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Video: Couple have identical triplets

TODAY contributor
updated 3/5/2008 8:41:19 AM ET 2008-03-05T13:41:19

When Tom and Alison Penn had trouble conceiving a child, they decided against fertility drugs and chose in vitro fertilization because they wanted to narrow their odds of having multiple births by implanting a single embryo.

So, as they proudly showed off their identical triplet sons on Wednesday, it was not without an appreciation for nature’s sense of irony.

“With in vitro, you can really control — or so we thought — how many babies came out by putting so many embryos in,” the proud mother told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira from her home in Patchogue, N.Y. “We put one embryo in expecting one baby, but there were other plans.”

The three boys — Logan, Eli and Collin — were lined up in infant seats, sleeping soundly and oblivious to the camera lights shining on them. Before they were born by Caesarean section after 35 weeks gestation, doctors had told the couple that the infants would probably have to stay in North Shore University Hospital on Long Island for several weeks.

“They were born so healthy that they came home with us,” reported Alison. “We were hoping for a little more time to prepare, but here they are. It’s been wonderful.”

“They’re doing a lot better than we are, actually,” laughed her husband, Tom. “They’re getting more food, more sleep. They’re just doing wonderful. It’s just a treat so far.”

Tom Penn, 46, and Alison, 31, were married four years ago and immediately began trying to start a family. As time went by without success, Alison, who had wanted several children, adjusted her goals.

By the time they resorted to seeking medical help in getting pregnant, she had decided that she’d be happy with just one.

Fertility treatments can result in multiple embryos — and babies. So the couple decided to go with in vitro fertilization. And, instead of having several embryos implanted in her womb, she decided to have just one.

But nature had other plans, and the single embryo that was implanted in her uterus split once to produce twins, and one of the two split again to produce identical triplets.

Extreme rarity
The parents-to-be learned about what was in store for them in Alison’s eighth week of pregnancy, when they went in to hear their baby’s heartbeat for the first time.

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According to Tom, who is a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the technician performing the test said, “ ‘There’s the heartbeat. And there’s the second heartbeat. And there’s the third heartbeat.’ In between each one, I said, ‘That’s not possible.’ ”

Actually, it is possible, although extraordinarily unlikely. Doctors aren’t sure what the exact odds of having identical triplets are, but they have been placed as high as 200 million to one.

“I wish our luck in the lottery was that good,” quipped Tom Penn.

The boys range in weight between 4 pounds and 4 pounds, 12 ounces.

All are healthy, although Logan may have one nonfunctioning kidney, which doctors are not concerned about.

Help in caring for three infants is already in place, Alison reported.

“My mother has moved in with us. She’s been a wonderful help,” she said. “My father and brother and family and friends are going to be coming on the weekends and other times.”

“I’m expecting my mother at any time,” Tom added. “There’s a lot of support we have in our family, which is just fantastic. I love Alison’s family. They’re wonderful. They’re just a couple hours away. We’re really blessed.”

To tell the infants apart at the hospital, nurses put a dab of nail polish on a different fingernail of each boy’s hand. The Penns are keeping that system for the time being.

“Logan has the thumb, Eli has the pointer and unfortunately Collin gets the middle finger,” Alison said, laughing. “I hope that doesn’t have anything to do with his personality.”

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