The triplets are turning one this month – and their mum, 34-year-old Gina Dewdney, could not be more lovestruck. “It is incredible to watch. The most astonishing thing I find is that their DNA is all identical, they are being raised in the same environment by the same people, they are being loved all equally, but they are all completely different. Being able to see their personalities shine through now is really nice to watch,” she tells Gulf News in an interview.
“It’s really nice to see them interact together. They talk so much and I swear they understand what each other is saying; they have full-on babble conversations; and if one of them is crying, one of them will put their hand on them and look really concerned and pat them a little bit,” the Gulf News reader adds.
The first anniversary of the triplets’ birth marks a journey with sharp bends in the road and many, many speed bumps.
UK's Cheshire-based Dewdney recalls the first surprise came when a few weeks into trying to conceive, the couple found themselves expecting. “I thought it could take us a couple of years, but we were super lucky,” she laughs.
The early symptoms of pregnancy were intense. “From really early on, just three to four weeks into the pregnancy, I started getting a lot of symptoms; bad migraines, I was extremely tired, [bad morning] sickness and pregnancy insomnia. I thought that was really strange to have those symptoms. So I said to my husband, ‘I’ve got a feeling that I’m having twins. I’ve just got [such] strong symptoms, so it must be so many hormones going through my body’,” she recalls. The first scan she got proved her right. And then, she says, 20 minutes into the scan, her husband, Craig, exclaimed: “Is that a third head?” The room fell silent as the sonographer confirmed that they were indeed having triplets.
That day Dewdney went home and spent time googling, mapping out the possibilities and what this pregnancy would mean. She weighed the pros and cons, and asked herself over and over, “Will I be able to manage so many babies?” That night, as the couple got ready for bed, Dewdney staggered … she was bleeding and heavily. She says: “So I went from thinking I was having one, possibly two babies to having confirmed that I was having triplets, to in the evening being told, ‘Well, you’ve had a heavy bleed, be prepared that you might have had a miscarriage.’”
Fortunately, the blood she expelled was a clot that was around the placenta and not the actual placenta. The babies were safe. Dewdney could breathe again. “It wasn’t until I thought I had lost them all that [I was sure], I want all these babies. That first day was so emotional.”
This was to be a teaser for what was to come. “After that, the changes my body went through … I became so big so fast – a couple of my friends are pregnant now and they are sending me pictures throughout their pregnancy and I’m like, ‘I was where you are now when I was like, three months and they are like six months [along]’. I was told very early on that I was so high risk that I’d have to stop work and just be pretty much on bed rest, so that was quite difficult – it was quite isolating, because it was during COVID-19 as well. I didn’t get to see many of my friends or family, but I had lots of time in my head to plan what I was going to be doing.”
Dewdney is a master planner, and her first order of business was to procure the clothes the babies would need when they arrived. At the 16-week scan, the doctors told the couple they were having one boy and identical girls. “They said, ‘It must be that the two girls are sharing the placenta and the boy has his own placenta – and on the scan it looked like their placentas had fused together so it looked like one. So I went from 16 weeks to 24 weeks trying to plan in my head what it was going to be like with these two girls and a boy. I’d named them, I’d started buying clothes for them, I’d started talking to them.
“But then, on the 24th week scan, they scanned me and said, ‘Oh, how’s he gotten over there?’ and she [the sonographer] looked again. Obviously, they couldn’t move around a lot in there with there being not much room in there. And she was like, ‘Actually, there’s three boys and one placenta! You are having three identical boys,’” says Dewdney.
The news left Dewdney reeling. “I was so upset. I felt like I’d lost the two girls that I’d bonded with and envisioned my life with. And then I was like, ‘Who are these other boys?’ It took me a little bit of time to sort of grieve the losses and then when I came to terms with it. Once I did, I could start to get excited again for it. It was a huge rollercoaster [ride],” she says. “Obviously now, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love them more than anything.”
Keeping a close eye on things
The couple’s weekend plans over the pregnancy seemed steeped in cement: they’d be over at the hospital, having scans. “With a triplet pregnancy they didn’t want me to go over 35 weeks, because it was so high risk for myself. I was so closely monitored during the pregnancy and they noticed that the flow between the umbilical cord and the placenta was a little restrictive for some of the babies, so they said they wanted to do a planned C-section at 33 weeks. But then I naturally went into labour at 31 weeks and three days,” she says.
The triplets surprised her in the middle of the night; when she woke up to go to the toilet, she recalls, her water broke and the couple had to rush to the hospital. “They wanted to try and keep them in me for as long as possible [so they could develop], so they put me in the hospital bed and closely monitored the babies. I was getting contractions and labour pains for 24 hours. And then the contractions started to get within seconds of one another and one of the babies was in distress, so they whisked me in for a C-section.
“The surgeon actually got the first baby out of me in one minute 14 seconds from the time the knife went in and then all of the babies were born at exactly the same time: 3.52am,” she says. “There were about 30 people in the surgery with us, because they all needed a neonatal team, each baby, and they all needed their own doctor.”
Premature babies – according to the UK’s National Health Service 8 out of 10 babies are born prematurely – usually have a dash of jaundice owing to the fact that their livers can’t filter out bilirubin (caused by the breaking down of red blood cells) quite so efficiently.
In Dewdney’s triplets’ case that was one of several fights they’d go on to win.
Once they were born, says the mum, “There was no skin-to-skin time. I literally got to see them and they were put into these bags – they looked like plastic bags – and they were wrapped up straight away and I literally got to peek at them and then they were taken away to intensive care, so I didn’t see them till that evening. I didn’t hold them until, I think, the next day.
“They all had a little bit of jaundice and they all needed to be on oxygen for a while – Jaxson, the smallest one, he needed to have a blood transfusion as well. And then [there are] ongoing issues, with them being premature babies, in and out of hospitals till now. Jenson has got enlarged ventricles in his brain so that needs investigating. Hopefully they are absolutely fine, but there are worries.”
The first time Dewdney saw her babies, she didn’t feel happy. “The first time I saw them, it wasn’t a whoosh of love, it was a whoosh of worry,” she says. “It was just like this worry, like, are they going to make it? The pregnancy is now over, this is now neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), what health conditions have they been born with? Are they all okay? Because they couldn’t check everything during the pregnancy, so it was a new type of worry for me.”
She recalls her thoughts at seeing the kids in their incubators. “This will sound horrible, but I was thinking they look like little aliens, because they were so premature, their skin hadn’t formed properly; they looked like really old men and they were so skinny, and they had so many tubes coming out of them. I found it quite upsetting the first time I saw them.”
The superpower of a mum
But, she says, that’s the thing about being a mum: Nothing matters except for the kiddos. “It just feels like a blur now – I don’t know how I managed, because I was trying to breastfeed as well. When they were born, they weren’t able to swallow yet. Again, as a premature baby, you don’t actually get the swallow reflex until you are at 35 weeks gestation, so they were tube fed. So I was having to pump around the clock.
“With my body going into labour early, my milk wasn’t quite ready yet, so I was trying to get my body to stimulate to get the milk. So I had to pump every two hours day and night, so I wasn’t sleeping at all. There were times when I would have my breast pump on and my husband would come in and he was like, ‘Gina, the milk’s going everywhere, I was that tired – I hadn’t got the bottles on. And I was doing things like putting my phone in the fridge.
“I think you don’t realise how strong you are until being strong is the only option that you’ve got. Like, people are like, ‘How did you manage?’ And I’m like, ‘Well, I didn’t have a choice’. Because I’ve just been given these three little babies and they need me so I have to be strong and I have to carry on for them.”
When they had spent about 42 days in NICU, the triplets – named Jimmy, Jensen and Jaxson – were ready to go home. The tubes were out, the rush of hospital check-ups were on the backburner and all that was left were the Dewdneys and their three kids. “It was quite surreal,” she says. “All of a sudden the wires are gone and they are at home with us; there’s no nurses or doctors to turn to, it’s just us. It was like a lot of pressure … I suppose with every parent, it’s like you are given a baby and go home with and you need to keep it alive. But when you’ve been watching the babies have blips on the monitors and they’ve got all sorts of different health conditions that they are monitoring, it’s like that extra stress, because you’ve seen them go through that as well.”
“[Plus], you’ve given birth to three tiny babies that are at very high risk at getting various different issues, particularly during COVID-19. So we didn’t have a lot of visitors initially, we didn’t want to risk any visitors coming into the house. We were just a team and massively worked as a team and tried to get through the early days of them needing feeding every hour and a half, and they were so small they wanted feeding constantly. I’m vegan and I’m bring them up to be plant-based, so they can’t have dairy, so I wanted them to breast feed as much as possible and then put them on a formula that was dairy free. There were a lot of hurdles to jump before we found our own feet. It was stressful.”
Today, however, says Dewdney, “It’s incredible. Now that we get the smiles from them and they are so happy all the time. If they wake you up at 3 in the morning, you don’t care, because it’s not long before they are smiling at you or laughing or jumping up and down, so you get so much from them now, it’s made everything worth it.”
When news of the Dewdneys naturally conceived identical triplets – the odds are 1 in 200 million – got out, letters started pouring in from families asking for everyday life hacks that had helped them along. They started an Instagram page, The Cheshire Triplets, where she posts about tried-and-tested ways to feed three babies at the same time. And how to pack for a trip. And how to put them down for a nap at the same time. And ... well, you get the general idea. After all, the Dewdneys do get triple the work – yes. But also, more than triple the love.
Tell us about your pregnancy journey by writing to us at firstname.lastname@example.org