Carrying triplets put an enormous strain on my body. From around 12 weeks of pregnancy, I experienced morning sickness that lasted all day, terrible headaches, and I struggled to sleep or walk without pain.
I finished working as a primary school teacher at 24 weeks; 12 weeks earlier than I would have with a singleton. I was told that most triplets come at around 34 weeks’ gestation but my babies were born extremely prematurely at 26 weeks so at that point my maternity leave of 16 weeks began. We spent 132 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Special Care Nursery so my leave was long gone before we even made it home.
My husband got the standard two weeks’ partner leave but had to take much more time off to be with me and our three babies in hospital over the five month period we were there. We faced brain bleeds, collapsed lungs, PDA’s (heart defect), hernia surgeries and many other challenges. Being self employed meant that he was not earning an income if he was not working so our bank balance took a massive hit. We also had many additional costs such as travel and parking. It was a two hour return trip to the hospital and I was driving there every morning and my husband each night after work.
People would say “at least you’re getting to sleep at night” but my 4 hourly pumping schedule said otherwise. There was little time to rest and recover from my emergency caesarean. It was a physically and emotionally exhausting five months of our lives.
When we came home from the hospital, the next set of challenges began. Caring for three premature babies around the clock was a job I could not do on my own. So again my husband needed to take time off work if family or friends weren’t available to help. There is research that shows it takes 28 hours per day to care for newborn triplets yet somehow mothers are expected to just manage this impossible task on their own. We were both operating on very little sleep with 12 wakings overnight being a common occurrence. Being premature meant that it could take up to an hour to feed just one baby as they required lots of breaks for burping and struggled to suck effectively. They also experienced reflux and struggled to establish good sleeping habits.
If it wasn’t for the friendship and reassurance of other twin and triplet parents, I don’t know how I would have survived. Being a member of AMBA (The Australian Multiple Birth Association) allowed me to see that there was light at the end of the tunnel.
We decided we needed to pay for some help around the house, even though we really couldn’t afford it, for the sake of our mental and physical health. We hired a cleaner on a fortnightly basis and a babysitter a few evenings a week to assist when we just had nothing left to give.
When the children were 18 months old we put them into childcare two days a week for some respite. I was initially very nervous about putting my children in childcare as they had been diagnosed with chronic lung disease and were more susceptible to illness but the cost of in-home care was too high to consider. We were very lucky to be able to secure three spots at a new centre as we live in a growing area. I know many other families with multiples struggle immensely to find two or three spots together.
Having premature triplets meant that my return to work as a teacher was greatly delayed. I was exhausted from the sleep deprivation and the care demands of triplets for at least the first four years and didn't feel like I had the capacity to go to work and care for other people's children. Casual work was also off the cards as childcare wasn’t available at the drop of a hat if I got a last minute call to come in. On top of that, the children had many medical appointments to attend and therapy activities to do at home.
I eventually returned to work part time when they started kindergarten and full time when they were in Grade 2. Going from a two-income family to one income for several years was extremely hard and we built up a lot of debt. It took eight years to get back to being a two-income family and to once again be able to afford some of the luxuries in life.
Parents of multiples currently get the same leave entitlements as parents of one baby despite the myriad of extra challenges and costs. If the government wants families of multiples to thrive, they must put better supports in place for these extremely vulnerable families.