The year 2021 will be remembered as a whirlwind for Eric Portenga and his husband, Kevin O’Neill. Since getting married in 2016, they have thoroughly researched their options for having children. However, having three – all at once – wasn’t necessarily part of their plans. Eric and Kevin welcomed identical triplets on September 9, 2021. Their Sᴜʀʀᴏɢᴀᴛᴇ Maureen Farris of Akron, Ohio, gave birth to the girls at Cleveland Clinic Akron General. “Just before we had a video call with Maureen, to get there for our first ultrasound at six weeks pregnant, Eric joked, ‘Imagine it’s twins. ‘ Kevin recalls. “And I said, ‘No, because the chance of having twins is less than 5%. “And then, yes, identical twins.”
Six weeks later, during a follow-up ultrasound after a visit to a reproductive endocrinologist, they discovered that the family was going to be four and about to be five. Eric said: “I remember saying, ‘Are we really triplets? Do we have to buy a new car?” Yes, for both questions. And at 35 weeks pregnant and sisters Parker, Robin and Sylvie were born. After 18 days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the girls – and their worried father – made the long drive back to Ann Arbor and began their life together. Kevin and Eric met Maureen, a schoolteacher and mother of a 5-year-old son, Julian, through a mutual friend. While Maureen and her husband, Jeremiah Currier, have decided not to have more children, she “prefers to be pregnant” and is considering becoming a Sᴜʀʀᴏɢᴀᴛᴇ for another couple. “Children are my heart and passion,” said Maureen, who the triplets will come to know as Aunt Mo. “When I realized I could help another family, I decided surrogacy was the path I wanted to take.” When she and Jeremiah first met Kevin and Eric, they drove to Akron for their first meeting in the summer of 2020, “it was like a really nice first date, you just need to click.
Before the procedure begins, everyone agrees on a few ground rules: eggs will be harvested from a donor, fertilized by Kevin or Eric, and implanted in Maureen using in vitro fertilization (IVF). ). Although Maureen is not a biological mother and has no custody of the children, the couple insist she is part of their family and is present in the girls’ lives. Maureen got pregnant on the first try. Everything progressed normally until two heartbeats – and then three – were detected. This is a rare event, there were about 3,100 triplets in 2019. Of course, Maureen was sʜᴏᴄᴋed to have three children growing inside her. “I remember I just felt really excited about the adventure,” she recalls. “But physically, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Swollen and persistent swellings and aches. I have never rested in bed, but I feel most of the time as if the bed is the only place where I can be truly comfortable.”
Doctors hope she can hold out until 34 weeks, which is still early compared to a full-term pregnancy, but long enough that babies are less likely to have birth weight problems. At 35 weeks, the Cleveland Clinic Akron team, which started taking care of her during the 21st week of pregnancy, decided the right time for a cesarean section. Eric and Kevin, in the delivery room. Eric recalls, “Maureen was at the table, just talking to us. And she asked one of the doctors at one point, “Have you started yet?” Then it all happened so fast and all the girls came out.”
Having been fathers for three months now, Eric and Kevin have settled into daily work. Parker, the oldest, eats and sleeps on a reliable schedule. Kevin says Robin is “a fiery person” who is either calm or yelling. And Sylvie, the smallest, made cute squeaks while sleeping. Kevin joked, “We’re experts in diaper changing now.” “We’re trying to make sure we can tell them apart by behavior and personality,” says Eric. “That can become more difficult as they get older.” However, Kevin adds, each has been assigned a special color of her own. Parker is purple, Robin is turquoise, and Sylvie is yellow – for easy identification. As for Maureen, she’s glad her surrogacy has forever brightened the lives of Kevin, Eric and their girls. “I feel like I helped my best friends have kids,” she says. “I love the girls with all my heart and I’m so grateful they have dads.”