The odds of conceiving identical triplets without fertility drugs may be as low as one in a million.
But that's not the math that strikes Thomas Hewitt and his wife, Kristen, who gave birth to a such a trio Oct. 6.
It's the number of diapers, wipes, bottles and onesies they'll need daily for three boys, and how many minutes they'll sleep between changing, feeding and snuggling each.
"We want to run things like a small army and be really regimented," said Thomas, sitting on a sofa in his Hampden rowhouse cradling a baseball-size head in each hand. "In reality, it'll be more like a pirate ship, complete with mutinies."
The three babies — the "Hewitt Hat Trick," as Thomas, a recreational hockey player, calls them — were born more than six weeks early at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. Their doctor, Victor A. Khouzami, said he has not witnessed identical triplets in more than three decades at the hospital, one of the leading places in the state to deliver babies.
Triplets are rare generally, and only about 10 percent of the time are they identical, when embryos come from one zygote and then separate, according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. More often they are all fraternal or there is a set of twins.
Every year there about 4,300 sets of triplets born in the U.S., compared with more than 132,000 sets of twins and 3.9 million births of all kinds, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Identical triplets were reported this year in Montana, New York and Washington state.
"No one really knows the incidence," said Khouzami, chairman of the obstetrics department and medical director of Women's and Infant Services at GBMC, who said he believes there used to be more triplets in general because fertility treatments used to be less precise.
"I've seen a lot," he said, "but not this."
Kristen's pregnancy went well, with just a few small hiccups and the early delivery that is usual for multiple births, Khouzami said. Such births are high-risk, with concerns including triplet-to-triplet transfusion, where one triplet is siphoning blood away from another, and intrauterine growth restriction, which can lead to low birth weight.
Kristen spent the last weeks of her pregnancy in the hospital, getting up only for the bathroom.
Thomas III, Finnegan and Oliver collectively didn't even weigh 12 pounds when they were born — each a minute apart beginning at 5:16 a.m. that Tuesday — and spent much of the past two weeks in intensive care.
Everyone is adjusting, including the Hewitts' 11-year-old shepherd-beagle mix, Jersey, and Kristen's parents, Kathy and Jim Stantz, who quit their jobs, sold their house in Ohio and moved to Baltimore to help. Kristen quit her job in real estate and Thomas is taking a couple of weeks off from his job as a project manager at a transportation-focused planning and engineering firm.
The family considers their clan a blessing, especially given that Thomas, 33, and Kristen, 35, had been trying to conceive for a while. They met in 2001 at Ohio State University and will celebrate their four-year wedding anniversary in December.
They found out about the pregnancy a few days after Thomas' sister had a baby in March; she said it was their turn.
"I got the positive pregnancy test the next weekend," said Kristen. The pair immediately called the family to tell them.
They learned of the triplets during their first doctor's appointment. To cut the silence during the sonogram, Thomas asked the technician if there was "more than one in there." She said yes, and Thomas asked if there was "more than two." Again, the tech said yes.
There was thrill. And shock. They called family back and began researching supplies. They bought three cribs and two swings, an SUV and a triple stroller. They're relying on family, friends and friends of friends for other items — and hope the pipeline continues.
A box of 100 newborn diapers will last just three to four days. Clothes will last only weeks or months.
To tell them apart, the babies have been assigned colors for their clothes and wear distinctive strings on their wrists and ankles.
Eventually, Kristen, a trained cosmetologist, will give them different haircuts, which Thomas said with a chuckle "will work until they realize they can buzz each other's heads."