Identical triplets: A rare and ‘indescribable’ joy
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!
In an instant, Julie and John VanderMolen became parents of three beautiful infants.
Statistically, that’s a rare event―identical triplets occur once in every 100,000 births.
And for the VanderMolens, it’s a triply blessed event.
The babies arrived by cesarean section Nov. 26 at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital, and the couple eagerly embraced the moment they became a family of five.
“I just was a mess of tears,” Julie says. “The pregnancy was a pretty long journey for me.
“Just having that bond with them in utero, and being able to feel each one of them move separately. And then to see them outside of me, it just felt so surreal. I felt like I already knew them.”
Ivan John arrived first, at 11:28 a.m., weighing 4 pounds, 7 ounces. Then came William Lloyd, at 11:29 a.m., tipping the scale at 5 pounds. Third was Harrison Kenneth, born at 11:31 a.m., weighing 3 pounds, 15 ounces.
Each has a full head of hair, and each gave a hearty cry at birth.
“To hear that scream―that moment is indescribable,” John says. “I am just so happy and thankful they are healthy. They are doing great now. We are just very blessed.”
One, two, three heartbeats
The couple found out they were expecting triplets early in the pregnancy. Julie had experienced a miscarriage a year earlier, so she had an ultrasound exam at six weeks.
“You guys are having twins,” the technician said, as she detected two heartbeats.
A moment later, she added, “There are three heartbeats.”
Julie began to shake. “Like a leaf,” she says. John became dizzy.
“Things got real very quickly,” he says. “I just was not prepared. I felt like I had been hit by a car.”
It didn’t take long for shock to give way to feelings of excitement.
“We desperately wanted children,” Julie says.
Although John had lobbied for a big family, they hadn’t decided how many kids they wanted. They thought they would start with one and see how that went.
Doctors told the parents early in the pregnancy the infants would be identical because, although they had three separate sacs, they shared a single placenta.
Identical triplets can occur when a single fertilized egg divides in two, and then one of those eggs divides, said Vivian Romero, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist with Spectrum Health Medical Group.
Julie, a social worker, and John, a former Marine who works for the federal government, are Grand Rapids-area natives who moved to North Carolina for John’s job. After they found out they were expecting triplets, they moved back to West Michigan to be closer to family.
To be able to see him and hold him is an indescribable feeling.
During her pregnancy, Julie received care from the maternal-fetal medicine specialists at Spectrum Health.
She gained about 70 pounds and carried the babies for 32 weeks. Labor began suddenly Saturday morning.
“It was very unexpected,” she says. “Everything went quickly after that.”
William breathed room oxygen from birth. Ivan and Harrison needed continuous positive airway pressure, but only for a day.
The three babies moved to the neonatal intensive care unit at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital―in the same room but in separate incubators.
“They are doing well,” says Carol Bos, RN.
The boys receive nourishment through feeding tubes. They will learn to eat on their own before they are ready to go home.
On Monday afternoon, John wheels Julie to the NICU so they can hold the babies, providing skin-to-skin contact. They make sure each boy receives equal cuddle time. This visit, Ivan waits in his crib while his brothers get their turn.
Nurse Bos lifts Harrison from his crib and gently helps Julie settle him on her chest.
“Hi, buddy. Come to mama,” Julie murmurs. Harrison opens his eyes and looks up at her.
John sits in a nearby chair and holds William. The newborn squawks and squirms, then settles in and closes his eyes.
“To be able to see him and hold him is an indescribable feeling,” John says.
“It’s unlike anything you can ever describe,” Julie agrees. “It’s perfection.”
The VanderMolens received a moment of fame with a playful video they created to announce their triple pregnancy. It shows their frantic preparations for parenthood―with John catching three baseballs and Julie filling three baby bottles. It was featured on ABC’s Good Morning America.
Now, they can’t wait to bring their babies to their home in Kentwood, Michigan. Three cribs await the boys upstairs. A triple stroller stands ready. They have piles of outfits, diapers and bottles.
Julie looks forward to taking her sons to church. John dreams of playing sports with the boys.
With Julie still recovering from surgery, the couple says they don’t think they have quite come to grips with the challenges ahead.
“The full responsibility has not sunk in yet,” John says.
“But I wouldn’t say we are fearful about it at all,” Julie says. “The connection we have with them is just so instant. And I am so looking forward to being home, on our own schedule, and figuring it out together as a family.”