What’s it like to be a triplet?

“What’s it like to be a triplet?”, a question I’m often asked. After all, siblings and families are often topics that come up in polite conversation and people are often shocked when I say “I’m actually one of triplets.” To many people this seems like a complete and utter revelation, there are gasps, shocked faces and if I had a pound for every time someone says “I’ve never met a triplet before!”, well, I’d be a very rich person!

The Struggle to Conceive

I often think that lots of people must have met a triplet before, or at least someone who is a multiple. When I was conceived through In-vitro Fertilisation (IVF) in the 1990s it was relatively common to implant multiple embryos as part of the IVF process and this led to a surge in the number of multiples born as a result of IVF. In fact, it is strange to think that under today’s IVF regulations it is unlikely that the three of us would have been created because the procedure of IVF is unlikely to use multiple embryos today. My parents have always been very open and honest about their struggles with fertility, the emotional roller-coaster of their IVF treatment, the failed attempts and then I suppose you could argue they finally lucked out with three of us! If I’m honest I think poor Dad is still recovering from the safe arrival of triplet girls born over 12 weeks early and in quite challenging circumstances. When we were born I was the smallest weighing in at 1lb 14oz, even I look at my baby photos and think I look like a little alien! Thankfully our Dad enrolled us on a clinical trial for the drug surfactant which was designed to develop the lungs of premature babies and it worked. I’m happy to report that we are all happy and healthy and to this day I still think you’d never be able to tell that I was born weighing just 1lb 14oz!

Here we are. The nurses in intensive care moved us so that we were together for a photo. I think we look a bit like aliens, although we are a few weeks old here. I find our feeding tubes a bit grim, but they were important to keep us alive! Any guesses as to which baby is me?

When we were born Mum and Dad already had three dogs and one cat and only one bathroom in their house! Throwing three small babies into the mix can’t have been easy but I am always amazed by the way that my parents managed to cope. Supported by family (special shout out to my grandparents) and friends I’m always taken a back when my Mum says “Well, we just had to get on with it” and I suppose they did!

The Early Years

Back to when I am asked “What’s it like to be a triplet.” Well, the honest answer is I don’t know anything else. I often reply with “what’s it like not to be a triplet?” I was born as one of triplets and I will always be one of triplets and that is quite incredible. Knowing my parents struggles with fertility and IVF makes our story all the more special. I suppose there has always been someone around growing up, always a sister to play with and to talk to. But being a triplet does sometimes present itself with challenges.

Growing up our local newspaper seemed to take a special interest in the fact that we were triplets. They would ask us to be part of news stories on birthdays and on special occasions like starting school. There were even some occasions where the local paper would turn up at our birthday parties (oh the 90s!) and starting senior school after you’ve been on the front page of the local paper in an awkwardly posed photo with a slightly dodgy hair cut is always going to be difficult!

Here we are as kids, I think we are probably two or three here. My Mum dressed us in the same clothes, I imagine it was just easier! Check out my Mum’s jumper, oh the 90s! I’m sure it’ll be back in fashion in no time! Extra points if you can guess which of the triplets is me!

Birthday’s

Then there are the comparisons. I suppose that being the same age naturally leads to comparisons, but the fact that we were born on the same day does not mean that we are the same people. In fact we are all very different. Yes, I still get frustrated when cards are addressed to ‘The Triplets’ almost as if the poor person writing it has forgotten that we have names. Perhaps they want to try and save money buying a single birthday present, understandable of course, but they could still write our names on the card!

Birthdays are quite different when you are a multiple. I always refer to ‘our birthday’ as for me, my birthday includes buying presents for my sisters. Birthdays have always been about opening my own presents and also seeing the excitement and joy on my sister’s faces as they receive their presents too, birthdays are about picking the perfect presents for my sisters too.

I think we are probably eight or nine in this photo. Mum’s friend made us these dresses. I think I’m a bit easier to recognise in this photo.

Comparisons, Comparison, Comparisons

The comparisons that people make about multiples will always remind me of a parents evening in what was probably 2005. My poor parents had to book in individual subject specific slots with each teacher. We each took 11 GCSEs, so while most parents struggled to remember which teacher and subject they were talking about over the course of the evening my poor parents had to split things between them and instigate a military operation to get around all of the teachers in one evening. The parents evening in question I will always remember because as I was sitting with my Mum and my Maths teacher when the teacher confused me with one of my sisters. My Mum politely pointed out her mistake and then she said “Oh yes sorry, I’d forgotten Emma’s the one that is good at Maths!” The teacher had made a comparison, which I wasn’t too pleased about and neither was my Mum. I have always been relatively academic, but my sisters are more sporty and arty than I am. We are all good at different things and that something that I find really interesting as a scientist. Despite growing up in the same household or environment, with similar (admittedly not identical) genetics we have grown up to be very different people with different identities and talents .

In fact, we are often confused with each other. You wouldn’t believe the number of people who just can’t compute the fact that people can have the same surname and date of birth and be different people! Spoiler alert, it is true! Interestingly, surname and date of birth are often used as variables in algorithms which has sometimes meant that software used for our information mixes us up. I still think that the student loan company thought we were trying our luck and applying for multiple student loans when we all went to University!

There are many different aspects to being a triplet. Some of them are good and some of them are not so good. But the reality is that I can’t change it, I don’t know anything else. It is something that is part of me and makes me who I am. But the next time you meet a multiple, remember not to make comparisons. It’s not our fault that we were born on the same day, it’s just … well, what happened. What is it like to be a triplet, well in fact, it is pretty damn awesome!

Here we all are today (technically this photo was taken a few years ago now) but we’ve all grown up, happy and healthy. This photo was taken on Mum’s birthday (I won’t tell you which birthday).