Cumberland Times-News

August 10, 2008

Identical girl triplets

Friends pitch in to help Clagetts keep up with brand new baby trio

Maria Smith

FREDERICK — Words can’t describe the emotions and amazement that come with doubling the size of your family of three in less than two minutes.

It’s even more incredible when it happens unexpectedly and naturally — no fertility drugs, no in-vitro fertilization.

Tom and Erin Clagett always planned to expand their family, which includes daughter Hannah, 4. Doing so with triplets — identical girl triplets — didn’t cross their mind, though.

On May 31, the girls arrived via Cesarean-section with Brooke Julianne first at 4:57 p.m. followed quickly by Alexis “Lexi” Michele at 4:58 and Brynn Erin, 4:58:30. At 33 weeks, they were a bit early, but for triplets, doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore were ecstatic.

The family now is all nestled into its Frederick home, adjusting and taking one day at a time.

“We truly are so blessed,” Erin said.

Triplets wasn’t what Erin, a native of Frostburg, expected to hear Dec. 7 when she went in for a prenatal vitamin visit. But when she described her discomfort, the nurse sent her for a sonogram.

Tom was with Hannah when Erin called.

“I was a little bit shocked,” he said. “I thought she was calling me because something was wrong. She just said there were three heartbeats. I said, ‘Are you sure?’”

He said he may have expected twins because Erin’s father, Bill Determan, is a fraternal twin. Statistics vary as to the chance of naturally conceiving triplets, but http://multiples.about.com puts it at about 1 in 8,100.

So began the journey that now has Tom outnumbered 5:1, unless you count their dog, Jackson. Either way, it’s a statistic he doesn’t mind.

The Clagetts chose the University of Maryland Medical Center for care because it is one of three in the country that specializes in Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome.

When it was time, a team of three doctors, a student, two anesthesiologists, two nurses and Tom were assigned to Erin. Each baby also had a team of one doctor and two nurses.

Brooke, who weighed in at 3 pounds, 13 ounces now is up to 7 pounds, 15 ounces. Lexi, who started at 3-10, and Brynn, 4-3, now weigh 7-6 and 8-2, respectively. With a July 19 due date, the triplets are considered developmentally to be at two weeks.

All were able to breathe on their own from birth but still spent about 24 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Brynn was cleared to go home June 23 with her siblings arriving two days later.

They joined their older sister, Hannah, a strawberry blonde who never seems to stop smiling. Hannah has handled the transition well but it’s been confusing for her, too.

“There was all this excitement about them being born but then they didn’t come home,” Erin said. “But she loved scrubbing in and going to see them in the NICU.”

Their homecoming hasn’t been without a scare or two.

The babies were born severely anemic and receive iron and vitamin supplements. They also are on reflux medication with Brooke’s the most serious. She was transported back to the hospital by ambulance because of the reflux.

“She changed color and stopped breathing,” Erin said.

Now on a heart and respiratory monitor, if Brooke’s heart rate elevates too much or she stops breathing, an alarm sounds.

It’s a major operation on a 24-hour cycle in the Clagett household.

Toenail polish identifies the babies with Brynn pink, Lexi yellow and Brook purple. Everything from bottles to medication is color-coded with a chart to help keep things in order.

“We check toes before they get anything,” Erin said.

Feedings are every three hours around the clock. That means three people must be available to change diapers and give bottles, which total at least 30 diapers and 24 bottles a day. The dishwasher runs twice a day just for bottles.

Tom and Erin can’t put their feelings into words when it comes to the help they’ve received, and Tom said the family couldn’t manage without that help.

Parents, friends, neighbors and church members have dropped off food every night, cut the grass, hold and rock the babies, and take part in the changing and feeding. Father Mike of St. Ignatius in Urbana, where the Clagetts attend, has helped organize a schedule, thanks in part to Linda Barry of Frostburg.

Teenagers from the church also spend time with Hannah, giving her some much-needed attention. The babies’ great-grandmother, Kate Shaw, 89, of Westernport, has made a few trips to help and cousin Kevin Kalbaugh has jumped in wherever needed.

Erin’s parents, Bill and Julie Determan, otherwise known as Granddad Bull and Grandma JuJu, haven’t returned to their Frostburg home much since the babies were born.

Both, however, are employed by the Allegany County Board of Education and will need to go back home soon.

“I’m looking forward to going back to school with 150 eighth-graders,” Bill, who handles the night feedings, said.

Tom works with his dad, Galen, also a state delegate from Frederick County, and his sister through Clagett Enterprises Inc. His dad has picked up his workload, which has been a tremendous help.

Tom said when he and Erin have a chance to reflect years from now, he believes they’ll find these days were easy.

“Think about when they all want to do something different and they have their own agenda,” he said.

Those interested in sharing “a glimpse into our journey as a family of six” may visit their blog at www.clagetttriplets.com.

Contact Maria Smith at msmith@times-news.com.