Poppie, Mollie and Evelyn Park’s Story
Their combined birthweight was just 5lb 2oz – three tiny sisters weighing together as much as one small newborn alone.
Born 14 weeks early, triplets Poppie, Mollie and Evelyn fought for their lives in hospital for the first two months and their terrified parents Rachel and Steven Park never heard the doctors say: ‘When your girls come home’.
Day after day, it was always ‘if’.
“They were so tiny my little finger was bigger than their legs,” recalls Steven, 37. “They never told us they would be OK. They would only say it had to be day by day.”
Rachel, 39, adds: “I remember the consultant telling us: ‘All we have is time. It is up to them, and how much of a fighter they are’.”
For Steven and Rachel, their triplets were much longed for first babies, conceived on the fourth cycle of IVF . They imagined this first Christmas over and over as the fun family occasion they had always dreamt of. But when their girls arrived unexpectedly early on March 11 at just 26 weeks and five days it seemed highly unlikely all three, if any, would make it.
Admin manager Rachel and Steven, a chef, married in 2009 and tried for six years to start a family. They had three failed rounds of IVF on the NHS before a fourth done privately proved successful last summer.
“At six weeks I found out I was pregnant at last,” says Rachel. “At first they only found two heartbeats, so we were over the moon to be expecting twins.”
Two weeks later came the shock news the ‘twins’ were non-identical triplets. “We felt kind of numb,” Rachel admits.
“It was disbelief, shock,” adds Steven, laughing. The triplets appeared healthy at every scan and the couple were excited at the thought of their ready made family.
“We could see them all on the scans, hear all three heartbeats,” says Rachel.
“Last Christmas we began buying things for them – a pram for three, three Moses baskets.”
The triplets were due on June 12, but at 22 weeks Type 1 diabetes sufferer Rachel began to show signs of high blood pressure caused by potentially fatal pre-eclampsia. Her kidneys and liver were failing. By 24 weeks the mum-to-be of Whitehaven, Cumbria, was sent to Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle nearly 100 miles away for specialist care where she suffered a serious bleed.
“They stopped it but after two days I had another,” she recalls. “
They found a problem with blood flow from the placenta too. They told me my babies would be safer out than in.”
Rachel was taken for an emergency caesarean . “It was a blur,” she recalls. “I just wanted them out and to know they were OK.”
Due to heavy sedation and an infection, the new mum – who needed three transfusions – didn’t see her daughters for three days. It is Steven who recalls their birth. “There were so many people in that room, about 26,” he says. “They lifted the babies up one by one and a team was allocated to each one. They let me touch Poppie. I kissed her on the head. But it was so frantic. I heard another cry, that was number two, Mollie. It was very emotional, the reality sunk in as they were rushed to the special baby unit.”
Poppie, Hollie and Evelyn weighed 1lb 9oz, 1lb 7oz and 1lb 6oz respectively and were put in incubators and on ventilators as their lungs were so tiny.
Rachel remembers her first sight of them. “They wheeled me down. I met Evelyn first. I put my hand in to hold hers. It was so hard not to be able to give them cuddles, to have the glass between you. I read them nursery stories.”
The triplets lurched from one emergency to the next over the next two months. “Poppie had very low blood pressure,” explains Steven. “Her skin was like tissue paper.”
As soon as his first born was through the worst, baby number three, Evelyn, got very ill. “They had to give her morphine to give her a chance,” he says.
Then Mollie took a bad turn too. “The consultant wasn’t sure what the problem was but decided it was her lungs,” remembers Rachel. “Thankfully they treated her for the right thing.”
After a few weeks the parents could change their nappies. “But they were so tiny you feared you might break them,” says Rachel. And slowly, the triplets started to develop distinct characteristics. “Evelyn has big brown eyes, Mollie has a little birthmark on her forehead, Poppie was always the chunkier one,” says Rachel.
The Sick Children’s Trust supported Rachel and Steven with accommodation when the triplets were in hospital. It was two months before doctors started to discuss when the babies might go home. “That was such a weight lifted off,” says Steven.
The parents began spending ‘triplet time’ with their girls when they were finally placed in a cot together.
Smiling, Steven says: “Meeting each other was strange for them at first.” It was four months before the babies, by then weighing about 4lb each, were all home. Poppie was first, followed by Mollie two weeks later. Then Evelyn followed.
Steven says: “We just sat on the sofa thinking ‘they are our family’. They lay on our laps and we were in disbelief.”
All three babies now weigh about 14lb each and still need oxygen and tube feeding. “It’s crazy but we are managing,” Rachel says. “They are very individual, Poppie is a diva, liking her cuddles, Evelyn is very chatty and Mollie is so laid back. It is unbelievable, we never imagined all three getting to Christmas.”
Steven adds: “Christmas will be full on, but they’re the only presents we want.”
Tiny Lives are so saddened to learn of Rachel’s passing over Christmas 2016. Our thoughts are with the family.