Up, Up and Away

The week leading up to the first birthday celebration of Ava, Amelia and Owen Joyce we had quite possibly the worst weather of the summer. It didn’t just rain, it hailed so hard it looked like we had gotten an ice storm. Our beautifully large and flat backyard doesn’t do well when there is a ton of rain and as the meteorologists started calling for rain for the day of the party we started to craft a back up plan.  The tent would go in the driveway and we would use the garage for food, but it all worked out because the day was absolutely perfect.


The crafting had begun months earlier, thanks to my crafty, Cricut expert, best friends, Bekah and Vicki. The little details made the garage not look like a garage and added to an already lovely day. Their party was hot air balloon themed with pale oranges, pinks, blues and greens. We had lawn games, a bounce house, a craft table and various toys out for the kids. Our kids are some of the youngest of our friends, so we wanted to make sure there was plenty to do, especially with half of our yard roped off because of the weather conditions from the week.

The babies did so well! There was no crying during Happy Birthday and they each approached the smash cake in different ways. Ava ate small bites, making sure to keep one hand clean. Owen went all in right off the bat and was covered in icing while Amelia took a bit to get into it. They certainly enjoyed getting passed between grandparents and other family and friends.

It was definitely an emotional few days for me and Mike. Each time we sang Happy Birthday I felt my eyes fill with tears. I still pinch myself that these three are mine. Having three babies all the same age doesn’t seem abnormal to us. There are hard days but I feel so blessed that we have three healthy, happy children. I still look back and wonder how we survived the pregnancy, the hospital stays and the middle of the night feeds, but it was all worth it to watch these three chatter and giggle together as they explore their world.


Here are some of my favorite details:

I found a twin hot air balloon themed invitation on Etsy and asked the store owner to turn it into a triplet version. She was so helpful. We gave away bubbles as a favor and my sister-in-law made these adorable flower arrangements for all the tables.

We made hot air balloons out of paper lanterns, baskets and straws.

Their monthly milestone banner was Cricuted by their aunties. The cupcake toppers were also made with the Cricut. And so were their shirts- which promptly went into the trash after they ate their cake.

All three of their high chair signs were made on the Cricut and accented with various colors and style of ribbon.  We also made an Up, Up and Away banner that hung on the outside of our garage.


We got lots of party decor to spice up the garage from Party City. Thankfully our orange color happened to be the 2019 Pantone Color of the Year! Target also had lots of cute banner options.


We are so grateful for all the help we had prior to and the day of their party. We had grandparents helping with food and babysitting while we decorated downstairs. Bekah and Vicki helped decorate the day of and the day before and I recruited their significant others to help direct cars where to park. Bekah and Vicki also ran catered food down from my kitchen as things got low. Aunts and Uncles helped clean up cake off the floor and the high chairs while we ran the babies up to the tub. It was an amazing day, but it was successful thanks to our family and friends.

What a first year it was but we are excited to watch these three continue to grow and learn!


Amelia Marie: Our Happy Girl

Oh Miss Amelia. I’m sorry this is delayed, my dear girl but we have been so busy doing family things together this summer and fall.

While we call her our happy girl now, she wasn’t always that way. She was very vocal during her time at the NICU and it took her a bit longer than her siblings to graduate.

Amelia was our Baby B and from what I know from behind the blue curtain, Dr. Hoyson had to work a lot of angles to get her out. She was the largest at 3lbs 12oz. In those first few days of the NICU she had some green aspirate, which eventually normalized. Aspirate is when a baby has food that hasn’t been digested still in her belly hours after being fed.

All of our babies also had brain scans because they were born before 32 weeks. Ava and Owen had nothing unusual on their scans but Amelia had a few things of note. She had a level one brain bleed and another object appeared on the screen that they couldn’t name or identify. They would do another brain scan to see if they could get a better look and consult the Children’s Hospital Neurology team. When a doctor tells you they see a mass or cyst of some sort and they have never seen it before, its a bit terrifying. I was already worried about the brain bleed but learned that a level one was nothing to worry over.  It took a few days before the neurologist came to visit and she determined that Amelia had a Rathkes Cleft Cyst on her pituitary gland. The only concern was that it could affect her growth later in life and we may need to do an occasional MRI.


Being preemie parents you learn a lot more information about your children than if you had a full term baby. The infant medical community never scans the brains of full term, healthy children, so there is truly no benchmark to compare. Full term babies could have small brain bleeds and we would never know how these things can affect them the rest of their lives.

Amelia’s time in the NICU was relatively uneventful. She was the first of our trio to drink from a bottle. It was an incredibly emotional moment for me as most milestones were.  Amelia did have reflux which caused her to have the occasional bradicardia. She went on and off oxygen throughout her stay and we always felt like she would take a few steps forward and then backward. She loved her nurses though. We joke that is why she wanted to stay as long as she did. Perhaps it was the extra snuggles and bubble baths?

After Owen went home, things became the most complicated. It was hard to have two of our babies at home while one was still at the hospital. We just wanted our family to be complete and reunited. No matter if I was at home or the hospital, I never felt like I was in the right place. Mike was home now so we could at least divide and conquer. I actually remember breaking down with my NICU friends because I was just ready to be done being there.

Amelia’s biggest hurdle was eating 2 ounces of breast milk 16 times in a row or for 2 straight days. She was now 6.5 pounds. It was the first time, and I’m sure there will be many more of these, where I found myself thinking that if I could do this for her, I would. But thus, she needed to do it on her own. There was concern that something greater was wrong and since they wanted to do an MRI after she was discharged to look at the cyst anyway, they decided to do it now instead. We received great news! Not only was nothing new found, but her brain bleed and the cyst were both gone!

She still needed to complete this task, so we talked with the doctors on how she would conquer this milestone. They decided to let her eat on demand instead of every 3 hours. If she kept gaining weight she would get to come home. Our vocal girl let everyone know when she was hungry, often exhausting herself yelling and therefore struggled to coordinate her suck, swallow and breath. But, she finally got it! She kept up her weight and ate on her own terms. On July 23, 2018, she came home at 38 weeks and three days.

Amelia remained very vocal when she first came home but soon turned into the laid back baby she is today. She learned to self-soothe with her thumb and she could sleep anywhere. You can always count on her to sleep all night long and complain very little. She loves a good snuggle and shows so much kindness towards her siblings. If someone is sad, she always offers a hug or a favorite stuffed animal.

She was the first to fully crawl and is our most social child. Amelia will certainly be pulling the other two onto the playground to meet other kids. She is very fascinated by the big kids at the park and could follow them around all afternoon. Amelia loves dogs and can spot one a mile away. Her Mimi has taught her (and her siblings) that we tell all dogs, but especially her Uncle Lincoln, “no, no barking.” So the moment she spots a dog she immediately shakes her finger and barks in reply.

She makes other interesting sounds which has earned her the nickname “tooka” because she walks around saying “tookatookatookatooka.” It doesn’t matter her mood she says it when she is happy or even when she’s expressing her dissent. It makes us chuckle that she had such difficulty eating at first because now she turns nothing away. You can always count on her to clean her plate and try anything, including vegetables.

We have loved watching her personality bloom and while she may not have started out as the happiest girl, she has come around to be funny,  kind and so very spirited.

Owen Garnet Joyce: The Big Guy

And we’re back and its going to be a long one! After planning a first birthday party and having a very busy May and June I had some time to get back on track with Owen and Amelia’s NICU stories. We will actually be celebrating Owen’s coming home day on July 15 (today!). His story isn’t without a few bumps in the road but we are grateful for great nurses and doctors that took care of him at West Penn. That being said, we had some frustrating moments along the way.

Owen was born first at 4:33am. He is the only baby I saw over top of the curtain before he was wrapped in plastic and sent to the NICU.  He was our Baby A throughout the entire pregnancy and was the reason for my frequent trips to the bathroom.


His first few weeks were relatively normal. He had a few more bradicardias then the girls but overall he was gaining weight and doing well. I actually remember a few days before his speed bump occurred, celebrating as the three of them were so close in weight. He was now 33 weeks old and about 4lbs 10oz.

At about 11 am that Friday morning we received a call from one of the doctors suggesting that we would be “more comfortable at a step-down facility because we had a lot of visitors.” It was an interestingly timed phone call as the night before we had two nurses who seemed a bit annoyed when we came in with some family to visit our kids and do their care. We were within the visitation rules of two people per bedside and as always, were respectful to them. I felt like the health of our kids was a secondary reason for the suggested move. It felt like we were being asked to leave because we did something wrong.  I didn’t want to start over. We had our primary nurses and a level of comfort at West Penn. I was full of anxiety and emotions as we drove to the hospital, but none of this would matter by the end of the day.

I now know a lot more about the situation from Friday than I did at the time because our primary nurse filled us in the following Monday. At 7 am on Friday, Owen had two bradies within a few minutes of each other, with one of them requiring the nurses to use the oxygen mask to convince him to breath. These episodes had now become uncommon for him. When our nurse reported this to the same doctor who would call us 4 hours later to move us to a step down unit, she wrote it off as normal preemie behavior.


When we arrived at the NICU, no one mentioned the severity of Owen’s bradies from earlier in the day. He ended up back on oxygen that afternoon and when I  changed his diaper at 6pm that night, I found blood in his stool. I immediately grabbed the nurse and sent her to get a doctor.

A nurse practitioner came to see him.  I immediately said, “its a milk protein allergy. It runs in our family and I had it too. Blood in the stool means a milk protein allergy.”  Unfortunately, blood in the stool in a preemie can be a few more things than just a milk protein allergy. They were going to take an x-ray of his stomach and run some blood work. They were worried it was potentially an infection in his intestines. When I went to pump during shift change I Googled “preemie infection intestines.” That was a mistake. I stumbled upon NEC a terrible and deadly infection that affects preemies.

Of course this was the one night I sent Mike out with his friends but he would be picking me up later in the evening. I walked back into the pod to see my son out of his clothes in just his diaper and an IV back in his arm. My face must have said it all as I tried to keep my composure. I needed an update immediately. I texted Mike to get here fast. I have never felt so much like a Mama Bear as I did that week.

Whether its true or not, my perception of that day was that bed space was more important than a nurse’s concern about my child. I didn’t want to be seen as a “difficult parent” but I learned that advocating for our children and asking tons of questions would become even more important.

The neonatologist from earlier in the day was done with her week as our designated doctor and the weekend crew had come on shift. The doctor showed me Owen’s x-rays and explained that they were worried about the gas pattern in his intestine. I would learn a lot about gas patterns on x-rays that week. Owen’s blood work came back clear but they were going to put him on IV antibiotics to be sure. They were putting him on gut rest and he would be getting all of his nutrition via an IV. He didn’t think it was NEC but they just wanted to be safe. He also said not to Google NEC. Oops, too late.


I had them turn off his web camera. I didn’t want anyone to see our little boy back in his diaper, potentially ill. And I didn’t want to take the calls from family and friends if they saw him back in his diaper. I tossed and turned all night constantly checking my phone to make sure I didn’t miss a call. We would head back in the morning to hopefully figure this out.

The original plan was for Owen to eat again by Monday but the new group of doctors didn’t like the way his  x-rays continued to look and wanted to give his gut more time to heal. Our new neonatologist for the week was not willing to rule out NEC. They ran several CBC blood tests to look for infection and also a blood culture–no sign of infection. She was stuck on the gas pattern in his x-rays and still wouldn’t let him have any food. She told me she had never seen a preemie have a milk protein allergy and when pressed she would suggest it could also be a colitis. On Thursday, when he was finally allowed to eat, they started him on Nutramigen- a formula specifically for babies with the allergy. The doctor had finally ruled out NEC based on his x-rays. She would later suggest trying breast milk once more  before discharge, I declined. I would not be putting him through that again.

I remember walking back to the pod to talk with Mike and being so frustrated for our little man, but it didn’t matter, Owen Joyce was eating and no longer had to rely on sucrose on his pacifier to feed his food craving. We think this is why he is our only child that uses a pacifier when he sleeps. His IV wouldn’t come out right away and it eventually would end up on his head right above his forehead. I was warned it would probably happen as its hard to keep IV’s in baby’s arms and legs, but it was still upsetting.

By the weekend, they had diagnosed him with a milk protein allergy and remarked how much more common the allergy had become in the last 15 years. It’s a much better diagnosis than what this week could have been. I can appreciate taking all the precautions but the culmination of the week was frustrating and emotionally exhausting. It was the NICU roller coaster we were warned about.


Owen would be in the NICU a few more weeks and dealt with some nasty reflux. Starting his last week in the NICU he was put on Zantac and we thickened his Nutramigen with oatmeal. We were thrilled when we we could wean him away from both of those things. He made quite the mess for months in our house but it didn’t seem to bother him.

Owen still has a milk protein allergy. We try the occasional milk product here and there but it always seems to make him angry, spitty or gassy. Besides this hiccup, he is a healthy little boy.


As an infant, and even occasionally now, he has a great, unimpressed laugh “ha ha.” He also is the first to get the full blown giggles. He has always had the best head of hair which makes his Dad very proud. As Baby A, he seems to always be the first to hit major milestones. He ate food and pulled himself across the floor first and now is taking some steps first.


As a 13 month old, he loves to play chase with his sisters and thinks the games that Daddy makes up are hilarious. He knows the sound that cows make but also thinks that sheep and ducks make that same sound. Owen loves to give kisses and cuddle with his mommy. He is an avid reader and loves “lift the flap” books and “Hunny Bunny.”



When we brought Owen home from the NICU, he and Ava could fit in the same Boppy lounger. Now he is our Big Guy, constantly on the move, exploring his world and giggling along the way.



Ava Angelina Joyce: Small and Fierce

The next three posts will share each of our babies’ journey to come home in chronological order. My goal is to get these done before their first birthday so I need to get writing!

Ava Angelina Joyce was known as the penthouse baby for most of my pregnancy. She was our Baby C and she resided near my rib cage on the right side. It will always be a mystery to me why none of my kids found the open space on my upper left side, but they all tended to stay in the same areas. I would see Ava punch and kick through my belly and I felt her the most often. She came out last at 4:38 am.

Ava was in Pod 6 in the NICU- first bed on the left. She was the first to take the oxygen from her nose and to have her IV nutrition removed. She slept hard and often preferred to be snuggled up in her isolate instead of being held. She rarely had any bradycardias. One night while I was still hospitalized and couldn’t really travel to the NICU, Mike went down to take some of my milk to the babies. He was gone for awhile and I started to wonder where he was as I was feeling more uncomfortable. Little did I know that he was spending time with our youngest daughter learning to hold and care for her. She was the first baby either of us got to hold.

I’ll never forget the day that we came into the NICU and her nurse Julie told us she had started taking her bottle consistently and that the next step was to start “cold stressing” to see if she could maintain her temperature for 12 hours. If she passed she would be going into an open crib. It was so surprising to see Ava catch on to eating so fast. One day we felt like it would be weeks before we had a baby home with us, and the next Ava is conquering all of her challenges. We joke that she knew this was her only opportunity to be an only child. On June 26, she went to a crib which meant cute jammies, being all swaddled up and time spent in the Mamaroo!


Her last test would be the car seat test. We thought the car seat test was making sure they fit in the car seat- that would be too easy. The real car seat test is sitting in a car seat for 90 minutes without any desaturations or bradycardias. When we left the NICU that night, I prayed so hard that she would pass. The nurses promised that if she passed they would put a note in her crib that I could see when I got up to pump in the middle of the night. I quickly logged on to check the webcam. After seeing she passed, I ran down the hallway back to our room to tell Mike the good news. By 8 am, there was a new sign: “I’m going home today!”

For parents with one child in the NICU, you collect your stuff and head home on your new adventure. With both Ava and Owen I turned to the nurses and said, “See you tomorrow.” It is such an odd feeling to end this chapter with one child knowing you have two more who are still at the hospital. Having Ava home made us want the rest of our family home so much more. Ava would have two weeks as an only child before her big brother would make his way home.

Ava was the easiest baby when she came home. She was 5lbs and looked so petite laying in her crib. We woke her up to feed her every three hours the first few weeks until her brother arrived home. I definitely didn’t sleep the first night she was home just listening to her snoring down the hall. She spent a majority of her time doing tummy time on her elephant mat. If she wasn’t on her belly she was on her boppy lounger (best thing ever) or snuggling with her parents. She even hung out one afternoon on her boppy on a window sill in the NICU. Being an only child has its perks, as Ava got to attend her Great Grandma’s surprise 90th birthday party.  She also got extra time with her Mimi who would watch her while I spent afternoons at the NICU with her siblings.

After her first pediatrician appointment we took her to Chipotle. We figured we would be adventurous, since it was the only time we would really have one baby. We fed her there and then she slept through the commotion of the restaurant. I couldn’t believe the number of people who stopped to talk to us about her. The commentary was often around how small she was and I had to keep myself from launching into our story. We never thought our kids looked small in that first month. It isn’t until now that we realize how small they really were.

At 11 months old, Ava is still the smallest of the trio but she has the loudest voice. This girl can launch tears the moment she starts to wail and I do mean wail. She is finally getting motivated to move as she has been very content to sit and watch her siblings until now. She loves to eat and intently watches Sesame Street. She will dance to all the songs. Ava mastered riding on the “toddler town car” first and loves wagon rides and swinging. We love watching her personality bloom. She has come a long way from 3lbs 5oz.

Anne Wilmus Photography- Milestones by Sherri

A New Normal

My postpartum recovery brought a lot more emotions than I imagined. The mom guilt came on quickly. Even when I was hospitalized I believed I could carry the babies three more weeks and when that didn’t happen, I blamed myself. I told myself if the babies would have broken my water or started labor than I would have been OK with them deciding it was time to arrive. Truth be told, I probably would have still blamed myself.  I played the “what if” game a lot the first few weeks. What if I would have stopped working earlier? What if I didn’t have that cup of coffee that morning? I was upset with my body for not being able to carry all three babies. I felt like it quit on my kids even though each person I saw would say, “You made it to 31 weeks. That’s great!” It didn’t feel great.

I’m lucky to have such an amazing support system. Between Mike, my family and even the NICU nurses and doctors, I learned how flawed my thoughts were. At a developmental follow-up, I shared these struggles with our neonatologist who went on to ramble off a long string of medical terms that basically said nothing I did could have caused my pre-eclampsia. I was also enrolled in a postpartum depression and anxiety program through AHN’s Women’s Behavioral Health Center. They started seeing me when I was 20 weeks pregnant and I am so grateful that I had someone to talk through scenarios leading up to my c-section and beyond.

I can say fairly confidently that this will be my only pregnancy, which further complicated my feelings about such an early delivery. I mourned my pregnancy for months after my c-section. Pregnancy is such a special bond between mom and baby or babies. I loved knowing they were always with me–that they were safe. I would sing to them in the car and I had finally reached the point in my pregnancy where I could see them moving around and punching through my skin. Friends and family would always note that getting any larger would have been miserable–which is probably true. But knowing I would never do this again, or that I would have to now share them with the world was hard. Hormones are complicated and as silly as some of these emotions feel now that I spend everyday with three amazing little people, talking about them was so important.

Add to these crazy hormonal thoughts a new daily routine of visiting the hospital. Mike and I remark now that we can’t believe this was our life. Everyday I would wake up, pump and spend my mornings watching the babies on the webcam. Then my Mom would drive me to the hospital where I would stay all day. Mike would arrive around 4-5pm. We would stay through shift change and enjoy a gourmet hospital dinner (LOL) before leaving at 9 or 10pm. Go home, sleep and repeat it all the next day. This schedule would change once I could drive and when the babies started coming home. I was pumping every three hours including during the night. Pumping made me feel like I was actually a Mom not just a woman who was home after having surgery. It was a way for me to contribute to caring for my babies since I couldn’t be there 24/7.

NICU life is something you can really only understand if you have gone through it. At first it was an uncomfortable place. You don’t know if you can hold your baby and its scary to change such small diapers. A few days into our NICU stay, two nurses who were in Owen’s pod took the time to show us how to rotate our kids, do all of their care and feel confident in our rights as NICU parents. We finally started to get comfortable with our surroundings.

We saw and experienced a lot of things that most parents don’t experience. We watched our children learn how to eat for the first time. We changed diapers through holes in an isolate. We learned how to reattach their leads to connect them to their monitors and knew which alarms were worrisome. We knew how to weigh and bath them in their isolates. We learned new terms like “brady” or “desaturation” or “ng tube.” We also had hard moments like seeing them turn gray when their little brains forgot to tell their lungs to breath. And we celebrated when we moved past those scary moments.

I’ve tried to explain some of these things to full-term parents and they look at you blankly. It isn’t something they can fathom and that’s not a knock on full term parents. Bringing home a baby after a vaginal delivery or c-section and also caring for said baby is difficult and exhausting too. It’s just a different type of exhaustion.

Our hospital had NICU parent (but mostly Mom) scrapbooking every Wednesday. It was the best outlet to vent, cry and even celebrate milestones. I will forever have a bond with those women. We actually have a Facebook group where we keep tabs on each other. I think sometimes I cry more about their babies’ progress than my own. We have been on this journey together. We have a team walking at the March for Babies in Pittsburgh. If you are interested in donating to our team you can do it here.

As we got closer to having three babies at home people would say to me, “Oh my, you are going to be exhausted.” We didn’t care. We just wanted our family home together. Once you have experienced a long-term stay in the NICU, the small struggles or exhaustion seem trivial.



Birth Story Part 3: Recovery and the NICU

The next 24 hours on “the mag” were a complete blur. I remember bits and pieces but I have had Mike and other family members fill in a lot of details. The nurses gave me some anxiety and anti-nausea medications. I did a lot of vomiting and heaving post-surgery.  I remember being really hot again and dunking my hands into ice cold water.  Nurse Pam was back and took care of me through those first 12 hours. I remember seeing our families after surgery before they went home to rest after being up all night. They came back sometime in the afternoon but I was not in a good way.

Mike’s family came back to the hospital around 2 p.m. and he took his Mom down to see the babies. I thought he was gone for hours–it was 20 minutes. I laid there coming in and out of consciousness stewing with anger that he left me for all this time. When he came back from the NICU he brought cloth hearts for me to wear to put in the babies isolates. Since I couldn’t be with them, it would give them comfort to smell my scent. I did not understand why he was trying to shove these under my hospital gown. They were for the babies, he said. To be honest, I had no thoughts of being a Mom at this point. I was confused and even a bit angry. “The Mag” has this affect. I was still hooked up to the blood pressure monitor going off every 15 minutes. They had also put these devices on my feet that made my legs jump occasionally. I believe its to prevent blood clots. Somehow I believe I slept through a lot of this craziness. Thank you, Ativan! The moments I was awake, I don’t really remember except that I was often heaving.

It’s interesting to hear from other friends and family that were on the outside of the situation for those 24 hours. People assume you are in normal recovery. My boss tried to come see me and luckily Mike caught him in the hall because I was not conscious let alone ready for visitors. My brother lives in Richmond and was upset that their weren’t regular updates. My Mom sent him a picture of me asleep in bed because there were no updates to share. I wasn’t awake or talking and the babies were down in the NICU. I didn’t even know my family was in the room. I don’t remember any part of the evening. I don’t remember Pam’s shift ending or when they turned off “the mag.” I do remember the move to my post-partum room. It was now Monday morning. I had been a parent for 24 hours and I had not met my children. This was nothing like the typical recovery of a new mother.

Mike had given the NICU tour to our family members several times at this point. Our kids were in three separate rooms or “pods” and he had to escort one person to each bedside.  He signed all the consent forms. He went to “rounds” and got the updates about the status of our kids. He filled out all their information for birth certificates and social security cards. It was the start of his role as Super Dad. I was terrified to go down to the NICU. I didn’t feel well and was worried I would faint. I knew they would be small and that they would have IVs and be on oxygen but I was still unsure of what to expect. Sometime on Monday, Mike wheeled me down to the NICU. I told one of the nurses, who became my kids’ primary nurse and now one of my best friends, that I didn’t want to know any medical details. I just wanted to know if they were doing OK. Ava and Owen were progressing nicely and would soon be off of IV nutrition. Amelia was taking a little longer and her weight would drop from 3lbs 12oz to 3lbs 3oz- but she would be right behind them.



It was not the meeting I had envisioned. I was only there briefly because I still didn’t feel great. I didn’t hold them. It didn’t feel like the normal special bonding moment when you meet your children for the first time. Mike would hold Ava for the first time later that evening. I focused on getting myself feeling better so I could visit longer and more often. Recovering from a c-section was no joke plus it was taking longer than I expected for my blood pressure to come down. I felt like I could tell exactly where Dr. Hoyson pulled each baby from. My stomach ached. Lactation came to visit and  I started to pump. Mike would take my colostrum down to the NICU. Once they started to eat they would get donor milk as well.


The next few days would get better. I was more comfortable being in the NICU. I started to get use to the wires and the beeping. I held each of them, but Owen was the first. I was discharged on Wednesday and we spent the majority of that day moving from pod to pod to see our kids. It was amazing how well they progressed even in those first few days. We would cheer each new milestone–even the smallest ones. It was the start of the next part of our roller coaster journey as NICU parents.

Birth Story Part 2: We’re having a birthday party

Once I came back to reality on Thursday and could think with a clear mind, I was able to talk more with my doctors about my situation. Blood pressure cuffs give me anxiety. I hate the squeezing feeling and then feeling your own pulse. It creeps me out. This isn’t a new thing for me. I have always hated all things medical. I swore up and down that my blood pressure was high because of my anxiety. And that my anxiety was increasing each time someone took my blood pressure.

The blood pressure machine was also behaving oddly. The cuff would pop off my arm. They tried a larger size but it wasn’t working well. I was convinced both the machine and my anxiety were showing my blood pressure was higher than it actually was. That’s crazy, right? Well, its because I didn’t feel sick. Beyond having swelling in my legs and feet, I didn’t have any of the symptoms they asked about when they rounded. Based on this, I thought I would be a West Penn Hospital tenant for the next three weeks.

My friends brought magazines, books, board games– you name it. I went for an occasional walk. I looked like I was staying in a hotel, other than the IV in my hand. So many friends and family visited and others texted to check in. But everything changed on Saturday night.

Around 9:00pm my blood pressure readings had started to get higher. Up until now I had occasional high blood pressure readings, but they normally went back down. The nurse had told me that because I had a few in a row they wanted me to wear the cuff and have it test me every 15 minutes. My best friend, Vicki, and Mike were there. We were actually watching the Stanley Cup Final and cheering against the Capitals. When suddenly Dr. Hoyson and my favorite resident appeared in the door. They sat down on the couch. They weren’t happy with my blood pressures. She said, “If you have one more blood pressure like the one you just had, we are having a birthday party.” I started to sob. She stood up from the couch and held me, “you have done everything you can for these babies, but we are reaching a point where they will be safer outside of your body.” I continued to cry as we started to discuss the plan. Mike went to go call our parents.

When I last ate would determine how soon the c-section could happen and they would want to consult with Maternal Fetal Medicine. They would be sending a neonatologist to come talk to us about the state of the babies’ development at 31 weeks and 2 days and give us more information about the NICU. The conversation with the neonatologist was so difficult for Mike and I. It’s really hard to hear all the ways your baby is not going to be prepared for the world. I trusted my doctors though and I knew me and my children were in great hands.

My estimated time of a c-section was after midnight. What would I be doing between now and that time? More Magnesium Sulfate. But this time, there would be no ice chips or water since I would be going into surgery in the next few hours. This is where we meet Lisa, my other angel nurse. After the bolus was over and the drip began, I think Lisa sensed my nervousness. She kept me talking as I kept sighing and taking deep breaths to keep my nerves in control. There was a question from anesthesiology of whether I could have a non-sedated c-section which required more blood work and waiting.

It was a busy night at the hospital and so when the decision was finally made that I was in the clear for my c-section, it was 4 am. Since the beginning I had been terrified of having a c-section. So terrified, that I had a consult with the head of OB anesthesiology and she had given us a tour of the operating room.

The experience could not have been better. I made it clear to all my doctors and nurses that I needed them to talk to me to keep me calm. The anesthesiologist resident was my favorite. He made a list of things we were going to talk about before we got into the operating room. Dr. Hoyson held my legs while they did my spinal. And when I started to feel nauseous, she laid me down and held the basin while I tried to puke. When I stopped for long enough, she said “Ok, Alyson. Are you ready? I’m going to go scrub in.” She took care of me like I was part of her family. The anesthesiologist held my hand when I started to get a bit more anxious. It was an emotional experience for both Mike and I. I remember both of us tearing up. This was not the night we had planned for but we were about to become parents. We were worried for them but hoped for the best.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see the babies over the curtain as they took each of them out, but I opted to see Owen as he was Baby A. I decided not to see the other two, because it had increased my anxiety a bit. It took a little while longer to get Amelia out and Mike tells me that I yelled “Jess, how we doing over there?” She responded, “Working on it, Alyson!” Apparently I was relaxed enough to start calling my doctors by their first names. Owen Garnet arrived at 4:33am on June 3 and Amelia Marie came three minutes later at 4:36am, followed by Ava Angelina at 4:38am. All three were wrapped in plastic to maintain their body heat and taken to the NICU. Mike remembers each of them crying. I just remember wanting to know their stats. The attending anesthesiologist grabbed Mike’s phone and ran to the other side of the curtain to snap some pictures. It took me months before I could really look at those photos.

Owen was 3lbs 5oz and 16 inches long. Ava was also 3lbs 5oz but only 15.5 inches long. And Amelia was 3lbs 12oz and 17 inches long.


I can’t begin to describe how amazing it felt to have all that pressure released from my body. I had no idea that I had been walking around like a pressure cooker for the last several months. It was a glorious feeling.

After surgery I laid in recovery as Mike spooned ice chips to me. I have never been so happy to have some water. I ate those chips as fast as I possibly could. A nurse came to take Mike to see our families. And soon after, the neonatologist came to take Mike to meet the babies. I don’t remember much about the report she gave us but it seemed like everything was as good as it could be. I wouldn’t be meeting them until the next day because I was headed back to my room for 24 more hours of Magnesium Sulfate.








Our Birth Story Part 1: “The Mag”

I had taken off work on Wednesday, May 30 because I had both my ultrasound and an appointment with my doctor, Dr. Hoyson. I was now 30 weeks 5 days pregnant.  My ultrasound went fine. It was onto my OB appointment where I peed in the cup as you do at every appointment. At this point of my pregnancy I had become close with the nurses and aides, so when she said, “Oh, there is a little protein in your urine.” I responded with, “Shit.”

She took my blood pressure which was moderately high. The moment she left the room, Mike asked what that would mean. Pre-eclampsia. It meant pre-eclampsia.

Each appointment I would ask Dr. Hoyson, what would cause me to be hospitalized. How would I know? I knew all about pre-eclampsia (or atleast I thought I did). I bought my own blood pressure cuff for home because I knew that either pre-eclampsia or preterm labor would be what brought these babies into the world. I had worried a lot about my water breaking or having contractions and not knowing they were the real deal. We would never get that far.

In came Dr. Hoyson, who is the most reassuring, kind, compassionate individual I have ever met. She saw my crazy and didn’t run from me. She put up with my notebook full of questions. She listened to me, she hugged me, she kept me calm and sane through this entire process. More about her later. They were sending me to the hospital for 23 hours of observation. I had mild pre-eclampsia. If I was a singleton mom, they would just monitor me but because I had three, we were off to West Penn Hospital.

Mike was slightly freaked out as we drove the minivan down to West Penn. I was relatively calm. This was just a precaution. Even if I was getting admitted, these babies were staying put for awhile. Throughout the last few weeks of my pregnancy, Maternal Fetal Medicine and my OB had seemed confident that I could make it to 34 or 35 weeks. We were on cruise control.

Obviously my OB wouldn’t be there when I arrived, but she was going to be at the hospital starting Friday through Sunday at 9am. From the moment I arrived at the hospital every resident and attending reassured me that they were under strict instructions to keep Dr. Hoyson up-to-date on everything that was going on. If these babies were coming, she was going to be there.

After a stint in triage, with more urine and blood tests, checking for contractions, and my first of two steroid shots,  I was taken to a room on the ante-partum floor. I had so much protein in my urine at this point that they told me they wouldn’t need to test that again. I suspected that I was going to be here longer than the originally planned 23 hours.

They won’t let you eat when you first arrive at the hospital in case the babies need to come that day. So this starving, pregnant lady finally had some snacks in the afternoon. After dinner Mike was going to head home to get me some stuff. My parents were going to come down to visit for a bit and then Mike would also head home to sleep. That plan quickly changed when they decided at 7pm that my blood pressure was high enough that it warranted 12 hours of Magnesium Sulfate. Or as we call it “the mag.”

Not a medical professional here, but let me tell you what I understand about Magnesium Sulfate. They give it to pregnant woman who have been diagnosed with pre-eclampsia to protect the baby’s brain and also to protect the mom from having seizures. A woman’s risk of seizure is highest 24 hours after delivering the babies and so most women have it right after they deliver. Because there is a risk of seizure, you are only allowed to have clear fluids. Your choices include: ice chips, apple juice, ginger ale, and popsicles. My clue that I was in for one hell of a night should have been when my favorite nurse of all-time, Pam, brought in basins of ice chips, ice water, and towels.

Let me give you a clear visual of that evening. On my left arm was my blood pressure cuff. It went off every 15 minutes. Pam would be by my side all night long logging my vitals. We would high five each time my blood pressure was normal. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Across my belly were four monitors, one for each baby and one for contractions. Each time a baby moved we had to find the baby to get it back on. On my right hand was my IV where to kick off “the mag” they would do a bolus of the drug over 15 minutes. I would learn bolus means to give the drug to you as fast as possible. This is where the ice water and rags came in handy. Mike was putting a cold rag on me and it was turning warm in 30 seconds. After the bolus, it would be fluids with “the mag.”

Halfway through the evening, the residents taking care of me started to suggest we were doing this for 24 hours. Hell no, that was not happening. I was starving. I hadn’t slept all night because I was so uncomfortable. I exhausted all my clear liquid options several times over and the popsicle gave me heartburn. I started to plan how I was going to convince the crew of doctors and nurses that we were done with this after 12 hours. I gathered information from each new person that came to see me. While I laid there unable to sleep, I planned my entire speech. Luckily I didn’t have to convince them– it was only going to be 12 hours.

I had a hunger headache and couldn’t lift my eyeballs as the sun started to come up outside my hospital windows. It was a gorgeous view but I was not in a good way. They ordered me regular breakfast and Pam asked if I could have some of the bagel or granola bar that I had in my bag. They allowed it, but my body was not OK with it. “The mag” made me sick. I couldn’t keep anything down. I can’t remember the last time I puked so unexpectedly and with such force. God bless Pam. She is my angel. This would be the first of many times that she would take care of me with such grace and kindness. For some insane reason, she requested to take care of me on each of her shifts.

One of my maternal fetal medicine doctors compared coming off of “the mag” to coming off of an acid trip. And I imagine that is pretty accurate. I freaked out. I felt like I needed to get out of my bed. The twelve hours were over but my blood pressure cuff was still on. The machine started to go off, like it had every fifteen minutes for the last 12 hours, and I ripped it off. I felt like I needed to run away. The new nurse had just come on and I was a mess. I hadn’t slept. I had this terrible drug leaving my body and I was hungry but couldn’t eat. It felt like hours of flipping out but it was only minutes. I finally relaxed enough to be taken back to my room.

The doctor who would become my favorite resident had come to see me as they were about to stop “the mag” and she asked me what I understood of my current situation. Even as woozy as I felt, I looked at her and said. “I’m not going home until I have these babies.” She nodded and so began my stay at Hotel de West Penn.


A Blissfully Uneventful Pregnancy

It’s crazy to think about where we were a year ago. After spending time with our family in Winter Park, FL, Mike and I flew to Miami to spend the New Year Holiday. It wasn’t supposed to be our baby moon, but it was, since I was put on travel restrictions earlier than most. At this point I could make it until about 4 pm before getting sick which meant we could spend the day on the beach before spending the evening in our room. Poor Mike exhausted the in-room dining menu. I did make it up until the ball dropped and we watched fireworks from several different towns on our balcony.  We headed home and started to prepare for our new family.

I learned things in my Google searches like “No, you can’t put triplets in the same crib.” I read blog posts by triplet moms that were helpful and I learned that there were online communities for moms with triplets. That turned out to be the greatest discovery because that is where I met Mallory. Mallory and I were meant to have triplets so that we could meet and become friends. She delivered her triplets at West Penn a month before I did and so we spent most days checking in on each other. Her and her rock star babies made it to 35 weeks and 1 day and they went home with her. There is so much more to her story including the adoption of her two sons. You can check out her Instagram to see her crazy journey. Since meeting Mallory, we have added Angela to our daily text check in as she is 32 weeks pregnant with triplets and now we have a Pittsburgh Triplet Moms group on Facebook with 25 women and growing. So if you know someone who has triplets in Pittsburgh, tell them about it because we have hit the ground running with events and our own little community.

Goodbye First Trimester
We were almost out of the first trimester and it was time for our 12-week ultrasound. As our tech rolled the transducer over my belly, there they were, our three miracle babies. It was the family of five we never knew we needed. I held back tears and smiled at Mike. This had suddenly become more real, and seemed completely normal. I was carrying three babies, our babies. I was a mom to triplets. This was going to be our journey.

12 Weeks Pregnant

It doesn’t seem strange to have had three babies at once. Starting at 12 weeks, it became our normal. I always made our tech guess at their genders. Even at 12 weeks, Owen was always a boy. The other two showed no signs of boy features, but we waited until 16 weeks to be positive that they were girls. We had our families over for a gender reveal. Mike and I knew the genders but it was so fun to watch everyone’s reactions.


At 15 weeks we announced our news online. We called it our “hat trick” with Mike and my love of hockey it seemed like a good fit. We were overwhelmed with the response from our friends. I joked that we broke the internet. There were friends who had to look at the announcement a second time to realize that by “hat trick” we meant three babies.IMG_0328

16 Weeks Pregnant












Once I hit 18 weeks, the sickness subsided and I was able to enjoy being pregnant. Our friends surprised us with a “Chuggies and Huggies” party. I don’t think I have ever been as surprised as I was that day. When we were pulling up to the house and saw the cars in the cul-de-sac I was slightly disappointed that I was going to have to share my time with our favorite two-year-old. It wasn’t until I fully walked into the house that I realized the party was for us.

19 Weeks Pregnant


The rest of my pregnancy was blissfully uneventful. I had a beautiful shower and we were overwhelmed with the love and generosity of so many. My work threw me a shower, which may have even been more of a going away party. I think most expected I wouldn’t be back. I was tired and had pregnancy rhinitis, which might be one of the most annoying symptoms, but overall, I felt good. I stayed in my routine and kept working. I cheered each milestone 24, 28, 30 weeks. I had goals of 34 or 35 weeks but that all changed at my 30.5 week appointment.


29 Weeks Pregnant
28 Weeks Pregnant




Winning Christmas

Before we knew we were having triplets, we went on Etsy and bought a ton of “we are having a baby” reveal items. We had planned to save all of that until Christmas Eve and Christmas but instead decided we would tell our parents the day of our ultrasound.  My parents were in Las Vegas so we Facetimed to share the news. They were ecstatic and “all in” as my Dad said. They spent the rest of their trip telling card dealers and other random people that they needed to win big in Vegas because their daughter was pregnant with triplets.

We told Mike’s parents we were going to be near their house to see friends so we were going to stop in. We brought along their Christmas card, which actually said they were being promoted to Grandparents. We went ahead and wrote “Joyce Babies Arriving Summer 2018” since the card wasn’t made for a triplet announcement.

Here is Mike’s Mom’s reaction:


Ignore the poor quality and angle. I was secretly filming. Mike’s Dad’s reaction, as an avid camper, “I’m going to have to buy a bigger tent.”

We bought Mike’s 89-year-old grandma, a scratch off card and gave it to her on Christmas Eve. It took her awhile, but you can see where she finally reads the card below. She thanked us for having three. You know, cause we can control that. 😉 She was worried we were just getting three dogs not actually having three human babies.

By far the most boisterous reaction was my entire Dad’s side of the family. Every year from about December 26-December 29, we travel to someone’s house in either Orlando, Philadelphia, Annapolis or Pittsburgh for Christmas. This year we were going to Orlando, which meant I had to stomach a plane ride. To make matters more difficult, my Grandma and the Annapolis side of the family were not arriving until the next day. We wanted to wait until everyone was there before we shared our news. For 24 hours I had to hide that I was pregnant. I was sneaking to the bathroom, eating so many bagels and napping. My Aunt thought she had me figured out. When we were alone she looked at me,  “You’re pregnant.” I played surprised for a moment but then I revealed, “You got me, I’m pregnant.” We were then standing with my Mom, Dad, Mike and her. She was ecstatic and overjoyed that she was in on the secret. I signaled to the room that she didn’t know the whole story. It would make the reveal later that evening even better.

We had bought my Grandma a charm that said “Great-Grandma.” Here is the reaction as we tell the whole room, that we were having our trio.

When you are almost 30 years old, and you say you have an announcement, people assume you are pregnant. But once the excitement of that news faded and we would share that it wasn’t just one baby—we would shock everyone. Our family went nuts. This was so rare. The excitement was contagious. It was tough at first to handle the news ourselves, but sharing with those close to us we quickly realized the village that will be ever-present to raise these kids.