Part one: A surprising discovery
The odds that it would happen were one in 500,000, but in 2013, Stacey Myers and Mark Colwell discovered that they were expecting a rare, threefold joy - naturally conceived identical triplet girls, in the couple's first pregnancy.
"I found out very early," says Myers. "I was only about seven or eight weeks pregnant when I went for my first ultrasound at Bluewater Health. At the time, the medical team told me that they saw something on the scan that they couldn't identify. I left the appointment wondering what else could be going on."
While she waited for her next appointment, Myers decided to conduct her own research into the mysterious scan on the Internet. She discovered that the rapidly rising hormone levels revealed in her blood test results could be a sign of multiples.
"I went into my next ultrasound appointment at 10 weeks pregnant thinking it could be a possibility that I was having twins," she says, adding that there are instances of fraternal twins in her family.
But what happened next was "a little bit of a shock," she says.
"The technician saw one baby first and then they saw the second. There was a student in the appointment as well, and they just stared at the monitor. I couldn't exactly see what was going on, but when they pointed to the screen with a shocked look on their face, I thought 'Oh my gosh, there's a third baby.'"
To ensure that Myers received the best chance of a healthy pregnancy, she was referred to London Health Sciences Centre, where she was cared for by Dr. Rob Gratton, an obstetrician and gynecologist.
"LHSC is a regional referral centre for high-risk pregnancies and a pregnancy with multiples falls into the high-risk category," explains Dr. Gratton. "We specialize in caring for pregnancies fo twins, triplets and even quadruplets, but the thing that is really remarkable about these triplets is that, unlike a lot of multiples, they were conceived without medical assistance or fertility treatments. They are spontaneous identical triplets - meaning that all three girls began as one fertilized egg that split into three."
Part two: Caring for a high-risk pregnancy
After the initial shock wore off, the months of anticipation and preparation to meet the babies began.
"Mentally, during the pregnancy I just kept calm about it," says Myers. "Mark and I would just say 'we're going to do this. This is what we've been given and someone thinks that we're capable of doing it.' I did all I could by eating well and taking care of myself, but there's not a whole lot you can do. Your body's going to do it for you. It either can or it can't."
Dr. Gratton says that there are definitely increased risks with multiples. "With triplets, three babies are competing for resources in a limited space. Multiple pregnancies are at increased risk of premature delivery, low birth weight, and discordance in size. But also, in this case, because all three share a placentae, there is the chance of what we call 'twin-to-twin transfusion,' in which blood flows away from one baby, causing it to become anemic, while the other receives too much blood and experiences a higher risk of heart failure and stillbirth."
Frequent monitoring at LHSC ensured that any potential issues would be identified quickly.
"At first I went for ultrasounds every other week, followed by an appointment with Dr. Gratton to go over what the ultrasound looked like and if he had any concerns," says Myers. "But overall, it was a very healthy pregnancy."
As time progressed, appointments became weekly and at 31 weeks, Myers was admitted to the Antenatal Unit, a specialized unit where expectant mothers are under observation so the medical team can address any concerns or attempt to delay premature delivery. In the unit, Myers received ultrasounds two times per week.
"Typically, multiples are born early," says Dr. Gratton. "It's not unusual for a mother to deliver pre-term, but we do try to get them as close to full term as possible."
Part three: Welcoming the triplets
Although Myers was scheduled for a caesarian section at 36 weeks, the babies decided that they were ready for the world early. On Dec. 14, 2013, at 32 weeks and five days pregnant, Myers delivered Londyn (3lbs, 3oz), Madison (3lbs, 2oz) and Kenley (3lbs, 6oz) at LHSC.
Myers says that finally seeing her daughters was a moment of joy and surprise.
"I was just in shock looking at them all, thinking that these are our babies - all three of them. And seeing how tiny they were, however, despite their size, they were really strong babies."
Though all of the babies were healthy, they still required additional care in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
"the priority was to keep the triplets healthy and help them transition to life outside of the womb," explains Dr. Henry Roukema, Neonatologist and Medical Director of Nurseries at LHSC. "Neonatal intensive care is not only about caring for babies when they are sick, but it also includes helping babies to transition well and prevent them from getting sick."
According to Myers and Colwell, the NICU proved to be very helpful.
"We learned a lot from the NICU staff when we were there - they were very knowledgeable," says Myers.
As each baby met the criteria for discharge, which included stable temperature regulation, no apnea (pauses in breathing), and gaining weight with demand feeds, they were released home. Kenley was the first to leave on Jan.10, followed by Londyn (Jan. 16) and Madison (Jan. 19).
Bringing the girls home was made easier through the support of friends, family and coworkers, who pooled their resources together throughout three separate baby showers and provided hte young family with a few months' worth of diapers, and enough clothes to last until the girls' first birthday.
"Everyone's generosity was so overwhelming and still is," says Myers. "For a couple previously with no children, preparing for three babies was intimidating. Once the baby showers were over and all the baby supplies were sorted out, we started to feel more prepared."
"Now that the girls are here, our lives are definitely very different. It's busy. Every day is a lot of feedings, but overall they are very good babies and they're probably making it easier on us. Every stage is going to be interesting, especially when they start becoming more mobile."
"We do get a lot of questions about them. Most commonly, we're asked how we tell them apart. Luckily, Mark and I discovered that the triplets each have their own unique birth mark, making it easier to tell which baby is which."
In terms of the future, Myers and Colwell have a lot to look forward to.
"I think we'll have a lot of interesting days ahead and it'll be fun to watch them grow," says Myers.
"Our favourite thing to do together is our bedtime routine, when we can all be together right before the girls go to sleep. We look forward to travelling with the girls once they get bigger and starting our own family traditions. I'm glad they'll always have each other."