Moms Of Multiples

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CBS/iStockphoto
Any mom with four kids is bound to be going non-stop, but when three of them are triplets? On Sunday Morning this Mothers Day: multitasking with the moms of multiples.


It's that idyllic moment that mothers look forward to: Jennifer Geoffroy gets some playtime with her three-year-old.

Well, let's make that her two three-year-olds.

Okay … her three three-year-olds.

Sharing, like "sharing mommy." is what life is all about in the Geoffroy household, where identical triplets Rachel, Nicole and Alexa dominate the action.

And big sister Danielle, who's 11, is still getting used to having so much company:

"Do you remember what it was like when your mom told you that she was going to have not one, not two, but three babies?" asked CBS News correspondent Rita Braver.

"I was very shocked," Danielle said, "'cause I was expecting just like one little sister, and then I got three, so it was very shocking."

Jennifer, now 43, and her husband Glenn, who is 51, got over the shock long ago and now just roll with it - a home-life that is filled with non-stop chores and coping with mini-crises.

"We love them so much," Jennifer said, "But I never stop, and Glenn never stops. And it's just juggling everything. And the hardest part has been not being able to just sit down and do nothing.

"Maybe when they're five I can sit down and read a magazine."

"People say, 'Have you tried out that new restaurant?' Well, you know, 'Did I mention I have triplets?' You know?"

But the triplets are precious to these parents, especially because the Geoffroys worked so hard to have them. They wanted another child but Jennifer had trouble getting pregnant again, for unexplained reasons.

"Nothing was wrong with anyone," she said, "and I had some difficulty along the way, where I had two second-trimester miscarriages."

By then, in her late 30s, Jennifer opted for one of the most effective fertility treatments that exists: in vitro fertilization.

The Geoffroys' doctor, Avner Hershlag, chief of the assisted fertility program at Long Island's North Shore University Hospital, gave them the word. It's the kind of news he's delivered many times to many patients, and in most cases when the word is "twins," the recipients are delighted.

"What about when it's triplets, or even more?" Braver asked.

"Well, definitely, want the husband to sit," Hershlag laughed. "Typically, what will the health of the baby be? What will the health of the mom be? How will they manage financially? All these things come up, but they don't come up in the ultrasound room when you just announce to them that they have triplets."

He says there are a variety of reasons why moms who opt for in vitro have more multiples, beginning with how the procedure - which can cost about $18,000 - is done. First, eggs are harvested from the mom, and in the lab, they're injected with sperm from the dad.

"We let them spend the night together," Hershlag said, "and in the morning we see what they have done."

… And a lot of them turn into embryos. In fact, more than 3 million babies have been created through in-vitro fertilization, beginning 30 years ago, when the birth in England of the first "miracle" or "test tube baby," Louise Brown, made headlines around the world. Today, the procedure is more sophisticated, and very successful.

"So now you have to slow down to say, OK, we got the message," Hershlag said. "We have a very powerful tool. Let's use it wisely. Let's use it socially responsibly."

Over the years doctors have implanted two, three and even four or more embryos in the hopes of getting just one baby. That has led to an explosion of multiple births. And now, fertility specialists are urged to limit the number of embryos implanted, but there's still a problem:

"There is still no tool to test an embryo in the lab," he said, to tell if a specific embryo will become a baby. "Because if I had a system, if I had one test to do on an embryo that will tell me that if I put that embryo in the right place it's going to be a baby, I would only put one embryo at a time in each patient. Because the ultimate goal of what we do is to produce a single healthy pregnancy in each woman. We're not trying to create multiples here."

Several embryos that develop into babies account for the vast majority of multiples. But in vitro also leads to a greater incidence of babies that all come from the same embryo - identical twins, and even triplets, like the Geoffroys.

Doctors are working to discover exactly why.

"We were hoping we can reduce the rate of this as well, once we identify for sure what factors are exactly responsible" Hershlag said.

He says that's because, having more than one baby is not always welcome news for a family. But now, he says IVF researchers are making progress in limiting multiple births:

"It seems like the epidemic of multiple births, and especially high multiples, is short-lived and is already curtailed by our field."

In fact the national rate of triplet births, which climbed by more than 400% in the 1980s and '90s, is dropping. And the rate of twin births, which increased 70% from 1980, is leveling off.

In the meantime, in big cities like New York you can spot multiples on almost every playground, sometimes lots of them. And Dr. Hershlag says it's all part of something bigger:

"Anyone who does IVF in the first three decades of this amazing invention is part of history and their children are milestones. The science is going in leaps and bounds and the patients go with it and they have to understand that we are on a learning curve. This is not a done science. This is science in progress."

Until science catches up, there are lots of support groups and other programs.

"One of the things that's really critical with twins is that you need to connect them to each other," said Erica Lyon, "because nobody's going to understand what it's like to be a twin parent, the way another twin parent will."

Lyon, founder of Real Birth, began seeing so many parents of twins in her regular classes, that she started having special sessions where moms of multiples, like Stacy Smith, could discuss their special problems:

"So many days it's like I'll try all day to get out of the house and all of a sudden it's 6 at night and it didn't happen," Smith said.

Colette Foley, with 5-month-olds, says she and her husband were pleasantly surprised that their in-vitro procedure led only to twins.

"Two hands, two breasts, two adults … we could handle it," she said.

But Jennifer Geoffroy, who still manages to work full time at Johnson & Johnson and mother her triplets, says that no one need worry about her, especially on Mother's day:

"Sometimes people see me with them, or my husband or my whole family, and they're like, 'Oh God,' you know, 'God bless you.' And our response is, 'Yes, we're very blessed.'"

More information can be found at Manhattan Twins Club, For Parents of Twins, Triplets and More; and at the National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs, Inc.