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By Jean Lotus
Three high chairs. Three car seats. Thousands of diapers. Twenty-seven baby bottles a day.
Forest Park mothers Georgia Tsaganos and Michelle Loftus have built a life around the care of their triplets. They max out their Costco memberships, haunt Mothers of Multiples resale events, and scour Facebook pages with names like "Triplet Connection" and "The Triplet Tree."
The children, all born in 2006, are now in first and second grades, but these mothers can credit one element that kept them sane through the baby years:
"You have to be on a schedule and you have to have a routine," said Tsaganos of her triplets Constantina, Foti and Petroula.
"People would say, 'Can't they just sleep in the car?' But breaking the schedule? I would rather have opened a vein."
Loftus agreed. "Sometimes going out wasn't worth it," she said of the babies' early years. "I wonder sometimes if I would have been so scheduled and routine-driven if I had just had one at a time."
When her three, Rylee, Jack and Logan, were infants, Loftus would strap one to her chest in a baby frontpack and place the other two in a double stroller. "The triple stroller wouldn't fit through doorways," she said. Everything took forever, especially five-point harnesses on modern car seats, she said.
"Those infant car seats go right over your arm," she said. "But you can't carry three at once."
The two mothers had different paths to multiple births. Tsaganos and her husband Vasili underwent invitro fertilization therapy but for Kevin and Michelle Loftus, the triple-decker baby news at the ultrasound appointment was a surprise.
"Complete shock. Shock and denial for a couple of days," was what the couple felt, Loftus remembered.
For the Tsanagos family, the road to parenthood had been beset by challenges, including two previous miscarriages. "We didn't allow ourselves to hope," said Georgia. "But at week four or five, they told me at the ultrasound, 'as of now, you have triplets.'"
"If I hadn't had my feet in stirrups, I would have fallen off the table," she said. She texted her husband and he later told her, "I thought my legs would give out," she said.
Then came the drama of the children's births. Both women delivered at 32 weeks, a term birth for a singleton is usually 40 weeks.
"They were so small," said Tsaganos. While two children weighed over 4 lbs., baby Petroula weighed only 2 lbs. 8 oz. and had to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit for six weeks.
"Those NICU moments stay with you forever," said Tsaganos.
Loftus didn't get to meet her new arrivals, Rylee, 3 lbs. 3 oz.; Jack, 3 lbs. 6 oz.; and Logan, 3 lbs. 9 oz. until she was allowed to leave the delivery room and enter the NICU.
"I had no idea what to do," she said. "I first saw them in the NICU with all these tubes coming out of them. Each of the babies had a team of doctors around them." She said she felt a moment of panic until she said she saw her husband, Kevin. "He was standing there, taking turns holding their hands."
For the two women, who both came from corporate jobs, the transition to motherhood-times-three was a shocker. In pharmaceutical sales, Tsaganos was used to international travel and maintaining a professional wardrobe. The couple had married in their mid-30s.
"I had my twenties. I got to travel and do exciting things. I decided to stay home after they were born," Tsaganos said, "after we had worked so hard and been through so much to have these children. Besides, I'm too much of a control freak to let someone else raise them."
Michelle Loftus went back to work when the babies were three months old. "I am still very grateful for an amazing nanny and support network of family that helped make that possible," she said.
Every day was a challenge when the children were babies, the two women agreed. "You'd look up and it would be 9 p.m.," said Loftus. She remembered putting the three to bed and watching with her husband on a baby spy-camera. "They weren't all necessarily asleep, but they were quiet in there."
"You don't think about it in the moment," said Tsaganos. "You just put on your big-girl pants and deal with it."
The costs for three children as infants were expensive. "Three pack-and-plays, three bouncy chairs, three car seats," Tsaganos listed. Loftus added, "Special preemie formula would cost about $28 a can at Costco."
"I don't think any parent is truly financially ready to have a child," Loftus said. She works in Evanston as marketing director for a software company.
Today, she pointed out that the costs keep rising. The families both pay tuition for the children at Ascension school in Oak Park.
"There are the milestones — three bikes!" Loftus said. "You can't just give one a bike."
Today at age 6 and 7 the children are finally somewhat independent, the mothers agreed.
"They can get in the car and fasten their own seatbelts," Tsaganos said lifting her hands to heaven. "No more car seats!"
The two mothers try to choose co-ed sports, such as FPYSA soccer, tae kwon do, and swimming. "I have to secure three spots in every sports activity," said Tsaganos.
Both mothers enjoy the distinct personalities of their children.
"Each one is so different and how I deal with them each is different," Tsaganos said. "I feel like I'm bartering with them for my time."
It's important, as with every parent, not to play favorites, Loftus said.
"There's a certain amount of mom-guilt," said Loftus. "When they get home from school, who gets to tell me about the day first?"
This article has been updated to correct reported birthweights of the children.