Claudia Valencia is in the trenches of that dazed period all new mothers face. The round-the-clock nursing. The overwhelming feelings of love for a helpless, constantly pooping creature. The emotional spikes and drops thanks to postpartum hormones.
Now, multiply that by three.
Only a sliver of the world’s population can brag about having three babies in three minutes, especially without the aid of fertility treatments. But on March 11, Valencia, 30, gave birth to naturally-conceived triplets at Kaiser Permanente Santa Clara Medical Center, at 11 a.m., 11:01 a.m. and 11:02 a.m. – a feat that doctors say only occurs in every 8,000 births.
Three weeks later, Valencia sat on her living room couch on El Cerrito Way, feeding a baby in her arms while rocking another with her feet. Claudia’s mother, Maria Corona, was changing a third screaming baby in another room.
“I’m surviving,” she said, her eyes droopy with exhaustion.
Valeria, the smallest of the three and the only girl, vigorously sucked from a bottle in her mother’s arms. Alejandro, the first born and calmest of the three, contentedly napped as his mother rocked him in a bouncer seat with her foot. Cristian, the colicky second-born son, could be heard wailing from the other side of Valencia’s home.
All three have mops of jet black hair crowning their heads. Their soft skin is ruddy and brown, and their eyes, though not open very wide yet, are a deep brown hue.
“By the time one is finished feeding, the next one is hungry,” Valencia said. “By the time one is done feeding he or she needs to be changed.”
And the cycle continues: Valencia is basically juggling babies 24 hours a day. In the midst of all this, she also a wife and mom to a boisterous, fun-loving 2-year-old boy named Reynaldo.
But once in a great while – a very great while – Valencia has a moment to breathe. On a recent spring afternoon when the triplets were two weeks old, all three babies slept peacefully, side by side, in one crib. Two snuggled under blue blankets and one under pink. Valencia, a school counselor at South Valley Middle School and lifelong Gilroyan, stood over the docile trio and patted their heads as they slept.
“I’m just so thankful they are healthy babies and that everything went well,” she said softly, a serene smile on her face and unwashed hair pulled tightly back in a ponytail.
All three infants now weigh more than six pounds, a hefty weight for triplets at that age. On average, triplets can weigh as little as three to four pounds when they’re born. The Valencia babies hovered on the high end of four and the low end of five pounds at birth.
Besides the funny, if not aggravating and frequent encounters with strangers saying that she looked “about ready to pop” only into her first trimester, Valencia’s pregnancy was about as seamless and problem-free as can be.
One morning in her 34th week (which is considered full term for multiple births), Valencia’s water broke and the babies entered the world a few hours later with few complications. Less than a week later, all three were brought to their home in west Gilroy where they have been thriving ever since.
Valencia never once thought she’d be a mother to triplets.
“We were shocked,” she says, of the second and third heartbeat on that early ultrasound that heralded the litter of babies she was to have. “My mom used to joke that I would have twins, because twins run in my family. But triplets?”
When she first heard about the two extra babies growing inside her uterus, Valencia admits she was scared.
“I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’” she said.
Her husband Reynaldo Valencia, 34, also said that early ultrasound caught him off guard.
“I was so nervous, shocked, but happy,” he said in Spanish with Claudia translating for him.
And in the case of babies, triple the challenge means triple the blessing.
“It’s amazing,” Claudia whispered, leaning over the crib where her babies slept.
Valencia recruited the help of her immediate and extended family to pull her through. Valencia’s Hispanic culture, she notes, is that they embrace the axiom “it takes a village” to raise a child, she said.
Valencia’s “village” includes her husband, who works as a machine operator in Gilroy to provide for the family and does household chores on his days off, along with her mother and aunt, who have enlisted themselves full-time to the cause of helping Valencia care for the children.
Valencia’s aunt, Rafaela Corona, puttered in the kitchen as Valencia took a well-needed break while the babies slept.
“Tres bebés es igual a tres ángeles,” Corona said, which means “three babies equals three angels” in English. “I’m here to help with showing her why they cry and what they need.”
All the help can lead to disagreements on how the babies should be cared for, and a worn-out Valencia often just submits to the strong opinions of her mother and aunt.
On a recent sunny California spring day, the babies were bundled up in several blankets each with knit caps covering their tiny heads.
“I get in trouble from my mom and aunt when I try to take any layers off them,” Valencia laughed. “In our culture, babies have to be really bundled up.”
In the five weeks since the birth, the babies have mostly stayed indoors. Packing them up for an outing is an elaborate ordeal: Strapping three fed, washed, changed and tear-free newborns in three car seats requires an alignment of the stars, so it doesn’t happen very often.
Valencia herself only ventures out for mandatory doctor’s appointments, and if she does have a moment away from the babies, she likes to spend it with her older son – who went from being an only child to an older brother with three younger siblings in a matter of minutes.
“The other day he was so excited for some attention, he brought me like four books to read with him,” she said.
She plans on returning to her job in May.
Valencia is excited to see Alejandro, Valencia and Cristian grow up together with the special closeness. But for now, Valencia is just trying to muddle through the first year.
“This is definitely an adventure,” she said, kissing her baby girl on the cheek. “I’m so thankful for it.”