The first thing you might notice when stepping into the home of the Corden family in Eagle Canyon, Johannesburg, is how many sterilised bottles, topped up with water, are stacked in rows on the counter. Enough to feed one baby for a week, surely.
Kerry Corden smiles and explains: “This is only enough for today.” You wouldn’t guess just by looking at this trim-figured and cheerful mom, but Kerry gave birth to triplets in April last year.
What you might expect is tired eyes, and maybe a kitchen sink stacked with all the odds and ends that go with
feeding a tribe of small children. But the Corden home is neat as a pin, even if it is lled to bursting with walking rings, feeding chairs and camping cots – all times three!
“The secret is to prepare everything you’ll need beforehand,” says Kerry, patiently listening to the triplets’ big sister Amy’s request for a sweet, while answering our questions and mixing up three bottles of formula.
We climb into the family’s minivan to drive the short distance to the park, where husband Brad has his hands full with the three adorable babies that our photographer is taking snaps of.
The couple, who are originally from Durban, each had their own car, but when they got the news that they were about to leapfrog from having only one child – daughter Amy – to four children, they opted for a more practical vehicle. “The minivan is awesome, but we don’t get great mileage on it,” frets Brads, a typical fatherly worry.
Lying on a pink blanket on the grass in the sunshine are girls Roxi and Mackenzie, who look distinctly alike with their pale complexions, red-gold hair and blue eyes, and their brother Hunter, who is dark-haired with striking grey eyes that have hazel ecks. All four of the beautiful Corden children were conceived via in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
In fact, the reason why the two girls are so similar-looking is because they are actually twins. Kerry explains: “We had two eggs implanted. Fairly early on in the pregnancy, our gynaecologist performed a scan and said that both had taken, and that we would be having two babies.
At our next scan we discovered that one of the eggs had split and there were two embryos inside, meaning that we were expecting not one, not two, but three babies!”
Celebration and concern
Now, it’s not every day that you get to announce to your friends and family: “We’re having triplets!” Mostly, say Brad and Kerry, people responded with what you’d expect, like: “What a blessing!” and: “There you go, instant family.”
Of course, the practicalities of having to care for three babies all at once are sobering. Brad had concerns about finances, and Kerry had her own burden to deal with: she had battled with postnatal depression after Amy
was born three years earlier, and she knew there was a chance it could happen again.
To make things even harder, the Cordens received troubling news at a scan just ve days before Christmas. After a test, their gynaecologist informed them that the male baby – Hunter – had a 70 percent chance of being born with the rare chromosomal condition Down syndrome.
He advised the couple to consider a “selective reduction”, in other words, having a medical procedure to abort one baby and reduce the pregnancy from three babies to two.
The remainder of the festive season was anything but for the devastated couple as they were left to make the
difficult decision. But things were about to get even worse.
In early January they returned to their doctor for a follow-up scan, and were told that one of the girls was also in distress and had too little fluid in the surrounding amniotic sac. “Demise” was a distinct possibly, the gynaecologist informed them.
At this point the couple sought a second opinion, and made an appointment to see Professor Ermos Nicolaou, who specialises in foetal scanning for complex and unusual pregnancies, at Mediclinic Morningside.
Much to Brad and Kerry’s relief he cleared Hunter of the possibility of being born with Down syndrome, and found that while one of the girls was indeed encased in a slightly less than desirable amount of amniotic fluid, it was still enough to deliver the nutrients and provide the protection needed for a healthy baby.
Kerry laughs when asked what it’s like to be pregnant with triplets. “Even though I was huge, I didn’t struggle as much to sleep as I did when I was expecting Amy,” she says, “But it really felt strange when I could feel two sets of hiccups coming from my belly.”
The triplets were born by caesarean section at 28 weeks, with Hunter weighing in at 1.3kg and Roxi and Mackenzie just tipping the 1kg mark. An early delivery date is not unusual in a multiple pregnancy, and the trio spent the first two months of their lives in the baby ward, gaining weight and building strength with Kerry expressing breastmilk for their feeds.
While the newborns were in hospital, Kerry was slowly regaining her pre-pregnancy shape. “It almost felt like
I had a rock inside me,” she says of her recovering stomach muscles.
Time for adjustments
While waiting for the triplets to be released into their care, the couple had time to prepare four-year-old Amy for the arrival of her siblings. Having to share mom and dad’s attention with three new babies who required constant care was hard on her.
“There was a point that I wasn’t allowed to leave the room at all,” says Kerry. “Once she had me all to herself, she didn’t want to let me go when one of the babies would start crying. It’s gotten easier over the last few months now that the babies are getting bigger, and Amy’s such a big help with her brother and sisters.”
Amy wasn’t the only one who needed to adapt to life with triplets. In the beginning, Kerry’s mom came up from Durban to help. “It’s all about manpower,” says Brad. “You need as many hands on deck as possible. It’s a full-time job.”
Thankfully, both Brad and Kerry work from home. Even the moms from Amy’s nursery school sent the family home-cooked meals for those difficult first weeks of sleep deprivation and round-the-clock care, as the Cordens found their feet with their new routine.
“It sounds like a cliché, but routine really is everything,” says Brad. “The best advice of all,” jumps in Kerry, “is to keep the babies in their routine straight from when they come home from hospital.”
Getting enough sleep became the biggest issue in the household, with babies waking up at different times, running mom and dad ragged. They eventually tried the Baby Love sleep training method. “It’s the best thing we ever did! We had everything in place with the triplets’ routine, except for proper daytime naps.”
“All the babies are in one room now (before that Roxi and Mackenzie shared a room and Hunter slept with Brad and Kerry). Twice a day they get put down for a nap, at 9am and 1:30pm, all at the same time, for an hour-and-a-half of sleep.
They are told that it’s time to ‘dudu’, they are given their dummies and they must stay in their cots for the full 90 minutes. In the beginning you go in after 15 minutes to check everything is okay and you have to assess their crying throughout. After just over a week, they started going to sleep right away.
“Now we actually get to have two breaks a day!” You can’t help but feel a little thrill on their behalf – those two breaks a day must be a luxury for these two busy parents.
Raising a tribe of small children is enough to make anyone want to pull their hair out, but the Cordens have taken it in their stride with such good cheer.