When the news was announced to me, I was calm. My smile was a serene one and mine alone. For a while, I savored the secret, before revealing it only to my husband and my best friend. I had conceived triplets at the age of 39 and this, my first and only pregnancy, was a wonderful experience from start to finish.
Instead of morning sickness, I floated in an intrinsic pool of well-being, with endorphins on demand (this despite an immediate swelling somewhere high up in my waistline that rendered my closet obsolete from the first week). It was a deep and independent happiness, not reliant on a single outside stimulus. My just-created family was with me all the time, totally integrated. Four hearts beating, blood, oxygen and energy shared by all of us, bliss but tripled.
The second month, a doctor who worked with my gynecologist suggested that I eliminate one fetus at random in order to ensure the health of the other two. My reaction to his insensitivity and insolence was furious and contemptuous. For me, that was never an option. During my pregnancy I experienced what I had never before and possibly will never experience again -- absolute calm and certainty. I knew I could deliver these babies safely; my body was strong and my passion for fitness helped to fulfill that expectation. I did indeed have the physical stamina to go the course -- well at least, I had it 33 weeks and 1 day into the gestational marathon.
A marathon with an alarming interruption in week 21, when a misleading ultrasound indicated that the babies were lodged in a lower position than was normal. So far, I had passed my pregnancy between Athens and Mykonos, where our company had recently opened a boutique hotel and where I spent my days working, hiking and maneuvering myself and my substantial girth around the town's happening evening scene.
I had been scheduled to give birth in London, as that is where I had family ties and where the neonatal facilities for triplets are more numerous. Owing to this emergency, I left Athens in a hurry, abandoning half-completed refurbishment works in our company's Athens hotel and in our new apartment.
Once in London, and after ascertaining that all was normal, I settled in for the remaining weeks of my "confinement" (as it used to be known). My days were still filled with innate happiness; my only restriction was the lumpy confines of the single bed in my mother's guest room. Nights could sometimes be difficult, as I would wonder what the babies would look like. These three small people battling for their space inside me, kicking and writhing whenever the water in the bathtub was too hot... I yearned to see their faces while regretting that the short, sweet time of being four souls in one body would soon end.
The 15th of December had been selected as my delivery date. I am not much of a studied numerologist, but the 15th sounded auspicious to me. Unfortunately, this did not coincide with the nativity plans of the triplets.
The night of December 10 was a clear and frosty one in London. My mother had repaired to a carol service at Westminster Abbey and I was invited to a friend's home for dinner. Since the prognosis for a 39-year-old expecting triplets had not been encouraging, I took the precaution of announcing a twin pregnancy to avoid any unpleasant shock along the way. My dinner hosts were just about to have one such shock delivered to them.
With dinner imminent, I paid a visit to their guest bathroom in an eighteenth century house near Chelsea Physic Garden. I began to hear gushing water, which I blamed on the house's less-than-contemporary plumbing system. A few minutes passed, and suddenly I had no sensation at all that I was going to the bathroom. My doctor had never discussed a spontaneous delivery, but that is precisely what was beginning. It was not the archaic plumbing after all. My water had broken!
From the elegant confines of the guest WC, I managed to find the relevant phone numbers and convene the 20-or-so member delivery team who were fantastically quick to respond. Now the difficult part. Observing my British manners, I had to ask for a towel larger than the elegantly folded linen ones facing me, declare that I would be having no dinner, and say that I had to leave immediately but with my hosts in their car, which would entail them abandoning their three small children and the dog in an empty house in favor of my three imminent children. And of course there was the surprise shock factor -- the revelation of triplets over twins!
My friends were incredible, and showed a typically British calm and humor. Their nanny arrived home early and the three of us took to the car, my formal evening coat bundled under my arm so as not to waterlog it and a plastic cover on the back seat of their station wagon.
We whizzed from Chelsea to the hospital in Marylebone. The birth suite was freezing cold and I had arrived in evening clothes with a tiny Chanel clutch -- not ideal for what turned into a ten-day hospital stay. My mother and other family members soon arrived with a stuffed suitcase and plenty of concern and love.
As I was hoisted like a very large and scared whale onto the hospital gurney, I panicked. Would they be deformed? Would they all be alive? My father had been dead for 26 years, yet I felt him with me. My mother slipped his icon of the Virgin Mary under my pillow and kissed my forehead. Effectively paralyzed by the epidural, I let myself be rolled at dizzying speed into the operating theater where brightly lit, friendly yet serious faces started to get busy on me.
A green curtain was erected between my lower half and me. Time did not exist. I had forgotten my fear; I was just curious. "When you cut me open, can you tell me please?" I asked my doctor.
"We opened you up half an hour ago!"
"OK really, is that what that pushing and prodding was?"
"There is a cat mewing in here, I can actually hear it ... it's supposed to be a sterile area," I admonished, imagining that a barnyard birth might suit in another place, but not in London.
"That is no cat, Eugenia, it is your son!"
Suddenly the surgical green backdrop was whisked aside. My ripped abdomen had been restored, but was only slightly deflated. Balanced precariously on top of it was Philippos, livid cheeks puffed out, mouth bawling, fists clenched, cuddly and cross at the same time. I started to cry, all alone with so much emotion. My husband was still planning to arrive for the fifteenth and the rest of the family had gone home -- or so I recall. It was 12:43 a.m.. Then it was 12:44 a.m., and a second screaming child, Anastasia, was plumped onto my stomach. One minute later the second girl, Myrto, was positioned there. I stared in disbelief -- beautiful, adorable, sticky, noisy and mine!!!
The next few weeks were a haze. Minor complications from a blood transfusion, post-Caesarean problems and postpartum blackouts were erratically interspersed with a relentless tsunami of well-wishers whose floral tributes, cards and gifts swelled not only my modest room but the ward beyond it.
Breastfeeding triplets brought the haze into focus fast! My decision was based on the children's well-being and the protraction of the bond between us. An exorbitant expenditure of calories was an additional advantage -- how many times can you clamber onto the scale and see a daily weight loss of five pounds? I admit that I missed my old independence very much and would occasionally bolt for the park or the shops until a mix of abrupt pain and guilt would bring me home to the fold to perform my duties, which were spelled out to me by an English maternity nurse who should have been a drill sergeant.
Fifteen years have passed and very few recollections have been grafted onto my memory as definitely as the birth. I remember being given one blue and two pink journals in which to record and plaster portentous milestones such as first haircut, first tooth extricated, first drawing, word mumbled, step tottered.
Assisting three toddlers to walk, climb, perform on the potty, speak and feed themselves without damage of epidemic proportions seems to have devoured those years when every valuable second should have been recalled and recorded. I regret that I remember only the dire events, dives down the stairs culminating in visits to emergency rooms, a severed ear, a crushed thumb, my son scampering away from me in a crowded airport terminal, trying to grab two squirming offenders as they refused to wear seat belts and forcing open a locked bathroom stall as I heard the final call for our flight. Adolescence has its own, very different version of perils, and they have been documented exhaustively. We are now at work on the application for the International Baccalaureate and the preparation for 11th grade -- a journey that, at times, seems to require its own book-length work. But through it all, I feel very lucky to have been able to watch the three little people I brought into the world grow up and develop.
Despite intense bickering , when accidents occur to one of them the other two actually experience a physical unease and despondency. Though they never discuss it, I believe that they find comfort and support and a sense of fun, in being three!
As for me, whenever I'm asked the inevitable question, "What is like having three all at once?" My reply is always the same: I wouldn't have it any other way.