Melissa Dawson is a dear friend of mine, and when I say she is not your basic mom, I’m not exaggerating. Melissa and her husband, Hunter, recently began a new journey raising triplets in their Louisville, Kentucky, home.
Fascinated by her story and her ability to juggle responsibilities like a champ, I wanted to ask Melissa a few questions about the beauty and struggle of mothering three babies at once.
Her responses were honest and moving.
I hope Melissa's words speak to you as much as they did me.
1. Can you give some background about your journey and the day you found out you were having triplets?
As a young woman you always envision what your pregnancy journey and your birth story may look like. My story is nothing like I had imagined. Our journey began with a diagnosis that rocked our world: stage 4 endometriosis. In 2013, we found out that our odds of getting pregnant naturally were less than 2%.
As devastating as this news was, we knew in our hearts that we were destined to have children. So we didn’t let the diagnosis deter our efforts.
I had surgery to remove the endometriosis in December of 2013. The doctors told me that the endometriosis would eventually come back, so if I was thinking about getting pregnant, we should try immediately after surgery. So, from January 2014-April 2015, Hunter and I tried to get pregnant on our own. After 16 months of trying every trick in the book, we knew it was time to go talk with a specialist.
After much discussion, our doctor recommended that we first try artificial insemination (IUI) and if that failed, we would then discuss in vitro fertilization (IVF).
We suffered disappointment after disappointment after three rounds of IUI. After the 3rd failed round, my doctor suggested that I schedule a second surgery as she believed that the endometriosis had grown back and was preventing implantation. After surgery, we would be on to IVF. We scheduled the second surgery, but we decided to try last round of IUI in the meantime. At this point I had temporarily given up on getting pregnant, instead spending time prepping for my scheduled surgery.
But on October 21st, I FINALLY saw a positive pregnancy test.
I didn’t actually believe I was pregnant when I saw those two pink lines. I called my doctor and she ordered a blood test to confirm the pregnancy. When she got the results back my HCG level was close to 500 (anything over 5 is a confirmed positive). 24 hours later she had me take a second HGC blood test and this time my levels had shot up to around 2400. "I want to schedule an early ultrasound since your levels are so high, this way we can rule out the possibility of multiples," the doctor told us.
This is the moment my mother’s instinct really kicked in. I just knew in my heart that I was pregnant with more than one baby.
On November 10th, 2015 at 6 weeks pregnant, Hunter and I went in for our first ultrasound. "One, two, oh no......three" are the words we heard from our doctor. As my husband and I blankly stared at the ultrasound screen in complete shock, we just sat there quietly. Hunter had a jacket on that day and I just remember looking over at him as he unzipped his jacket, took a deep breath and sat back in his chair. It was certainly a "take your breath away" moment.
We felt every emotion that day. We were excited, happy, scared, worried, shocked, confused, etc. You name it...we felt it! I believe our doctor felt the same. She said she had been a fertility doctor for 20+ years and she had never had a triplet outcome with such minimal treatment. Once the shock of everything wore off, we quickly embraced the unique journey we were about to embark on.
We felt and still feel blessed beyond what we deserve.
2. What has been the sweetest part of raising three precious babies at the same time?
We are still new to being parents - our babies are less than a year old (born May 7, 2016), so I am sure the sweetest parts of raising triplets is yet to come. However, I must say that the sweetest part of our journey thus far has been watching the babies connect with one another non-verbally.
I can already see their little bond developing as they touch and glare at one another. They will hold each other's hands, touch one another's face, rub their heads and twirl their hair (what little they have). They often smile and laugh at the other one.
Sometimes I just stare at them and ask myself, is this real life? Are these three really mine? Did we really do this?
It’s an amazing blessing.
3. When do you sleep?
Hmm! Good question.
We still have sleepless nights. This is one of the tough parts about having triplets. Almost every night, one of the three has a restless night of sleep. We've tried every trick in the book to get them all to sleep through an entire night at the same time.
4. How has the dynamic of your marriage changed since having triplets?
Hunter and I have tried extremely hard to continue many of the things we did before babies. But, it certainly comes with challenges. We have limited free time as we always have some sort of baby duty to take care of, but we make a point to still go on date nights and spend one-on-one time with each other when we can. Of course our day-to-day and our priorities in life have DRASTICALLY changed.
The days of cooking ourselves a gourmet meal at the end of the work day are over. The days of coming home to sit and relax for a bit by watching our favorite show recorded on DVR are over. Spontaneous dinner dates with friends are basically over, and the days we could take a random long weekend trip to another city are (WAY) over! All of these things take so much planning and organization for us to successfully pull them off and maintain happy babies.
We stay on a tight schedule, to say the least. Our marriage is basically a scheduled, loving, structured, happy blessing- with a lot of organized chaos!
5. How do you find time for self-care? What does self-care look like these days?
Well this one is the biggest challenge for me. Like most women, when we get stretched too thin, the first thing we do is sacrifice ourselves. For me, in the early days of having the triplets I was VERY guilty of sacrificing myself maybe a little too much.
I wasn't eating when I should, sleeping when I could, showering as often as I could, giving myself breaks when needed. I never took the time to put my make-up on, do my hair, get out of my PJ's and I would go HOURS before even remembering to take a bathroom break. I quickly realized that I could not sustain these behaviors very long. I do a better job of this today, but it’s still a challenge. I am finding (some) time to work-out, and doing a better job of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner.
My secret is taking advantage of an early bedtime. We typically get the babies down at night between 7-8pm. I am happy to admit that I am now in bed soon after they are asleep!
6. They say "it takes a village" when it comes to raising children. I'm sure that's even more true with triplets. Who is your village and how have they helped you along the way?
Hunter and I unfortunately live 500 miles from our families, so quick weeknight visits or the emergency "I need your help NOW" call to mom isn't an option for us.
Our family was a huge help when the babies were first born. We had regular help the first two months of the babies' lives. However, our parents, siblings and extended family members are all still in the work force, so with limited time off, the regular help had to end. Most days now I am by myself at home with the triplets as Hunter is finishing up his Prosthodontist residency.
We do have some wonderful helpers to assist, but it’s limited to 15-20 hours a week. I always try and have one of them come if/when we have any doctor's appointments, as there is no way I can manage the triplets at a doctor’s appointment on my own. We fortunately have an army of wonderful friends in Louisville. However, they too have jobs or their own little ones they are trying to maintain.
We realize and understand that we are going to need a village of help and support in the very near future with the babies, especially as they get more active and mobile. We are planning to move back to North Carolina in the next year so we can have our family "village" close by. I am looking forward to the day that I can make that emergency call to my mom telling her I need her help now!
7. What advice do you have for a fellow mama about to give birth to multiples?
This certainly is a loaded question! I would be happy to talk to an expecting multiple mom one-on-one about this. However, right now I will say this:
(1) Make sure you have some form of help lined up- short-term and long-term; (2) Give up on the idea of perfect parenting; (3) Be prepared to live a life of structure; (4) Make sure you and your partner are fully prepared to share parenting responsibilities; and (5) although it’s difficult, take time for yourself.
For me, I had always envisioned what being a first time mom would be like. You know, the spontaneous run to Target ‘just because’, going out for a quick run with my jogging stroller, etc.
NONE of this is reality for a multiple mama. In fact, get ready for a lot of strange attention when you go out for a casual trip to the store: stares, questions, and the constant feeling of being on display everywhere you go. Get ready to push a big stroller into a store doorway and uncomfortably try to navigate it down an aisle. Get ready to spend 30+ min running around your house trying to pack diaper bags and car seats praying you will get somewhere on time.
Nonetheless, get ready to feel like your heart is exploding.
It is an incredible and indescribable thing to see not one, but multiple miracles in front of you, and knowing that YOU created each one. I wouldn’t have guessed that I would be part of such an exclusive club, but it is something so unique, and so so special. Even if I had the chance, having triplets is certainly something I would never change.