Jennifer and Richard Hulick never thought about a high-risk pregnancy when they began planning a family in 2008.
Jennifer already had two children, Brittanie, now 10, and Jacob, 8, from an earlier marriage, but the newlyweds also wanted to have a child together. They knew that it might not be easy. Jennifer was 35, and an earlier tubal pregnancy had left her with just one healthy fallopian tube and ovary. Yet, only three months after making the decision to add to their family, Jennifer learned she was pregnant.
A few weeks later, a routine ultrasound revealed something else: The Hulicks were expecting three children, not just one. And their triplets were identical—split from a single fertilized egg and sharing one placenta. Naturally conceived identical triplets are rare, occurring about once in every 200 million conceptions. Jennifer confesses that she was overwhelmed at first. "I was shaking and crying, looking at the ultrasound picture. But Richard said that everything would be okay. And after the initial shock, we were really happy."
Because pregnancies involving multiples require special care, Jennifer was referred to Melissa Bush, M.D., a perinatologist specializing in high-risk pregnancies at the Women's Hospital at Saddleback Memorial-Laguna Hills. With an outstanding team of maternal-fetal specialists, the hospital is known for successfully guiding women through risky pregnancies.
"Virtually all triplets are born early, making developmental difficulties, cerebral palsy and vision loss more likely," says Dr. Bush. During the course of their pregnancy, women carrying two or more babies can develop a host of serious conditions such as placental abruption (the separation of the placenta from the uterine lining), which can put both mother and baby in jeopardy."
With identicals who share the placenta, there's also a chance that the fetuses won't receive equal nourishment, affecting the growth and development of at least one of them. But as it turned out, Jennifer had a storybook pregnancy. The babies developed normally and she remained healthy. "I was a star patient," she laughs. "I was never sick and I gained the perfect amount of weight—32 pounds. Along the way, we overcame every risk. Each time we left Dr. Bush's office we would say that we'd made it another week." Three months into her pregnancy, Jennifer began having weekly ultrasounds to monitor her health and the well-being of the triplets. Twice a month, she had a longer, more extensive exam, during which the triplets were weighed and measured by ultrasound and Jennifer's cervix and amniotic fluid were checked.
The care Jennifer received paid off. Austin, Brendan and Connor Hulick were born in alphabetical order on November 18, 2009—nearly 34 weeks into Jennifer's pregnancy. Weighing between 4 and a little over 5 pounds, the boys were all healthy. "It usually takes about an hour to deliver triplets by Cesarean," Jennifer explains. "But Dr. Bush delivered the boys in 30 minutes. Everything went perfectly."
AN EXTRAORDINARY EVENT
Assisting in the birth were 15 specialists—five per baby. "When one baby was born, a team would take care of him while the other teams waited for the next baby. At one point, the entire staff was cheering. They made it really extraordinary, really special," Jennifer says.
The boys spent two weeks in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit before going home, where they continue to thrive. Jennifer and Richard make it all work with the help of family members and a nurse from Saddleback Memorial who will make regular visits to the Hulick's home for the next two years.
According to Jennifer, "People think that taking care of triplets must be so hard. But thanks to our families and the wonderful doctors and nurses at Saddleback, this has been a great experience."