16-year-old Mount Pleasant triplets born on leap day 2004 celebrate fourth birthday
By Jerrel Floyd firstname.lastname@example.org Feb 29, 2020
Andrew (from left), Harris and Elizabeth work together on a biology experiment at their Mount Pleasant home Wednesday, February 16, 2020. The triplets were born Sunday, February 29, 2004, at the Medical University of South Carolina. Saturday will mark the fourth time the triplets have been able to celebrate their actual birthday. Brad Nettles/Staff
Harris (left), Elizabeth(middle), and Andrew (right) Rowe were born on leap day 2004. Their mother, Kelly Rowe, had the triplets without a cesarean section or any fertility treatments. Provided
The chances of having a child on leap day is incredibly small — 1 out of 1,461 to be exact.
The chances of having triplets is 1 out of 8,100.
Giving birth to triplets at full term without a cesarean section or any fertility treatments on that same day is hard to fathom — a 1 in 11,834,100 or a .000000084501568 percent chance.
“It’s such a neat blessing,” said Mount Pleasant mom Kelly Rowe. “It changed our whole lives, but it changed it for good.”
Although Harris, Elizabeth and Andrew Rowe are turning 16, Saturday is the fourth time the Mount Pleasant fraternal triplets will get the opportunity to celebrate their leap day birthday.
While any other year the family tries to do a small dinner for the triplets, when leap year rolls around they try to do something special. And over the years, the siblings have become used to people making a big deal about them being leap day babies or just triplets in general.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 3,400 triplet births for 2018. That’s out of over 3.7 million births that year.
So even outside of being leap day babies, being triplets is rare in itself. But for the Rowe triplets, it just seems pretty normal.
“I didn’t think it was that different from anybody else,” Elizabeth Rowe said.
A rare situation
Kelly Rowe and husband Jeff were referred to Dr. Roger Newman, an OB-GYN professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, in 2003 when they initially learned they were having triplets. The reason was because of his specialty in dealing with multiples.
“It’s not unlike another pregnancy, except all the risks are magnified,” he said.
This includes an increased risk of things like gestational diabetes for the mother, premature birth, low birthweight and birth defects. These are risks that some parents face even with one child.
At a certain point in 2003, Kelly Rowe said she knew something was different about her pregnancy before she learned she was having triplets. At the time, she and her husband were already caring for their 5-year-old son Scott and their 2-year-old daughter Sarah.
Jeff Rowe said his wife assumed she might be carrying twins. They learned at a routine ultrasound visit that September they were having three additional kids instead of one.
“The ultrasound tech had the biggest smile on her face,” he said.
Throughout his career, Newman has delivered three sets of quads, over 1,000 twins and about 150 sets of triplets. And in his experience a C-section is often the typical go-to method of delivery for triplets.
More than 90 percent of triplets are birthed via a C-section, he said. The reason is there is a significant checklist an expecting mother must complete before a vaginal birth is possible.
For example, a lot of mothers aren’t able to carry triplets past the 32-33 recommended gestational weeks. So due to premature births, a lot of mothers of triplets undergo C-sections.
In addition to making it past that 33-week mark, the babies have to be in separate gestational sacs. The baby at the bottom also has to be positioned head down for vaginal delivery to be possible.
Rowe, determined to go through a vaginal birth, managed to meet all of these requirements for her triplets. For a mother to do that with triplets, Newman said, a huge commitment to nutrition and a mother taking care of herself is necessary.
Rowe even tried to gain as much weight as she could through eating 210 grams of protein a day. That’s almost five chicken breasts a day.
“We made it to almost 38 weeks,” she said. “I was carrying them top to bottom.”
Dr. Christopher Robinson was early in his training at MUSC when he worked with Newman to help with the Rowe triplets. He said carrying twins is enough of a task in itself. Triplets is expanding the possibilities to some extent, he said.
Rowe also managed to conceive triplets without the assistance of fertility treatments. When this happens, those babies are referred to as spontaneous triplets. Newman said that about 1 in 9,000 pregnancies involves spontaneous triplets.
When the triplets were born on leap day 2004, all three came out healthy and were able to go home with their parents in a few days. Kelly said thankfully they went into labor right after she and her husband had bought a big SUV, a GMC Yukon XL that could hold three infants and their other two children.
Robinson said triplets all going home at the same time healthy is as rare as the babies being born on leap day. Usually one or two have to remain in the neonatal intensive care unit. None of the Rowe triplets had to be placed in intensive care.
“It really is kind of miraculous,” Robinson said.
Harris came out first and was the heaviest. Then came Elizabeth and Andrew, who at the time was the smallest, came out after his sister. Over the years, Kelly and Jeff said the three often subconsciously group up in the order they were born or ABC order.
On the day they were born, MUSC students, doctors and media outlets came by to see them. The attention has continued throughout the years.
“It’s fun to see that kind of celebrity,” Jeff said.
Since they were technically born on the 60th day of the year, the family usually celebrates the triplets’ birthday on March 1 during non-leap years. On those years, the family will often do a small dinner or whatever is convenient.
But on leap years, they always try to do something special. Eight years ago, they had a special birthday celebration at Frankie’s Fun Park.
And people who don’t normally reach out are now contacting the family even days in advance to wish the triplets a happy birthday. For the celebration this year, Kelly imagines close to 100 people coming to their Mount Pleasant home to celebrate with a barbecue buffet.
“I’m hoping that the party is not too crowded,” Harris said.
Harris, Elizabeth and Andrew said they never really felt like triplets or anything separate from their other siblings. They aren’t identical so they often don’t even tell people they are triplets. And when they do tell people, most assume their youngest brother, 13-year-old Jackson, is one of the triplets and not Elizabeth.
“We’re just part of a larger family,” Andrew said.
But now burning the question with the triplets has become which of three will be allowed to get their license first. Jeff said he often teases them that he has been keeping score of who has been the best kid to help him decide.
“Obviously, it’s a big joke,” Jeff said.