Grand Forks couple describes challenges, joys of triplets
Loren and Alecia Hoheisel became parents for the first time when their little ones arrived 10 weeks early on July 15, 2012.
Daughters Charlie and Ella were two pounds two ounces and two pounds five ounces, respectively, and son Jaxson weighed in at two pounds twelve ounces. Each weighed a little more than five pounds when discharged from Altru Hospital.
The Grand Forks couple remembers these facts as though they’re etched in their minds.
Alecia recalls learning — at 11 weeks into her pregnancy — that she was carrying triplets.
When the doctor told her, she said, “I thought he was lying to us.”
Twins run in her family, she said. She and her twin sister are among nine sets of twins.
“I thought twins would be OK. I sort of thought it might happen,” she said. “But triplets were a shock.”
In her family, Alecia and Loren have the only triplets; the babies were conceived naturally.
Alecia spent a month on bed rest in Altru Hospital before the triplets were born.
“It wasn’t fun,” she said. “I was just tired — even though I was lying in bed all day. But I knew that every day I was pregnant was better for them.”
As a nurse who works in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, Alecia was aware of the risks associated with premature birth and having multiple births.
“Knowing the odds and the history of premies was a blessing and a curse,” Loren said.
In 2010, the latest year for which mortality data are available, twins were more than four times, triplets 10 times and quadruplets more than 20 times as likely to die in infancy, the CDC said.
“Multiples come with a whole set of risks,” said Dr. Brian Wildey, Altru obstetrician-gynecologist. The chances of complications increase with each additional baby.
Complications, especially premature labor, can threaten the health of the mother and the babies, Wildey said.
The majority of the problems preemies face has to do with the respiratory system, he said. “The lungs are the last organs to mature” during pregnancy.
Expectant mothers must be monitored closely, he said.
Physicians elected to deliver the Hoheisel triplets by Caesarian section because one of the babies was experiencing “a little more stress,” Wildey said.
“We have to balance the needs of one with the others.”
After delivery, the babies remained in the neonatal intensive care unit at Altru for about two months.
“Sometimes it felt like we were taking one step forward and two steps back,” Loren said.
In the NICU, the triplets were attached to medical equipment and monitoring devices.
“The hardest thing was, when they were first born, we were not able to hold them,” Loren said. “You think of newborns and you want to snuggle them.”
He said he felt fortunate that, as a special education teacher who has summers off, he was able to be present for his wife and babies.
The nurses, doctors and other employees “were wonderful,” Alecia said. “The physicians — I know them — Drs. Wildey and Panda treated (the triplets) like their own kids.”
At Altru, triplets are “pretty rare,” Wildey said. “We have one set every few years.”
When reunited at home, the family “had a charting system to keep track of medications, how much they ate” and other needs, Loren said.
“It was quite routine-bound, but it would have been chaos if we hadn’t done it.”
They had some help from family and co-workers, he said, but no hired assistants to ease the transition.
“Suddenly they send you home with three babies, but they forget to give you a manual,” Loren said.
“Looking back, it was hard to tell them apart,” he said. “Alecia would say, ‘bring Ella,” and I’d bring Charlie.”
It didn’t help that mom and dad were seriously sleep deprived, but things such as a color system, to identify each one’s pacifier, did help, he said.
“It’s hard to remember. The first three to six months were like a blur.”
Loren was unprepared for triplets, he said.
“I don’t know what could prepare someone for this.”
In the first months of the triplets’ life, the family posted a blog, he said.
“During the toughest times, we had the most support you could ever imagine — from people we didn’t even know. And we continue to have that support.
“Grand Forks is a large community with a small-town feel,” he said. “The outpouring of support was amazing.”
Evidence of infants is all over the house and yard, Alecia said. “We have baby gates everywhere.”
The couple also converted their dining room into a play room.
As the kids grew, the Hoheisels lined them up in a stroller built for three when they ventured out in public.
“We were a circus attraction,” Alecia said.
“You can’t believe all the questions we got — good, bad and otherwise,” Loren said.
He and Alecia worried about their kids’ exposure to germs when curious people would want to come up and touch them.
Some strangers’ questions were rude or intrusive, he said. “There were times when we had to hold each other back” from responding.
But “some people say amazing things — like ‘God bless,’” Loren said.
Now, having gained two years’ experience, “we’ve got everything down to a science,” he said.
Scooping up two of the triplets in his arms, he said, with a laugh, “They learn to hang on tight.”
Having triplets “is easier now than a year ago, in some ways,” Loren said. “It’s a ‘different difficult’ now.”
The Hoheisels wouldn’t change a thing, though, Alecia said, “even with all the sleep-deprived nights and sickness.”
“It’s hard to imagine life before them,” Loren said.
“Or, if we’re away for a day or two, we miss them,” Alecia added.
Some of the benefits of triplets are obvious.
“They have built-in playmates,” she said. “They love to hug and kiss each other. They will look for each other when one is gone.”
It’s remarkable to Loren that the personality of each of his children “is completely different,” he said.
He also has a deeper awareness of the nursing profession and “a new respect for what nurses do for a living,” he said. “I don’t think I ever knew what Alecia did on the job.
“It’s amazing what modern medicine is able to do.”
The couple says their lives have changed in the way a plaque that hangs in the triplets’ bedroom says, “You made a wish, and three came true.’”
Alecia said, “With triplets you get three times the hugs, three times the kisses.”
More on the web: Click here to read about birthrate trends across the U.S.