Three little people changed our lives forever
AS I watched our children - triplets, Matt, Riley and Tayla - plunge excitedly with their fellow school-leavers into the waves at Mooloolaba Beach, I couldn't help but give my husband, Paul, a look that could only mean "Where did those 18 years go?"
Our trio had celebrated their 18th birthday at their Year 12 formal only two days before and now we were on the verge of an exciting new chapter in all our lives.
Matt, Riley and Tayla had been conceived with the help of IVF technology and while we knew there was (back then) a chance of a multiple birth, we had only ever considered twins, not triplets.
I will never forget the look on my doctor's face as he announced there were three heartbeats (and no, one of them wasn't mine!), nor will I forget Paul's face as he rather hurriedly sat down to contemplate this unexpected (but exciting) news.
My pregnancy was a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs - emotionally, as well as physically (with severe morning sickness requiring repeated hospitalisations, there was plenty coming up that should have stayed down) and I tried to learn as much as I could about having triplets.
Paul and I met other local families who had twins and triplets and they shared with us practical information that only other parents of multiples could know.
I had a course of steroid injections to help the babies' lungs develop (in preparation for an early arrival) but I was silently willing them to stay put for as long as possible.
Triplets are always born early but my aim had been to do my best to get to 34 weeks so my obstetrician could deliver them here on the Sunshine Coast.
However, my little bundles of joy had other ideas, and at 29 ½ weeks, on Monday, November 15, 1999, Matt first, then Riley and finally Tayla arrived via an emergency C-section in the Royal Women's Hospital, Brisbane.
They were tiny (Matt 1145g, Riley 1510g and Tayla 1260g) but their lungs were healthy and Paul, at least, was able to see and hear them as they entered the world.
I had to wait a few more hours to finally meet my precious babies and Paul and I spent some time with each one, naming them and just losing ourselves in the amazing miracle of three little lives.
After that there was no stopping their proud Nana, who gushed over her three new grandchildren and, having been prepared as we all were, for the appearance of a premmie baby, emphatically announced that they didn't look like "skinned rabbits" at all.
The first few weeks were spent in the neonatal intensive care nursery (for four days) and the special care nurseries both in Brisbane and after that at the then Selangor Maternity Unit back home.
I stayed in with our babies as they developed their sucking reflex to enable them to breastfeed and use a bottle.
It was an amazing (and overwhelming) time, as we tried to adjust to not one, but three, new babies but the real fun was yet to come when we finally were able to take Riley, Matt and Tayla home.
Needless to say, the early months of parenthood "triplet-style" involved lots of trial and error, but Paul and I were blessed with amazing family support, plenty of friends who would drop in to help cuddle, feed and even change a baby (or three) and also the support of other multiple birth families.
Even though any trips outside the family home often involved the precision and planning of a military exercise, we took Matt, Riley and Tayla out as often as we could.
Our "limousine-style" triplet pram was hard to miss at the shops, the park or the doctors' waiting room, so it was a common occurrence to have curious stares and whispers, as well as people approaching to chat.
The most common question was "Are they triplets?", closely followed by "Are they all boys?" (they had very little hair for many months but Tayla was usually all in pink!).
People would be quite excited to see triplets - many saying that they'd never seen any before - and some would also add something like "Oh, you poor things!".
We would usually just smile because we knew that while life was certainly hectic, with endless feeds, nappies, broken sleep, and piles of washing, we were anything but "poor things".
Birthdays were a big deal in our household and with three sharing the one special day, Paul and I made sure from their very first celebration that Matt, Riley and Tayla would each always feel it was their day.
A cake for each one was always a priority and over the years I have made bears, princesses, trains, fairies, Dorothy the Dinosaur, Bob the Builder, snakes, echidnas, footy fields, tennis racquets, swimming pool cakes filled with jelly and skate parks.
Three rounds of Happy Birthday would follow the blowing out of an increasing number of candles each year and the special photos taken to celebrate each passing year will be treasured forever.
Having triplets gave us a wonderful opportunity to watch a very special bond developing.
Seeing Matt, Riley and Tayla play and interact, it was obvious they were close and the video camera captured many cute moments where a cuddle or a giggle seemed to be something just for the three of them to share.
Equally exciting to see as our triplets grew up, was the emergence of their individual little personalities developing before our eyes.
Matt was boisterous and full of mischief. Riley was quieter, but equally full of adventure. Tayla was most definitely into "girly" things but she would join her brothers in anything rough and dirty that was going on, giving them a run for their money.
As soon as our triplets entered this world, Paul and I were instantly outnumbered - if there were three crying babies, one had to wait for a cuddle (although Paul became quite adept at juggling a couple of grumpy infants), swimming lessons required Nana or Grandad to get into the water with one baby, feeding was a marathon effort, nappy changing, followed by toilet training, was three times the fun (?) and once they were crawling and walking, trips to the beach needed an extra set of eyes and hands to keep everyone safe from harm.
It was the funny little moments, however, that especially showed how much fun (and mayhem) there was to be had when you were one of three.
One such incident immediately springs to mind and involved an early morning visit to the kitchen by three curious toddlers (definitely "terrible twos").
At this age, neither Matt, Riley or Tayla could open our fridge by themselves but somehow, early one morning, three little people managed to work together to not only force the refrigerator door open but also to remove the flour, eggs, butter and milk to create a messy masterpiece on the floor that would have made Pro Hart proud.
I loved taking Matt, Riley and Tayla to playgroup and Multiple Birth Association get-togethers - although many would say to us that we already had our own playgroup happening at home - and socialising with other children was important for them (and a sanity-saver for me, with the chance to chat to other mums).
But, a few months after their third birthday, it was time for our trio to begin to take their first steps into the world without us.
Kindergarten was for two half days a week and despite initial tears (mine, not theirs), Matt, Riley and Tayla really enjoyed themselves.
It was heart-warming to watch them looking after each other (and throughout their entire schooling experience, Paul and I were pleased that our kids always had each other there for support) and also exciting to see them become more independent, learning new skills, and starting to make friends.
As our triplets moved from kindy to preschool, Prep to Year 1, it was exciting to see them grow and develop as individuals and also continue to keep this special bond I hope will always unite them.
Matt, Riley and Tayla spent the first few primary school years together in the same class, but in Year 5 and from then on, separate classes became the norm.
They sometimes shared friends, but more and more, each child began to form their own friendship groups.
They also developed different interests and while the triplet bond remained, Paul and I were proud (and remain so to this day) of the three unique little individuals we were raising.
They say that childhood goes by in a flash - and maybe it is three times as fast with triplets - but Matt, Riley and Tayla were seemingly tiny babies just yesterday.
Now, 18 years later, as I tried to find each one in the surf at Mooloolaba on their final day of school, I can only wonder again where the years have gone.
I look back over countless photos, hours of video footage (remembering school concerts trying to find each one to video them equally) and reminisce about the special memories and how three little ones came into our lives and changed us forever.