They went through a whopping 21,500 nappies in two years, 18 bottles and umpteen amounts of clothes changes every day - it’s no surprise life was turned upside down for one Greencastle family who wanted another child but ended up with three.
When mum Bridgeen Coyle discovered she was pregnant she was overjoyed her then only child Emma (now aged 7) would become a big sister, little did she know at the time she’d be a big sister to triplets.
It wasn’t until 35-year-old Bridgeen was 20 weeks pregnant doctors broke the news that not just one baby was showing up on her scan, nor the two she’d suspected, but three.
Shocked at what the doctor had told her Bridgeen admitted she was left speechless for about an hour as millions of mixed emotions raced through her mind.
While she was deeply excited at the thought of having triplets she was petrified it would mean the life she knew would be over and even worse one of her then unborn babies wouldn’t survive, as doctors warned her to be ‘prepared’.
As Bridgeen explains doctors told her the triplets were all boys - in bounces blonde-haired bubbly three-year-old Ava who Bridgeen informs me was her ‘wee surprise’.
It wasn’t until a week before she gave birth doctors told her she may actually be having two boys and a girl.
As Ava shows off her sparkly pink shoes Bridgeen remarks she’s the boss of the boys, her triplet brothers Jamie and Patrick.
The trio were born eight weeks prematurely on May 29, 2007, in Letterkenny General Hospital, weighing just over 9lb between then. Ava was the first born weighing 3lb 15oz, Patrick was 3lb and Jamie was 3.11oz.
But despite their tiny weights and six week stay in hospital all three are a picture of health and Bridgeen and husband Tony, from Culmore in Derry, say they’re extremely blessed.
Bridgeen said: “When they were first born it was just heartbreaking because we had to leave them in the hospital. When I was pregnant they said there was a chance they might not survive but I had the healthiest pregnancy.
“When I was first told the news I must admit I was just so frightened, you have no idea how your life is going to turn out. I felt sad for Emma because I kept thinking I am going to wreck her childhood.
“I think you just create more problems for yourself but most of these are just born out of worry.
“I remember being terrified about how I was going to look after three babies, worried about what I’d do if they didn’t sleep, how long they’d be in hospital for. I was even worrying about their first communion, six years down the line! It was just mental,”
But Bridgeen explains she had just cause for worry, because one minute she was a mum of one and the next a mum to four.
She thought she was prepared for this pregnancy already having one cot etc, but all of a sudden needed two more of everything. The couple even had to change their car because a normal sized car was no longer big enough to home their new family.
And Bridgeen explains they weren’t the only things they needed to double up on, to name a few the couple also required two sterilisers and two kettles because one of each was no longer good enough.
More than anything they also needed an extra pair of hands and Bridgeen, a former volunteer support manager in Derry, said they relied heavily on friends and family for support.
Bridgeen said: “We were very lucky because we had a lot of help.
“We were spending a fortune, I worked out they had gone through 21,500 nappies.
“Even going for their first shoes, it was like buying three pairs at once and as soon as one of them grew out of the 0-3 month clothes they all did.
“We also had to buy a triple buggy, but we could only use that until they were 6-8 months because it was just too big to push around.
“I remember when I first got pregnant I remember thinking ‘it’s great I don’t have to buy anything because I’ve all Emma’s stuff’ but it just didn’t happen like that.
“I would lie awake trying to work out how much it would all cost and to be honest we just had nothing organised. “The six weeks they were in hospital we just had so much to do, we went from having a small car for one child to having to buy a seven seater.”
And Bridgeen said after working in Derry for seven years she had no choice but to become a stay at home mum because going to work was no longer feasible.
Unlike other newborns Bridgeen said she didn’t encourage friends and family to nurse the threesome because it was physically not possible for the duo to keep it up once they’d left.
Even though Jamie had ‘the dreaded colic’ Bridgeen said there simply wasn’t enough hours in the day to nurse him constantly and despite his constant crying from 4pm to 9pm everyday she had no choice but to carry have him under her arm – in an attempt to soothe him - as she got on with the daily chores.
She said: “I used to wake up some mornings and my first thought used to be ‘it’s only 12 hours until bed time’, that was just the way your mind is when you’re tired.”
And while being a mum to four, all under the age of four, may prove difficult for any mum, Bridgeen had another battle to fight.
She suffers from fibromyalgia (a medical disorder characterized by chronic widespread muscle and tissue pain, along with debilitating fatigue, sleep disturbance and joint stiffness) which meant she had to come off her medication when the triplets were very small in fear it would make her drowsy.
But despite all this Bridgeen admits she still finds herself awestruck when she looks at all four of her children and feels like she has to pinch herself because they’re all hers and she feels so lucky,
She said the trio are best of friends and while Patrick’s a social butterfly at playschool Ava and Jamie are as thick as thieves.
But Bridgeen explained they’ve always had an inseparable bond even when they were very small. She said their speech hadn’t developed until quite late on, and before this they used to communicate with each other using a sign language they appeared to create themselves, leaving Bridgeen, Tony and a speech therapist dumbfounded – and at times extremely frustrated.
When one started speaking the others followed suit and now Bridgeen quipped sometimes they’d chat all day long and even compete with each other asking her the same questions over and over again.
When they started walking Bridgeen said she just couldn’t keep up with them. She said: “They were terrible at that stage.
“You could never leave them unoccupied, even for a split second, because you couldn’t trust them. They dismantled my computer one day.
“In one way they weren’t as demanding as a single child because they had each other to play with.
“But when they started fighting over toys I felt like all of a sudden I went from being a mum to a referee.”
Now that the triplets are reaching their fourth birthday Bridgeen said they have an awareness that they’re unique.
She said Ava used to hate the word ‘triplets’ and when Bridgeen was stopped by somebody when she was out walking with them or shopping Ava would pipe up ‘My name is Ava not triplet’. But now, she likes the attention being a multiple attracts and uses it to her advantage.
Bridgeen said: “Now she says ‘we’re triplets and we’re meant to be together’. She’s very witty at times.
“The last two years have just gone so fast, even though they’ve been the hardest because that’s when they had the tantrums it just seems to have gone by quickly. I can hardly remember what it was like when they were babies now.”
Bridgeen said she has to maintain a rigid routine for her children to ensure she provides enough time for activities with them, doing her housework and dividing her time equally with each child.
She explained from 7am it’s all go when the children get up for breakfast and they all take Emma to school. She said most days she’ll pop in to her mums after the school run before returning home, giving the triplets lunch and getting them to do some activities before she picks up Emma.
Then, she said she works hard to ensure all her house work chores are done by the time bed time comes at 7pm, leaving her just the floors to mop when the children are sound asleep. Bridgeen said the couple cherish their ‘peace and quiet’ after working hard all day looking after the youngsters and even moreso when Tony, who works in the merchant navy, is back home after being away for four week-long stints at sea.
Bridgeen is now setting up Donegal’s first-ever multiples support groups to enable other mums of twins or triplets (or even more multiples) to unite and share their experiences and offer each other support.
She said: “It can be quite daunting for many multiple mums to go to mother and toddler meetings because it can be really difficult to control three children all of the same age, there’s that many more wains to watch.
“This is a chance for other mums and their children to meet up and swap ideas, have a cup of coffee.”
And meeting another multiple mum has proved a success for Bridgeen who has befriended another triplet mum online, which she says has been a godsend at times offering support.
She added: “I think the biggest thing for me was the idea was how to deal with tantrums and the constant bickering that goes on with kids the same age. Also for having an older one I think I would have liked to have support from other multiple mums on how they dealt with that. I was always worried I was either over fussing Emma or neglecting her.”
The first meeting is being held on Saturday May 7 at 2pm until 4pm in Spraoi agus sport, unit 7, Supervalu Shopping centre, Carndonagh. It costs 3 euro per family and includes tea, juice and snacks.