Even as reductions have become normal, there are people who still try for triplets and quadruplets, and not all of them are fundamentalists. Karyn Geringer is a 34-year-old marketer for a hedge fund, and she lives with her husband, John, an engineer, on the East Side. They did IVF, came out with triplets on the third try, and never thought seriously about not having them all. “We always said we wanted three kids, and then there I was, pregnant with triplets,” says Karyn. “I was pretty psyched about it. You talk to your family, friends, they’re like, ‘What?! You’re crazy.’ I wasn’t focused on the risks. I wanted three, and I had them.” They arrived at 30 weeks in March, and after a series of ups and downs, the last of them made it home from the hospital last week.
Two years ago, Jean-Marie Kennedy, a 33-year-old schoolteacher from Windsor Terrace, decided to go to term with quadruplets. She, too, had done IVF, and her doctors all but insisted she reduce. Jean-Marie says she and her husband, Morris, did not disbelieve the doctor’s warnings about the risk of blindness, for instance. But she did some research and came to her own conclusions. “We read, like, 70, 80, 90 cases online, and the complications never happen,” she says. “I mean, scientifically, it’s real. I’m sure it does happen. But anecdotally, we couldn’t find it.”
On that slim reed of hope, they made their decision to keep them all, even after it became apparent, early on, that one, a girl, was lagging behind the others. At nineteen weeks, Jean-Marie stopped working and went on prescribed bed-rest. By 29 weeks, she weighed 60 pounds over her normal weight and was so stuffed she could barely eat. Her blood pressure suddenly soared, and the babies had to come out. The boys, Lukas and Nathaniel, were a decent size for 29-week preemie quads, weighing three pounds, eight ounces. One of the girls, Mikayla, was worse off at two pounds, seven ounces. The fourth child, Isabella, was dangerously little, one pound, four ounces.
All four were rushed into Methodist Hospital’s neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU), where they were placed in incubators. The boys spent six weeks there, Mikayla a week longer. Isabella never made it home. She stayed on for seven months at Methodist and then was transferred to the NICU at Columbia-Presbyterian, considered the city’s best. There, doctors delivered a grim prognosis to the Kennedys: Her lungs had been seriously weakened by repeated infections, and she would be gone in a matter of days. With Jean-Marie back home taking care of the other kids, Morris held tiny Isabella in his arms for most of her last night.
Jean-Marie couldn’t afford to go into the paralysis of mourning like most mothers who lost a young baby would. “There was a lot of work to be done,” she says. “My kids needed me. Everything kept going.”
The family never moved from their one-bedroom apartment, which is on the sixth floor of a building with a bad elevator. The living room is given over to a penned-in play area, with the three cribs lined up against one wall. “We used to have a couch, a bookshelf, normal stuff,” says Jean-Marie. “But they need the space more than we do.”
Fortunately, triplets tend to be well behaved. They have no choice. They understand early on that because the babies outnumber the parents, screaming in the crib won’t necessarily bring a response. So their sleeping schedule tends to stabilize quickly. A similar discipline takes hold for eating—if they don’t take whatever food is offered, their siblings surely will and they’ll go hungry. “We don’t have to mess around with ‘Open up for the flying airplane,’ ” says Jean-Marie. “It’s a total assembly line.”
To get by, the Kennedys rely on neighborly generosity. They receive a steady flow of hand-me-down clothes and toys from Park Slope moms, and a nun comes over once a week to help Morris when he’s responsible for the kids. A local Catholic school held a fund-raiser for them. Although the children seem like healthy, vigorous toddlers, they’re behind on their milestones, not unusual given their prematurity, and they qualify for as much therapy as they need through the state’s Early Intervention program. Even with all that, Morris has to work three jobs, teaching photography at a private school on the Upper West Side, substitute-teaching in the city’s public schools, and driving a cab on the weekends.
The Kennedys lead a complicated life that few would envy. Jean-Marie dreams of having a nanny in just long enough for her to read the Sunday Times in bed. If we try to put ourselves in their shoes, we can’t do it. But they exhibit no trace of self-pity or regret over surrendering their personal lives to their children. “I look at it this way,” Jean-Marie says. “In ten years, the kids will want us out of their way. And then maybe Morris and I will get back to doing some of the things we used to do.”