JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Their right toenail. That’s how you tell them apart.
Lawrence’s is painted blue. Liam’s is painted green. Logan’s isn’t painted. Other than that, telling the identical triplets apart is a challenge even for their parents, John David and Lory Rowe.
“They fool us all the time,” David said, laughing.
On this Tuesday morning, the three boys were dressed in gray-and-black onesies, covering up their feet. All three of the babies were smiling and energetic, kicking their squat legs as they lay on a quilt in the middle of the living room.
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It’s quite the sight, all three of them next to each other, all looking exactly the same. This isn’t something you’ll see very often. A Reuters article in 2007 cited doctors saying the chances of having identical triplets as being one in 200 million, but the consensus appears to be closer to one in a million, the Baltimore Sun reported in 2015.
Either way, the scene in the second-story living room at the apartment in Juneau’s Mendenhall Valley this past Tuesday is exceedingly rare. The path to this point, as one might expect, did not go according to plan.
At an ultrasound appointment in Anchorage late last year, David started squeezing Rowe’s hand when the nurse got quiet and her face turned serious. This was their first attempt at a baby, and the nurse’s facial expression told David that something was wrong.
“Did you do anything artificial?” the nurse asked as she looked at her screen.
No they didn’t, David and Rowe replied. The nurse continued to move her wand around Rowe’s tummy and asked her question again.
“You’re sure you didn’t do anything artificial?”
Rowe, a small woman with a small temper, was uncharacteristically upset. She demanded to know what was going on.
The nurse turned the screen to them and showed them what David later described as “a little blob with a little flicker.” The blob was their baby, and the flicker was its heartbeat. Everything looked good, and the father and mother started to relax.
Then the nurse slid her wand over.
“Here’s another heartbeat.”
A wave of excitement washed over the couple. They were having twins.
“Well, hold on,” the nurse said, sliding her wand over to reveal another blob and another flicker. “Here’s another one. There’s another healthy heartbeat.”
David had just gotten a raise at his job, they were making plans to get married soon and they had a good support network in Juneau. They felt prepared to have a baby.
But three of them?
“The first thing I did was I threw up,” David said. “I felt like my stomach flipped upside down. My body got tingly and stomach flipped upside down.”
Once he settled down a bit, he and Rowe actually began to get excited about the prospect of three babies at once. They’d been brainstorming baby names with two of David’s nieces, and David texted them from Anchorage that they had to come up with two more.
By the time David and Rowe landed in Juneau that day, the nieces had suggested Lawrence, Liam and Logan. They stuck.
A fine line
The process continued to not go according to plan as the pregnancy progressed.
Rowe, who stands just under 5 feet tall and under 100 pounds, ended up on bed rest for weeks, only getting out of the hospital bed to use the bathroom or take quick showers. She developed preeclampsia, a condition in pregnancy where the mother’s blood pressure sinks to dangerously low levels. Rowe was seeing spots and could hardly walk.
At just 28 weeks, the doctors in Anchorage decided to perform an emergency C-section for her sake.
“It was a fine line, what’s best for the boys and what’s best for momma at that point,” David recalled. “The doctor just kind of called it and was like, ‘We’re not gonna push Lory any longer. We need to get this done.'”
The babies came on April 23, and weighed two pounds, five ounces; two pounds, seven ounces; and two pounds, eight ounces. Newborns typically weigh between five pounds, eight ounces and eight pounds, 13 ounces, according to KidsHealth.org.
Though David and Rowe talk almost casually about it at this point, the weeks they spent at the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) were “scary as could be,” David remembers. As he held one of the babies on his lap Tuesday, he held out his other hand, palm facing upward, to illustrate that the first time he held one of his sons, the boy fit in the palm of his hand.
They spent a couple months in the NICU as their three boys ate through feeding tubes and breathed with the help of machines. It felt like forever, David said, but they made it through. The boys made an impressive recovery and have rebounded to be in the 70th percentile in terms of size for boys their age.
David’s older sister Jodi Mitchell, who watches the babies at night, was wide-eyed as she talked about how resilient the triplets have been.
“If you go by their actual due date, they’re thriving,” Mitchell said, “big time.”
David and Rowe made their way back into town late this summer, and have been learning on the fly.
Friends with children have plenty of advice for them on how to raise a baby, but there’s not much out there on how to raise three at once. Even with help from Mitchell and Rowe’s mother Evelyn Capisos, the parents still don’t sleep much. When they do sleep, it’s more of a nap than a full, restful slumber.
“It’s all day, all night for us,” David said. “One of them’s always going.”
Apart from the physical challenges of caring for three boys, there are obvious financial difficulties as well. Raising a baby is expensive enough, but having to buy three times the formula, three times the clothes and three times the diapers is even more difficult.
“We’re overloaded with diapers right now,” David said, laughing.
A GoFundMe to help with expenses has raised $5,255 as Oct. 13.
For now, David and Rowe are keeping their heads above water well enough, with help from friends and family. The babies are starting to develop personalities, as Logan has already asserted himself as the “flirt” of the group. His face lights up when girls come over. They’ve noticed that Liam has a small dimple on the right side of his mouth. Lawrence is very “chill,” not ever causing too much of a commotion.
David and Rowe accomplished their mission to expand their family. They didn’t expect it to be quite this much of an expansion, but they’re laughing at the good fortune that everyone is happy and healthy.
“First and only,” David said of the babies being their first.
“And last,” Rowe said, smiling. “No more.”
Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com