey, you may see us use acronyms that seem like a random combination of letters. They’re actually standard acronyms used in the infertility community by doctors and patients alike. We’ve compiled a list of the infertility acronyms we came across most often—minus the “technical” medication abbreviations.
AF = Aunt Flo / Menstrual Cycle
AH = Assisted Hatching
AI = Artificial/Assisted Insemination
ART = Assisted Reproductive Technology
BBT = Basal Body Temperature
Beta = HCG pregnancy test
BFN = Big Fat Negative (pregnancy test)
BFP = Big Fat Positive (pregnancy test)
BD = Baby Dance (sex)
CD = Cycle Day
DE = Donor Eggs
DH = Dear Husband
DPO = Days Past Ovulation
DPT = Days Past Transfer
ER = Egg Retrieval
ET = Embryo Transfer
FET = Frozen Embryo Transfer
Frostie = Frozen Embryo
HPT = Home Pregnancy Test
HSG = Hysterosalpingogram
IF = Infertility
IUI = Intrauterine Insemination
IVF = In Vitro Fertilization
MFM = Maternal Fetal Medicine (high-risk pregnancy physician)
OPK = Ovulation Predictor Kit
POAS = Pee on a Stick (take a pregnancy test)
PG = Pregnant
PIO = Progesterone In Oil
POF = Premature Ovarian Failure
PUPO = Pregnant Until Proven Otherwise
RE = Reproductive Endocrinologist
SA = Semen Analysis
TTC = Trying To Conceive
TWW = Two Week Wait
“I can’t believe they’re 4 months old already! We try to take newborn pictures when they’re around 10 days old, so they’re really too old at this point. Let’s shoot for doing 6-month pictures.”
So went a text conversation with a photographer when I inquired about doing newborn pictures with the Tagalongs.
I started to respond that, while the Tagalongs were 12 weeks old chronologically, they were only a few days old in terms of size (between 7 and 8 lbs) and development. In fact, their doctors considered them newborns—hence the inquiry about newborn pictures. But Caleb had been particularly c-o-l-i-c-k-y that week (if we spelled it, it didn’t happen), and I didn’t have the energy to explain, so I just sighed with disappointment and responded “OK.”
A few days later, a friend asked if the Tagalongs were starting to smile, while another friend inquired whether the Tagalongs were starting to babble. “No,” I responded to each. I knew that both were 4-month-old milestones, but I still felt the tendrils of frustration creep in.
We parents of multiples are told to ignore that feeling when it comes to the development of our babies. Because so many of our babies are born prematurely, we get to experience developmental delays with them. That’s why we speak in terms of actual age versus adjusted age when talking about our babies’ development. While other people’s 2-monthers are doing X, Y, and Z, our 2-month preemies won’t be seeing X, Y, and Z for another 2 months—or more. The neonatologists and nurses, NICU case managers, early intervention therapists, and pediatricians tell you time and time again not to compare your preemies to “regular” babies. But it’s really dang hard not to—especially when it’s staring you in the face on social media.
Our “newborn” pictures, taken at 6m/3m.
What is actual age?
Actual age is how old your babies are chronologically. In our newborn picture scenario, it had been 12 weeks since I’d delivered the Tagalongs , so they were 12 weeks old.
What is adjusted age?
Adjusted age, also known as corrected age, is how old your babies are based on their due date. It is determined by subtracting your babies’ prematurity from their actual age.
Consider the Tagalongs. They were born at 28 weeks, so they were 12 weeks premature. Applying the equation above to our newborn picture scenario, their adjusted age was 0 months, making them effectively newborns.
Which age should I use?
Both, with a heavy lean toward adjusted age.
Adjusted age effectively corrects for your babies’ prematurity. Because your babies were born early, their brains and neurological systems haven’t developed to what they would if your babies had been born at term. Simply put, they need time to “catch up.” Most medical professionals will use adjusted age when assessing your babies’ development because it gives them a more accurate picture of where your babies are at.
But keep in mind that babies develop at different rates for different skills. We commonly found that the Tagalongs were closer to adjusted age when it came to their motor skills but actual age when it came to their sleep skills. So, while the Tagalongs had yet to crawl at 9 months, we were deep in the throes of the 9-month sleep regression hell. Frustrating all around.
While doing the math can be difficult (especially for an English weenie like me), it really is best if you can think in both actual and adjusted age when discussing your babies’ development. When posing questions to my social media groups, I usually included both the actual and adjusted ages in my post with the following formula: actual age (in months)/adjust age (in months). I found that doing so helped me receive responses that more accurately addressed what was going on.
How long do I have to use adjusted age?
Most medical professionals will use adjusted age until around the actual age of 2. By then, most premature babies are believed to have caught up to term babies developmentally. Remember that babies develop uniquely, so your babies may catch up more quickly or more slowly.
Or one baby could catch up sooner or slower than the other two. The Tagalongs have been followed closely by a developmental pediatrician since they were released from the NICU. Every 6 months or so, we trek 100 mi for a 2-hour evaluation. At actual age 2½, James and Caleb were released from her care because their evaluations showed that they had caught up. Danae, however, was still exhibiting signs of a speech delay, so she remained under the doctor’s care. While it was frustrating to not have all our children exit the doctor’s care, we reminded ourselves that we have three very different children with three very different needs.
Pictures of the Tagalongs with their early intervention therapists.
How do I respond to family and friends?
I’m a big proponent of education—especially when it comes to a topic many people aren’t familiar with, like infant prematurity. Explain in simple terms what prematurity means for your babies’ development. You don’t have to go into actual age and adjusted age if you don’t want the headache, but you might be surprised at how people respond to that extra nugget of knowledge.
Request that loved ones alter their language. Encourage them to ask, “What are your babies up to?” instead of “Are your babies doing X, Y, or Z yet?” Doing so acknowledges not just that your babies are moving at a different pace because of their prematurity but that babies in general move at different paces when it comes to development.
And finally, assure family and friends that your babies are being monitored closely by medical professionals who specialize in pediatrics and prematurity. While your babies might not be followed by a developmental pediatrician like ours were, their pediatrician most assuredly has their prematurity in mind when evaluating them and addressing health issues or concerns.
How do I deal with my frustration toward this?
Remember that actual age and adjusted age are for just a season. They’re your whole life right now, but in terms of your babies’ entire life, they’ll likely be just a small chapter in a great big book. Acknowledge your feelings, talk about your feelings with people in your situation, but try not to be consumed by them.