Being Mama: Michelle Hunt
Dallas mama Michelle Hunt’s world was rocked when she found out she was having triplets. But when she went into premature labor at just 24 weeks, she truly learned the meaning of motherhood
Imagine being told you were pregnant… with triplets. You’ve already got a two-year-old at home, and while you were planning this pregnancy – and you’re overjoyed about it – the idea of triplets is so foreign to you that when the sonogram technician tells you to have a look at the “one, two, three” on the screen, you say, “Three what?”
Now imagine coming to terms with the idea of not one more baby in the house, but three, and then being put on bed rest. Now imagine going into labor just over halfway through your pregnancy, and watching your three little ones struggle to gain weight and develop as they should be in the NICU for the next 18 weeks.
For Dallas mom Michelle Hunt, this was reality. On March 29 last year, she gave birth to her triplet girls, Charlotte, Hannah and Kylie – little sisters for Kelly (who the family calls KK), now 3. And while, today, the Hunt family is happy and healthy, the road to get here has been long.
“My husband has triplet cousins and I have twins on my side – my grandfather is a twin and my grandmother gave birth to twins,” says Michelle. “But honestly, I never really thought about the possibility of having a multiple birth. It’s just so rare.” Indeed, current stats say that the chance of conceiving triplets is about 1 in 9000. When Michelle and her husband, Carter, went for a scan at eight weeks, the technician told them to look at the screen, saying, “OK. There’s one… and there’s two… and there’s three.” “At first we were like, ‘Three what?’” Michelle says, laughing. “You never imagine being told you’re having triplets. It definitely took us a few weeks to adapt to the news and start to understand what it would mean for us as a family.”
As they prepared for their new life with not just two children, but four, Michelle found herself exhausted by the work of carrying triplets. “It was so different to my pregnancy with KK,” Michelle says. “I would be back on the couch by 10.30am, just needing to lie down and take a nap.”
At five months, Michelle was put on bed rest after a routine check-up with her ob-gyn revealed that her cervix had shortened to less than one centimetre (most pregnant women have a cervix that measures at least three to four centimetres). “We’d been planning a babymoon and we were supposed to leave the next day,” she says, “but I never ended up leaving the hospital – I went straight up to the fourth floor and was put on immediate bed rest.” That month was “incredibly tough.” “My daughter didn’t really understand, she was so young and didn’t know why I had left. She really was such a trooper in hindsight, but still, it was difficult.” A decision was made to keep KK on her normal schedule as much as possible, and Michelle and Carter’s parents helped out as much as they could.
Just a month after she went on bed rest, Michelle went into labor – at 24 weeks and five days. Though she says she was somewhat prepared for the possibility of pre-term labor simply by virtue of being on bed rest, Michelle says the experience was scary. “I was given sonograms every week and during that week’s sonogram, they found that Charlotte – Baby A – had her leg in my cervix. She was ready to come!” Michelle was wheeled into the delivery room and on the first push, Charlotte made her way into the world. While doctors tried to give the other babies some more time, it quickly became obvious that they were not coping, and an emergency caesarean was necessary. Michelle fights back tears as she remembers the day. “They’re all so healthy now that it’s easy to forget that once, they were so fragile. It’s hard for me to go back to that day.” Each of the three girls weighed less than two pounds at birth.
After that, the girls were taken to the NICU, where they stayed for 18 weeks. “The doctors tell you that you can expect to take the babies home when they reach their expected due date,” says Michelle. “We took them home on August 1, which was about two weeks after what we expected.”
“Having the girls in the NICU was hard. It’s so difficult to leave your babies, even when you know they’re in the best place they can be. Each baby had a dedicated NICU nurse, but still, you feel so helpless. It was two weeks before we could even hold them – they were so tiny that picking them up was actually too stressful for them at that stage. We could hold their little hands and change their diapers, but that was about it.”
Despite this, all three girls progressed beautifully in the NICU – even Charlotte and Hannah, who had to undergo heart surgery just six weeks after their premature births. “They had a valve in their hearts that hadn’t closed properly; it’s quite common in preemie babies.” Luckily, the surgery went well and the girls haven’t suffered any complications since.
Almost a year after giving birth to the triplets, Michelle is circumspect about the experience. “I honestly never thought they wouldn’t survive,” she says. “I was worried about a lot of other things, but somehow I knew they would survive.” It was her mother’s conviction, she says, that the girls would be OK, that strengthened Michelle’s faith. “My mom tends to be a bit of a worrier, and so for her to keep saying, ‘They’ll be OK,’ with such sincerity… It helped me stay on track.”
Bonding with the triplets was a different experience, too, says Michelle, to bonding with just one child. “I did feel an instant bond, but because I couldn’t hold them or even touch them right away, I felt quite helpless as a mother. With a full-term baby, you can cuddle, touch, hold and even feed them right away – you get to be their protector and guardian immediately. With the triplets, the nurses and doctors were their greatest protectors at first, or so it seemed to me, because they were the ones helping keep them alive in the first few weeks.” Two weeks after they were born, Michelle was finally able to give her girls skin-to-skin contact, and though she admits that there were difficult days in the NICU when she questioned her own strength, she says she never doubted whether she would be able to form a bond with the triplets. “How could you not have a special bond with three sweet baby girls, who needed all of the love and support they could get? I think I was so in awe of these little miracles and so inspired by them, I never thought about not bonding with them in the same way!”
Like most moms, Michelle felt a degree of “mommy guilt” when the triplets arrived, but says their special circumstance made her and her husband aware that they had to adapt quickly and leave those feelings behind. “When you have multiples, you feel a little mommy guilt trying to bond with all of your kids. I felt bad leaving KK at home to go to the hospital, and then I would feel bad leaving the triplets in order to go home to KK. Or there were times when I was at the NICU and only had time to hold and feed two of the girls, in order to get back to pick KK up from school!” But, says Michelle, that’s life. “I didn’t leave time for feelings of doubt or worry about not bonding with the girls in the ‘normal’ way, because nothing about this experience was normal. We had to adapt and do the very best that we could for our girls. They needed us.”
Now, life with four kids under three is “basically controlled chaos”, says Michelle. “We have a wonderful nanny, Isabella, who is just the best thing to ever happen to our family,” she says. “She helps with feeding, because you can’t physically feed three babies at once. And my mother and mother-in-law are always on hand, which is so great.” A night nurse helped put the girls on a feed and sleep schedule, and they’ve slept through the night since they were three months old (no mean feat for preemie triplets, says Michelle, who adds that she would recommend a night nurse to anyone with a newborn baby, multiples or not). Though she breastfed the girls in the NICU, it wasn’t practical when they came home, and so Michelle would express milk and then she and the night nanny would bottle-feed the girls. “It was really important that they gain weight quickly, and bottles allowed us to tell how much milk they were getting at each feed,” she says.
When Michelle needs some time for herself, she heads to Pilates or outdoors for a run. “It’s not really about staying in shape; it’s more for my mental health,” she says. She’s also quick to point out that she’s not at home alone with four children all day, every day. “Our nanny is there, my mother and mother-in-law are always around, and my husband is so hands-on,” she says. “I can still take KK to school or ballet, and get out and do things for myself.”
“In many ways life is just like it is with any other family. I think people assume it’s just chaos at our place,” says Michelle, laughing, “but it’s not really. I mean, it kind of is… but it’s controlled chaos. Just like any other family.”