Good things come in threes.
Linda Donnelly made that discovery 10 years ago when she gave birth to Dana, Lauren and Adam – the first triplets born in Spokane in the new millennium.
In those days before Octomom and other sensational tales of multiple births, triplets were quite the novelty.
When the trio entered the world on Jan. 21, 2000 – three weeks after Donnelly was admitted to the hospital – their arrival was greeted with fanfare at Sacred Heart Medical Center as well as on the TV news.
While twins and triplets have become more common in the past decade thanks to fertility treatments, the sight of multiples – especially in threes – continues to catch people’s attention.
After all, the chances of having triplets are still pretty slim. In 2006, the triplet rate among moms ages 25 to 39 was only 207.8 per 100,000 live births, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Last year, only one set of triplets was born in Spokane County, according to the Washington state Department of Health’s Center for Health Statistics. In 2000, Donnelly’s triplets were the first among eight sets born in Spokane County.
Donnelly, 46, was already the mother of a 4-year-old boy when she and her now ex-husband, Rod Donnelly, sought in vitro fertilization treatments from Dr. Edwin Robins.
A reproductive endocrinologist, Robins moved to Spokane in 1998 and established the Center for Reproductive Health. He proved to be a blessing for the Donnellys and many others. Before the center opened, couples who wanted to get pregnant through IVF had to travel to the Seattle area.
When the Donnellys started IVF treatments, they knew they wanted twins. But never in their wildest dreams did they expect to end up with three.
Successful fertilization happened quickly for the couple and Robins transferred two embryos into Donnelly’s uterus. When she returned for an ultrasound several weeks after getting pregnant, doctor and patient were surprised to find three beating hearts.
“I just started laughing,” Donnelly said, describing her reaction to the rare occurrence of an identical split – when one embryo becomes two in the womb.
Minutes later, she threw up from morning sickness, she recalled.
Thirty-two weeks into her pregnancy, Donnelly’s blood pressure shot up and she was rushed to the hospital. Three weeks later, in a room full of interns, nursing students and other medical professionals who got to know the couple during her extended hospital stay, three healthy babies were born via C-section: Dana at 5 pounds, 15 ounces; Lauren, her twin, at 4 pounds, 11 ounces; and Adam at 5 pounds, 2 ounces.
Within two weeks, all three were home with their family. For parents of multiples, that’s often when reality sets in, Donnelly said.
Happy 10th birthday
In the weeks before turning a decade old on Thursday, the triplets made plans for a celebration. Each had a list of friends they wanted to invite to their party, scheduled to take place at the new tubing hill on Mount Spokane.
“Remember our party at the YMCA?” Dana reminded her mom. “We had more than 50 kids!”
As the single mom of triplets, Donnelly is always on the lookout for a bargain. She purchases everything in threes – from school supplies and soccer team photos to bikes and holiday outfits, which she’ll often buy a year in advance to take advantage of sales.
So when a birthday comes along – especially one as auspicious as the 10th – she has to be creative.
This time, in lieu of gifts, Donnelly has asked other families to pay for their own child’s $10 tubing hill admission. They’ll have cake and ice cream but the focus will be on spending time together and celebrating the special day, she said.
From the time they were preschoolers at Woodland Montessori in Spokane, the triplets have attended separate classes. Now fourth-graders at Jefferson Elementary, where they’re all enrolled in the Montessori program, they continue to pursue their various interests and develop their distinct personalities in different classrooms.
Adam is the athlete. Dana’s the artist. Lauren is the future attorney.
“The only thing that’s the same about us is we have blond hair and we like each other,” said Lauren, the most talkative of the three. “I’m a lot more stubborn and I keep arguing until I win.”
All three are also very protective of their older brother, Jack, who has autism and attends Shaw Middle School.
For Donnelly – a former journalist who teaches English at Coeur d’Alene High School – rearing triplets along with a son who has a disability has been a huge learning curve. Every age has posed its challenges, she said, and she sought help from family and a nanny whenever possible.
“The first year was just a blur,” she said. “It was survival mode all the time – it seemed like all three had to be held or fed or were crying at the same time.”
During the triplets’ infancy, Donnelly and her husband changed an average of 36 diapers a day. At night before putting the babies to bed, they prepared about 15 to 20 bottles.
With three baby carriers to transport, leaving the house became a logistical nightmare. It was impossible to take care of the kids and run errands at the same time.
When they did make it out the door, she was inundated with attention as well as invasive questions about her pregnancy.
“The exhaustion was unreal,” recalled Donnelly, who got divorced a year ago. “But you don’t have a choice.
“I brought these children into the world and it’s my job to raise them. I owe them the most normal life I can give them. It’s not their fault that there are three of them.”
Somewhere along the line, she learned that they key to survival was to embrace the chaos.
“You can be perfect or you can be happy,” she said. “It’s never going to be perfect. You will always have a mess.”
But amid all the disarray and commotion in their household, Donnelly and the children share an intense connection and experience great joy.
“How many of us are able to experience identical twins, triplets, a child with a disability – all at the same time?” she reflected.
“My children have taught me so much about love, patience and tolerance. … It’s been an amazing journey as a parent.”