In these days of in vitro fertilization, there seem to be more and more multiple births. When I walk through the park, I see not just lots of double strollers, but triple ones as well.
So this is a story about what it's like to spend 24 hours a day with triplets born to loving parents, who just happen to be gay.
Raising a family is a difficult job for many loving couples. But it's even more difficult when it's a couple with triplets, now a little over a year old.
Donor and Surrogate Mothers, In Vitro Fertilization
In the summer of 1999, Jon Langbert, 36, and his partner, James Garcia, 27, decided they wanted to become fathers.
"I've always wanted to have kids, and we started hearing about other families like the one we would have," said Langbert. "It was something we both wanted."
So they hired a company to do two things: find a surrogate mother who would carry the baby, and find a donor mother who would provide an egg.
"I made a list of people that were attractive and that were smart," said Garcia. "Health was a big issue," he added.
While they don't know who the donor mother is, they do know that the surrogate mother is a woman named Patricia.
Last summer, sperm from Langbert and Garcia was mixed in vitro and used to fertilize the donor eggs. Then Patricia began carrying four fertilized eggs — more than was needed, but often not all of the eggs will take.
In Patricia's case, three of the eggs were fertilized. Langbert and Garcia were about to become fathers of triplets.
Sometimes with multiple births, a decision is made to reduce the number of fetuses for the health of the mother and the children.
"We had long conversations with Patricia and her family," said Garcia, "and came to the conclusion that we would go ahead and go through with all three."
Two Girls and A Boy, Eight Weeks Premature
On Christmas Day in 2001, the fraternal triplets, two girls and a boy, were born eight weeks premature.
"They were attached to machinery, and it was pretty difficult," recalled Garcia. "They were struggling and to see them struggle like that is just pretty hard."
Adding to the difficulty of watching their children — each weighing just over 3 pounds — clinging to life in incubators for weeks, Langbert said, was the way the gay fathers were treated.
"When they moved the kids into the neonatal care unit, they moved all three of ours together into the back corner, so that people wouldn't be walking by and seeing us holding the kids and sitting with the kids," he said.
After four weeks in the hospital, the triplets were finally healthy, and the two proud dads brought their babies home to New York City.
They named the girls Tosca, after the opera, and Chaucer, after the medieval poet. The little boy was named Carter, because it sounded distinguished.
A Typical Day
They began to set up a daily routine to raise their kids.
A typical day begins somewhere between 4:30 a.m. and 6 a.m., when one of the baby monitors goes off, signaling that one of the kids is up.
As soon as the first baby stirs, they try to take her out into the living room before she cries too loudly and wakes up her siblings.
Then, said Langbert, "[I] whip up her bottle, feed her breakfast, change her, and hopefully get her to go back to sleep before one of the other kids wakes up."
They go through the same routine all over again when the second baby wakes up. And by 7 a.m., as the sun comes up, both dads are awake, busy taking care of all three kids.
"What's the best time of the day?" I asked Langbert.
"In the morning when they wake up and you can see that first smile on their face, when you pick 'em up out of the crib and they're happy to see you," he said.
At 9 a.m., he takes the family's two dogs and heads to work as an entrepreneur. Garcia, an artist, is a stay-at-home dad who spends all his time raising the triplets, with a little help from an aunt.
He always dresses the triplets in the same colors: Tosca in yellow, Chaucer in pink, and Carter in either green or blue. This makes it easier to tell the babies apart.
Each day, he goes through two-dozen diapers, washes five loads of laundry, runs six loads of dishes, cleans the apartment, and even finds time to be a handyman.
Just getting the triplets ready to go out for a walk takes almost half an hour.
Wherever they go, Garcia is asked about the triplets. And then, inevitably, he's asked where their mother is.
"I'm the daddy and the mama," Garcia usually answers.
The two dads don't know which one is the biological father — and have no plans to test the triplets' DNA.
Garcia usually feeds the kids. "I shuttle the food back and forth," said Langbert, "and make the oatmeal and prepare the bottles."
When dinner is over, it's bath time.
"We have an assembly line set up," said Langbert. "James goes and gets the tub ready and lays out all their clothing and the supplies you need. James bathes one, dries them, takes them out to me. And if things stay in balance, I can finish feeding one kid just as the next one comes out of the bath."
By 9 p.m., the day is finally winding down. The lights are turned off. The television is turned on. And the two men reflect on their lives as they get the triplets ready for bed.
A Different — And Loving — Family
"What will you say to your children when they get old enough to ask questions?" I asked.
"There are a lot of different types of families out there, and yours has two very loving fathers," answered Langbert.
Still, they know their family looks different than most.
"When you dress them all up, and you're taking a photo, that's when it hits you, that your family looks very different than many other photos that you see out there," Langbert said.
"We believe that they're the most precious babies in the entire world, and if anybody begs to differ, that's what we think," said Garcia.
"And I have the pictures to prove it!" added his partner.
One of the babies is walking, another is crawling, and the third is sitting up. And all three are learning to say "Dada."