:Isabella, Sophia and Hannah are bringing lots of Christmas fun to parents Tiffini and Bobby Fleck this year. - Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
CONYERS -- The Fleck family of Conyers will have triple the joy this Christmas. Bobby and Tiffini Fleck became parents for the first time in June to three blue-eyed beauties: Hannah, Isabella and Sophia.
Tiffini had prayed for twins for years, and the couple was overjoyed when they were first told that's what they were having. But later, when a specialist their regular doctor sent them to confirmed there were three babies, they were in shock.
"When we found out it was triplets, we weren't exactly excited about that part," she said. "We were joyful we were going to have an instant family," but, caring for triplets at first seemed overwhelming. The Flecks said it took about a week to process the information.
Tiffini had a traumatic pregnancy: Sophia and Isabella are identical twins, while Hannah is fraternal. They learned about halfway through the pregnancy that Sophia and Isabella had Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome, which occurs when one twin is taking away too much of the shared blood supply from the other twin. It's an extremely dangerous and often fatal condition.
Some doctors aren't well educated about the syndrome, and others recommend termination of the pregnancy or selective abortion. But the Flecks said they were fortunate to have a doctor who was looking for signs from the beginning and referred them to a specialist in Cincinnati. Within a week after the diagnosis they were on a plane and once at the hospital, Tiffini underwent a surgery where blood vessels and arteries connecting the twins' blood supply were burned and severed.
Tiffini could not be put under general anesthesia due to the danger to the babies, so she was awake for the procedure. "It felt like popcorn inside me," she said of when the connections were severed. Without the surgery, there was a risk that all three babies could have died.
Tiffini was told to stay out of work and placed on bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy, from February until the babies were born on June 1. The day she flew home from Cincinnati, her water broke prematurely, a repercussion of the surgery, and she spent a week at Newton Medical Center.
Her condition was so precarious, she had to remain almost totally horizontal, even lying in the backseat of the car to go to doctors appointments.
The goal was to get to week 28; she made it to 34.5 weeks. Labor was induced due to Tiffini's high blood pressure.
The Caesarian birth went well. "They all cried when they came out," Tiffini said. Sophia was the smallest, at 3 pounds 10 ounces; the other two topped 4 pounds.
The babies stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit at Southern Regional Medical Center for 10 days for observation and were all sent home at the same time, which medical staff told the Flecks is a rarity.
Now six and a half months old, the girls are healthy and are starting to scoot around on the floor, meaning it's just a matter of time before crawling begins. Mobility will be a challenge, the Flecks noted, and they plan to use plenty of gates to keep the babies as confined as possible.
The schedule they were placed on in NICU has been a life saver for the Flecks, who have maintained it since coming home, making sure they feed and nap at the same time.
Tiffini's 17-year-old sister, Lonna, moved in with the couple for the summer, both grandmothers rotated shifts and ladies from Prospect United Methodist Church in Newton, where Bobby is a youth pastor, have also assisted. The ladies are known as the babies' "adopted grandmothers."
"The first three months were hard. You might get three hours of sleep but only if you held all three of them on your belly on the couch," Tiffini said.
The babies were eating every three hours at first, and care required that at least three people be on hand. Caretakers would rotate sleeping shifts.
Tiffini has a two-year contract with Teach for America, a branch of Americorps, and due to her commitment, she had to go back to work by August. Bobby, who hopes to become a pastor and was in school at Emory University to obtain a master's degree, is holding off on furthering his education to stay at home and look after the babies.
He's got them on a tight schedule, sleeping 11 hours at night and napping for 30 to 45 minutes during the day.
Still, it's tiring.
"We love Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts," Tiffini said. In fact, they're such regular customers, Dunkin' Donuts sometimes lets them have the senior citizen discount.
The couple can easily do one load of laundry a day of just baby clothes, bibs and burp cloths. They went through 24 diapers a day at first, but that's been reduced now that the triplets can wear 12-hour diapers that last through the night. The couple also has to cram three car seats into their Hondas, and they hope to get a minivan soon.
Though money is tight, they say they're grateful for the amazing help from family and friends, noting that they only recently had to start purchasing diapers, since they got so many during their two baby showers.
The couple is planning a quiet Christmas at home, notifying family and friends to come to them, as it's too much of a hassle to take out the babies. They got the girls one gift each.
"We decided we don't want to have three of everything," Tiffini said. "For the future, we do want to teach sharing as early as possible. If they want a car at 16, it'll be one."
They also only dress the girls alike on special occasions.
As for Tiffini and Bobby, they said their Christmas wish has already been fulfilled.
"To me this Christmas, these are the best Christmas presents we can ask for, these three," Bobby said.
Editor's Note: Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome is a rare condition affecting identical twins when they are in the womb. The syndrome is not well-known, but kills more babies than SIDS. The Flecks' encourage anyone who wants to learn more about this syndrome to visit www.tttsfoundation.org.