The pregnancy was the first surprise for an Omaha couple with no plans to expand their family.
Hearing three heartbeats during an early ultrasound was an even greater shock for Amber Morgan and Dwaine Wright.
Then a week later, the doctor confirmed something that even he couldn’t believe at first: These triplets were identical.
Of nearly 4 million births in the United States in 2013, fewer than 4,500 were triplets, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nebraska saw 13 sets of triplets that year and has recorded 11 sets so far in 2015.
Rarer still is the likelihood of the Omaha couple’s spontaneous identical triplets — triplets conceived without fertility treatments.
Estimates by doctors range from 1 in 60,000 to 1 in 200 million. Dr. Bob Bonebrake, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Methodist Women’s Hospital, said 1 in 1 million is a more reasonable number.
Given the rarity, Bonebrake consulted with his colleagues to be sure the couple’s triplets were identical. That occurs when multiples share a single placenta, as his ultrasound examination showed was the case with Morgan’s pregnancy.
“The consensus was that’s what’s going on, but the consensus also was that nobody had ever seen it (before),” he said.
The Wright trio had yet another distinguishing characteristic: Most triplets develop within individual inner sacs in the womb, but in this case, two of the three babies shared a single sac.
A shared sac increases the risk of cord entanglement as the babies swim around each other, which could cut off blood and oxygen to one or both, Bonebrake said.
Should that happen, it would be in their best interest to be delivered early. But you can’t leave one behind, said Bonebrake, and premature birth would put the third baby, developing normally in its own sac, at risk.
He called the complexity of the situation “uncharted territory.”
“Every week she came in, there was a little part of me that held my breath until I scanned her and was able to see that we (still) had three heartbeats,” Bonebrake said.
Though the pregnancy was progressing well, Morgan was admitted to the Omaha hospital’s high-risk unit at 26 weeks in case doctors needed to intervene.
Three weeks later, on Aug. 26, the Methodist team detected two slowing heart rates. Morgan gave birth via cesarean section to Sharlet, Sydnea and Savana about 20 minutes later. Each weighed between 2 and 3 pounds.
Dad Dwaine Wright said he cried when they were delivered. Morgan said they looked like little dolls.
The triplets developed in the neonatal intensive care unit as well as premature infants are expected to. Seven weeks after their birth, mom held all three at once for the first time — they were still small enough to rest across her chest.
The girls left the hospital together last month with Mom, Dad and their 4-year-old brother, Skylor.
“I cried for so long in the room. We made it,” Morgan said. “After 68 days, we were taking them home.”
How do Mom and Dad tell them apart now that they’re home?
Morgan said Sydnea still has a small scar from an IV, and Savana is a little bigger than her sisters. But to be sure on nights with little sleep, the parents often mark their bare feet with “A,” “B” or “C.”
“We’re excited to watch them grow up ... and confuse people,” Morgan said, laughing.
The first night home was the moment Dad said it felt real. Now he’s the self-proclaimed fastest diaper-changer this side of the Mississippi.
They have stocked plenty of diapers. Plus three car seats, a new van, piles of pink headbands, onesies and tiny socks. It’s a balancing act, the parents said.
“With two, you have two arms. ... Three is a whole new ballgame,” Morgan said as the triplets slept in three bassinets lined up in front of the fireplace.