We had to get out of the house. The house was where naptime ended abruptly as you tried to lower a sleeping kid into their crib. The house was where you had to stop kids from using brown fingerpaint on the walls when you didn’t even own the color brown. The house was where your four-hour sleeping shifts left no impression on the mattress.
We had to get out of the house. But getting out of the house meant we’d have to see the public – the adoring, clueless, public. When outside of the house, the public immediately gravitated towards the triplet stroller, which was so long it resembled a stretch limousine. Whether we were at the mall, the grocery store, or just out for a walk we always had an audience. But something about seeing three babies who are exactly the same age seemed to short-circuit the logic centers of people’s brains. Or more likely, the experience highlighted the lack of knowledge people had. While they loved seeing our children, part of me always cringed whenever people approached us in public.
You see, having triplets had revealed the lack of quality math education in America. People came up, and you could watch them mentally (or quite often verbally) slowly count out “One….two….three!” This was not a calculation that they could quickly make in their head. They’d say “Twins – no! Triplets!!” as if they could only initially grasp the concept of two. These strangers all had two hands, two feet, two mortgages. But three – that was a trickier number. One woman, asking if they were triplets, held up three fingers – thinking it’d help us handle the notion. I responded, “Yes, triplets,” and mirrored back the hand sign. Another woman stopped us in the mall, saying, “My gosh, are those triplets? Wait, that’s a stupid question.” I thought to myself, no, the stupid question was the lady before you who asked if my three children were really twins.
This brought me to my realization that biology isn’t really covered well in school, either. We have a boy-girl-girl set of triplets, and the girls are identical. It is a nice mix. However, countless people, in the midst of their ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the baby triplets, had tried to convince us that all three were identical. A typical exchange went like this:
“Wow, identical triplets! You’re so lucky!”
“Well, actually, only the girls are identical. I’ve changed enough of my son’s diapers to know the difference.”
“Are you sure? I’m positive that they are all identical!”
“No….I’m pretty sure they’re not.”
But whenever they left, they still seemed convinced that they had seen identical triplets, regardless of the significant biological differences between my son and daughters.
The sight of the triplets also played havoc with some of the public’s common sense and etiquette. While many of them surely were parents themselves or had “stranger danger” fear instilled in them at a young age, the general public had no qualms about crossing that line from “admiring stranger” to “creepy stranger.” At the mall one day, a man literally leaned out from behind a column and asked if he could take a picture of my babies. I appreciated that he asked, rather than snapping off a few dozen paparazzi-style. But then, he became visibly upset when I declined. He couldn’t fathom why that would be an issue. Strange guys taking pictures of children in the mall? I’d prefer not. Or the old lady who snuck by our germ defense line and had her head poked deep into the triplet stroller before we even noticed. What about the time we were accosted by a stranger in the street who started a conversation with, “You don’t know me, but I’ve read your entire blog from beginning to end, and know everything about your children.” I know we recorded our adventures online for the public to read, but the comment made me reconsider that decision. Or the time a woman who started clapping as I pushed the triplet stroller past her. Was she really applauding my ability to procreate? I wasn’t sure if I should have been embarrassed by the evidence of our bedroom activity, or be proud of the fact and swagger off into the distance with my bulky stroller.
This led me to a cliché experience for parents of multiples – nowhere else in life do strangers pry into the private affairs of your bedroom. We often got queries into the circumstances surrounding their conception. “Did you choose to have triplets?” As if this was a conscious choice we made. “Are they natural?” Which of course begged the question about the alternative – was the implication that they were abnormal creations of science? Or were they just trying to find out how rare these triplets were? Yes, a mother having spontaneous triplets was very rare, around one in 7-8,000 pregnancies. But triplets assisted by fertility treatments were also rare, around one in 700 pregnancies. And triplets produced through IVF treatments were a bit more common when more than two fertilized eggs were implanted. If this was a spectrum of rarity, our children fell somewhere in the middle. But none of the details of this act of conception were anybody’s business but our own.
I tried to think about the intent of the question. Was it truly to figure out how rare a sight it was that they were seeing? Or did it more relate to that other common question, “Do triplets run in your family?” Putting those two together, I decided that part of the question stemmed from the public searching for a cautionary tale they could apply to their own lives – could this happen to them? Are they looking for relief in learning that this was a pre-determined genetic possibility? Or that it was a medically induced outcome? With either of these, the public could feel safe that they wouldn’t find themselves doubling their body weight during an unexpected multiples pregnancy.
I often wondered if I should actually answer them, and take the time to explain to them how biology produced our three wonderful children. Should I mention that my wife was on the drug Clomid, which often caused multiple eggs to be released? Do I then explain that we haven’t yet read any articles in medical journals linking identical twins to fertility drugs, meaning that the fact that we went from having twins to triplets was a standard 1 in 285 chance that could happen to anyone? So to answer their question about “Are they natural?” – I’d have to say that one is “natural”? Or half of the three? Or two-thirds?
But having already been exposed to the public’s understanding of biology and mathematics, I usually would just nod and continue on with my grocery shopping. I believed all of the attention and questions came from a good place. They meant well. But for some reason, people were uninformed and oblivious to the impact of their comments and actions.
And so we went about our lives. We had to get out of the house. And we had to see the public. The adoring, clueless, public.
Before becoming a middle school English teacher, Jared Bond was a stay-at-home dad to his triplets. While he doesn’t remember much about that first year, he took copious notes so that he could share the experience with other parents of multiples (and himself, once he caught up on sleep).