And then there were five: Firefighter husband and wife duo and a Brighton-area couple celebrate their first Father’s Days with triplets during COVID-19.
First-time dads, three newborns and a global pandemic.
That's how two families will remember Father's Day this year.
Firefighter husband and wife duo Jeff and Marissa Holbin, of Clio, and Matt and Margeaux Elsesser, of Brighton, both grew families from two to five after recently delivering triplets at Michigan Medicine Von Voigtlander Women's Hospital.
As people around the country adjust to a post quarantine world, the Holbins and Elsessers are adapting to their own new normal – which involves dozens of daily diaper changes, a repeat cycle of feedings and three times the joy of first smiles and baby snuggles.
And they've been navigating it all in the midst of COVID-19.
They share their stories.
Born during a pandemic
At their first ultrasound appointment in 2019, Matt and Margeaux Elsesser remember being nervous when their doctor said "I'm glad you're sitting down."
First there were two heartbeats.
As his wife sat in stunned silence, Matt responded "Well, go big or go home."
The couple laughs about it today but at the time, they were shell-shocked, having no history of multiples in the family or any fertility treatment that may have increased chances of triplets.
"The doctor said it was just spontaneous, which happens sometimes," Matt says. "Finding out you're having three babies … I mean, nothing really prepares you for hearing those words. Not something I ever expected to hear in my lifetime. You have all of the emotions. It's exciting. It's scary. It's intimidating. It's happy.
But now, "I really can't imagine it being any other way," he says.
And on St. Patrick's Day this year, they welcomed three baby girls by C-section at Michigan Medicine.
Each weighed about five pounds and was named after the letter reference on their ultrasound – well almost all of them.
Baby A became Andi and baby B was Blake. But the couple couldn't agree on a name for baby C so she was named Sloane (whose middle name Elizabeth gives her the initials "SEE.")
"I thought that was clever," Matt laughs.
The sisters spent about three weeks in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit and another week on a general pediatric floor of Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. But they arrived in the world just as COVID-19 cases were growing rapidly around the country and Michigan was entering a state shut down.
And it added one more fear to the list of expected concerns for parents of three premature newborns: potential exposure to the new global virus.
"The team in the NICU was amazing. Even in a time of chaos for them, they helped calm our anxiousness about the situation," Matt says. "We felt so confident. Every baby got her own room and full attention from their care teams. That's something I will always remember."
"There were so many things to worry about but seeing how well they were taken care of relieved some of the fear of the unknown. We knew they were safe, possibly the safest place for them to be at that moment."
"He was so reassuring," says Margeaux, who is a manager at the Michigan Medicine Kellogg Eye Center neuro-ophthalmology and oculoplastics clinic.
"You knew you were with the best team most equipped to handle anything that may happen."
After a couple of months at home, the couple still keeps family and friends on a visitor rotation schedule, staying away for 10 days at a time in case they show symptoms of the novel coronavirus and to lessen risk of exposure. There have also been "deck viewings" of the babies for people who want to stop by,
"You want to show off your kids and so many people want to see them," Margeaux says. "But everyone also wants to be safe. So there's that push and pull."
These days, the Elsessers also see life by numbers.
Twenty-five: diaper changes a day. Three or more: daily outfit changes. One: how many hours it takes to leave the house.
The most challenging moments involve all three girls crying at once while their "big brother," wiener dog "Smoky Link," is barking too.
"It's just kind of on repeat every few hours. By the time you're done feeding and emptying and cleaning bottles, it's time to start all over again," says Matt who works remotely for a Chicago-based fitness company.
"It's kind of like an assembly line," Margeaux agrees, adding "A lot of coffee is being consumed."
But they say they wouldn't have it any other way.
And as he celebrates his first Father's Day, Matt says he's thankful for his blue-eyed daughters who he's getting to know. Some signs of their personalities are already showing: Andi is most laid back. Blake has a fun spirit, making the most faces and flashing many toothless grins. Sloane is "small but mighty" and the most vocal when she's hungry or cranky.
"The difference between the three is really remarkable," he says. "They don't look alike or act alike. They really are three separate little humans who were just born at the same time.
"I'm a proud girl dad," he adds. "I'm excited to see who they become, how they interact with each other and watching them become their own people."
Two firefighters, three babies and a quarantine
As on-call firefighters, Clio couple Jeff and Marissa Holbin are usually responding to car accidents, downed power lines and structure fires.
Added to their list of duties this year: caring for triplets Max, Leo and Hailey.
After fertility treatment through a private practice, the couple knew they had a greater chance of having multiples, but had only prepared for the possibility of twins.
"Finding out we were having so many took a while to sink in. I think my heart might have stopped and I went into a period of shock," Marissa says. "There are still days when I think "how are there three of them?"
But today, she says "It's a dream come true."
New dad Jeff, who has been at the local fire department for over 13 years and is a mechanical contractor for a plumbing and pipe fitting company, says greeting his babies is the best part of his day.
"When I come home after a long day, whether it was a good or bad day, they always make me smile – no matter what," he says. "Just seeing their big smiles and giggles, it brightens my whole mood."
Because of the high risk pregnancy, the couple chose Michigan Medicine Von Voigtlander Women's Hospital for their care.
The triplets were born in late January but the family spent nearly another six weeks at the hospital, with Max and Hailey requiring 20 extra days of care, including time in the NICU.
Leo had surgery at three days old to treat a perforated bowel, which is a hole in the lower part of the gut that can lead to stool leaking into the abdomen. In total, Leo spent 44 days in the hospital, with 31 of them in the NICU.
"I'm really thankful to all the doctors and staff at Michigan. We were able to keep them in there as long as possible and I really believe that it's because of the good care they received that they are as healthy as they are," Marissa says.
"We have three happy and healthy babies who are thriving. It's still overwhelming to take care of three at times, but we also don't know any different."
The greatest challenge of having newborns in the pandemic era is the extra layer of cautiousness with visitors, the couple says.
"Usually when you have a baby, you have friends and family coming over to help and see them," Marissa says. "We've waited so long for this and want to share these moments with family and friends but obviously we've had to be careful."
But the firefighter husband and wife team have enjoyed watching their babies discover their hands and tongues, learning to roll over and use jumpers, smile, laugh and show true joy over bath time.
They also enjoy art projects, such as making baby paint footprints, people watching, walking trails and splashing their babies in kiddie pools.
And among Marissa's favorite new experiences: watching Jeff as a dad.
"I'll walk in on him snuggling one of them and it just melts your heart."
Jeff looks forward to "seeing their personalities come out" and someday bonding over shared activities when they get older – possibly hunting and scuba diving, which he enjoys.
"I'm just looking forward to making all of those special memories with them, just like I did with my father," he says.
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