LISA and Darren Bowen were only planning on having one child, so it’s hard to imagine how they felt when their first routine pregnancy scan revealed not one, but three babies in Lisa’s tummy.
“I didn’t have any idea I was carrying triplets because we don’t have any multiples in either of our families,” says the 33-year-old from Hampshire.
“I was really shocked and a bit scared. Darren was mute for about two weeks!”
The cardiac nurse says that the thing that initially most concerned the couple were the logistics of coping with three little ones – at that time they were living in a two-bedroom house in Southampton and couldn’t imagine how on earth they were going to fit everything in that was needed.
As a nurse, Lisa was well aware that there can be a number of complications connected to multiple babies, but says she didn’t focus on what could go wrong. She began going for fortnightly scans and says she knew the babies would have to be delivered early and focused on wanting to keep them inside her for as long as she could.
“I know for a lot of women, when they get to the end of their pregnancies, they say ‘I can’t wait to get it out now,’ but even though I was measuring almost full-term by the time I was 19-weeks pregnant, I never got to that point,” says Lisa, who lives in Hythe.
“I think because of how I am as a person and the kind of job I do, I know that life is short and ever changing and you have to stay positive and roll with the punches. I focused on the positive – it’s all you can do.” They discovered at 20 weeks that one of their identical twin daughters, Millie, wasn’t growing properly and were warned that they might lose her due to lack of blood flow reaching her. It then looked as though the triplets might have to be delivered at 26 weeks, but it wasn’t until 30 weeks that doctors decided the operation had to take place.
“It was pretty scary that day. There weren’t any neonatal cots available in Southampton and at one point it looked like we might have to go to Newcastle or Birmingham for three cots together, but luckily Portsmouth came up with three.
The triplets when they first came home from hospital
“I was really nervous about going there because I’d had all my prenatal care at the Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton, but when we got there, they were really fantastic, so it was fine.”
Some mums-to-be come up with extensive birth plans, involving water pools and CDs of their favourite relaxing music, but that was never going to be the case for Lisa, who knew she would have to deliver by Caesarean section.
“There were about 47 people in the room excluding the five of us!” she laughs.
“There was a team per baby and a team for me so there was this wall of people!”
She was delighted when she heard all her babies cry for the first time, but after a brief glimpse she couldn’t see them for around five hours, until the epidural wore off.
Several difficult weeks followed. Millie developed two infections from her intravenous line and Lisa’s intuition told her that there was another problem.
“I’ve got ten years’ experience as a cardiac nurse and it looked to me like she had something wrong with her heart,” she says.
Lisa was right – Millie had a narrowing of her aorta and had to have surgery before being in paediatric intensive care and on a specialist ward in Southampton General Hospital. But she says that this was made much easier for her by the fact that she knew the team who operated on and looked after her little girl.
It was several weeks before Lisa could start to bring her babies home.
First out was Freya, followed by Harry a week later and Millie a day after that.
But the complications didn’t end there.
While Lisa says it was lovely to have the babies at home, a couple of days later Darren became seriously ill and was thyroid toxic as a result of a pre-existing condition and had to have surgery and be in hospital for five weeks.
But despite these early difficulties, Lisa doesn’t have any complaints about being a mother to triplets.
“I was the first of our group of friends to have children and I didn’t know what to expect. I deliberately didn’t speak to other parents of multiples or read baby books. I think you can read too much and set yourself up with an idea of what it should be like and if it isn’t, end up giving yourself a hard time and feel like you’re failing,” she explains.
“I decided to play it by ear, and work things out between us.”
One thing the couple realised very quickly was that they needed to agree a routine and stick to it. Lisa says that her experience as a ward nurse, where there is a routine which you try to follow but which will inevitably be thrown off course at times, helped prepare her for life with triplets.
They agree that they have had to make more decisions together and stick to them to see them through than they would have had to with one baby, but Lisa adds that she thinks it seems more difficult to have children a few years apart rather than all at once.
Harry, Freya and Millie aged one
“I think it must be much harder for people who have a single child first and then have a multiple birth,” she adds.
“But I’m a great advocate for having more than one baby at a time because I don’t know any different and I think it’s fantastic! It looks much harder work to me to have a toddler and then a baby than to have three at once.”
However, Lisa does admit that having triplets brings its own challenges, from getting through around 18 nappies a day and having a kitchen full of baby bottles to the logistics of popping to the shops with three children and managing to get the last one out of the car before the first has wandered off somewhere.
But she and Darren agree that the positives far outweigh any logistical negatives.
“I’d say to anyone who finds out that they’re having multiples, don’t listen to any negatives because you have such a fun time and you’re very lucky,” says Darren, 35.
“You don’t really realise how lucky you are until they come along. Once you have the organisation down, you can just enjoy it.”
Lisa adds: “Life is massively different to what it was before, but I think that happens whether you have one baby or three.
“We were a couple who drove decent cars, went on nice holidays and didn’t have to think about anyone else. I used to drive to work in my lovely Golf in my little North Face jacket with not a care in the world.
“Now I drive a seven-seater people carrier and wear an anorak because it’s dribble proof.
That sums up how my life has changed, but it’s a lovely change, especially as they get more interactive and you get more from them.”
A big, happy family
She adds that she loves to watch the children playing together and thinks it’s fortunate that they have each other to interact with. She has noticed that although Freya and Millie are identical and share a room, Millie is the most independent of the trio, which she says is common for a child who has been the sickest because they are more used to being on their own.
Inevitably, in many ways, Lisa and Darren’s lives have changed far more than they ever imagined when they first discovered that she was pregnant. Lisa had planned on returning to work full time but now works two evenings a week.
They have a chest freezer full of readymade meals that her parents kindly prepare for the children, moved from their Southampton home to a larger house in Hythe and have three of several things where they only expected to have one. But some things have stayed the same. Lisa still has the same friendship group, both she and Darren go for nights out, both still work. Life has changed, but for Lisa and Darren it got three times better.
For more information and advice about coping with twins, and more, visit the Twins and Multiple Births website, tamba.org.uk or call the free helpline 0800 138 0509.