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Parents of identical triplets rely on a network of helpers

The cycle generally begins every few hours. The three Hewitt boys are changed, fed, burped and cuddled before a bit of playtime or contented slumber. If all goes well, the process takes an hour and a half.

The parents, Thomas and Kristen Hewitt, often find themselves holding bottles with their feet, propping someone on the sofa — or employing an extra set of grandparent hands.


And sometimes, they cast a wider net for help with their 3-month-old identical triplets.

All new parents face a steep learning curve but usually aren't outnumbered. The Hewitts have leaned heavily on those with experience, particularly those with multiple babies. Thanks to online forums, mommy groups, friends with babies, books and strangers on the street, there is no shortage of advice for the Hewitt's babies.


Since the triplets — Finnegan, Oliver and Thomas III — were born Oct. 6 at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, the Hewitts have been methodically figuring it out as they go. The Hewitts have allowed The Baltimore Sun to chronicle the first year of their sons' lives through intermittent visits at their Hampden rowhouse.

Pointing to the coffee maker on the kitchen counter next to the formula maker, Kristen said recently that they expect to "operate in survival mode for a while longer."

Triplets are rare, and only 10 percent of the time are they identical, which occurs when embryos come from one zygote and then separate, according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. More often all three are fraternal, or there is a set of twins.

About 4,300 sets of triplets are born in the United States annually, 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.

The Hewitts rely most heavily on Kristen's parents, Kathy and Jim Stantz, who moved to Baltimore from Ohio to help.

"I'm here Monday through Friday and on the weekends when I'm needed," said Kathy.

On-demand grandparents are greatly welcomed by Thomas, who said he'd never even held a newborn before he had three, and Kristen, who has taken the lead on baby care since Thomas returned to work at a planning and engineering firm.

Even with the extra hands, multiple babies pose parenting challenges like no other and give meaning to the phrase "It takes a village to raise a child."


The Hewitts have created their own village of experienced parents, especially those who are raising or have raised triplets.

In addition to Thomas' sister, who has a baby six months older than the triplets, they also turn to a friend of Kristen's who lives in Texas and has triplets. They joined a local support network for moms called Columbia Area Moms of Multiples, which assigned her a "big sister" with triplets, who serves as a sort of multiples mentor.

Sara Striegel, the Texas friend with triplets ages 21/2, provided practical things, such as a list of needed and unneeded supplies for the small rowhouse, and tips like ordering the delivery of the 700-800 diapers and wipes needed monthly.

Her mantra: "If you have to do it, you do it. When you have three little babies looking to you for all their needs, you find a way."

But it's not all about routines.

"Enjoy all the stages and seeing them grow together and become good buddies," Striegel told them.


Other parents with multiple babies said it's important to rely on others for tips, emotional support and even some physical assistance.

"You can't do it by yourself," said Kathryn Goedeke, a Phoenix tax accountant who had identical triplets 29 years ago and read about the Hewitts in the newspaper. "The answer is, you need more hands."

After briefly finding herself alone with medically fragile newborns the day after they came home from the hospital, Goedeke said she and her husband realized they had to make sure there was always a second adult on hand.

Healthy babies, such as the Hewitts, would pose slightly less of a burden, she said.

As the kids age, she said, her best advice was to ensure each gets some individual attention. Since her babies all came home from the hospital on different days, they began celebrating their "home day," a special time they didn't have to share with siblings.

Looking forward, she said, crawling and potty training will pose challenges. But, she added: "They won't go college in diapers, so don't worry about it."


The load will get easier once the babies sleep through the night, said Diane Kyle, who had twins and a toddler within 18 months of each other and now works as a doula, a professional who attends births and assists new mothers in their homes.

Sleeping through the night comes at different times for different babies, but they have the capacity to sleep longer beginning at about 11 pounds. The triplets, weighing just 12 pounds combined at birth, now tip the scale at 10 or 11 pounds each.

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Kyle said when you have multiple babies, someone always has to wait, and that's not a bad thing.

"Mothers feel stressed when their babies cry, but know you're creating patient human beings," she said.

All of the mothers said consistency is important. Parents should rely on each other for support in developing routines, said Dr. Scott Krugman, chairman of the pediatrics department at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center. But if they are concerned about something, they always can call their pediatrician, he said.

Don't expect the 3-month-olds to be exactly on par with others in their age group, said Dr. Fernando V. Mena, chief of the neonatology section in Franklin Square's pediatrics department. Triplets, generally born weeks early and at a low birth weight, will take some time to catch up. Studies show they do, he said.


The Hewitts say they are taking it all in — and enjoying just about all of it.

"On our first date-night out, I looked at my watch thinking it had been a couple of hours, but it had been only 45 minutes since we left home," Thomas said. "We really missed the boys."