Anna Dellinger, Features Editor
Most college students are familiar with sleepless nights and exhausting schedules broken up by weekends and breaks. But for parents of triplets, there is no such thing as a break.
Two OBU professors defied the odds of an estimated one in a million by having identical triplets: Assistant Professor of English Dr. Jonathan Callis with his wife Amy and Assistant Professor of Psychology/Marriage and Family Therapy Dr. Jonathan Wilson with his wife Grace.
“Everyone says, ‘I think it would be cool to have twins’… No one says, ‘I think it would be neat to have triplets,’” Dr. Wilson (pictured with his family above) said.
When people find out about the identical triplets, common reactions include disbelief and awe.
“Their mouths will fall open and their eyes will get wide,” Grace Wilson said.
Many questions usually accompany the shock.
“They’ll say, ‘You’ve got your hands full… Was it natural? Are they all the same?’ Most people don’t understand what identical means,” Amy Callis said. “They don’t connect the word “identical” with “same” because they’re triplets instead of twins.”
The surprise factor is understandable, because identical triplets are extremely rare and “pure biological luck… based on the science we know today,” according to ScienceAlert.com.
Identical triplets are formed in the same way as identical twins: one egg that has been fertilized by one sperm – a zygote – splits in two. In the case of identical triplets, the same zygote splits into three.
“Contrary to popular belief, identical twins (or triplets or quadruplets) don’t actually run in families,” according to “The Washington Post.”
“Fraternal multiples might, if the women in a particular family share some genetic trait that makes them more likely to release two or more eggs during an ovulation cycle instead of one. But for now, there’s no evidence of a genetic predisposition for zygote splitting.”
The rarity of identical triplet births makes the Wilson and Callis families anomalies.
“It’s rare enough that none of our doctors or nurses had ever seen identical triplets and some of them have been in practice for over 30 years,” Wilson said.
The phrase “three’s a crowd” might come to mind when thinking about identical triplets… but the triplets aren’t the only children in either family. The Callis family has two older girls, Evangeline and Juliet, and the Wilsons have one older boy, Henry.
“[The girls] ask pregnant people how many babies they have in their stomach,” Amy said.
Many children are protective of their younger siblings, and this holds true for one of the Callis girls, but not for the other.
“Evangeline is very protective and Juliet wants to make them pay for taking all of her attention – she was the baby before they came along,” Callis said.
Though he’s only two-years-old, Henry Wilson does his best to take care of his little brothers.
“For the most part he really loves them,” Wilson said. “He doesn’t like when they’re crying, so he’ll kiss their head when they cry. I think he gets jealous or sad sometimes since we have to spend so much time with the triplets.”
Henry also makes sure any visitor to his home sees the most important part of it.
“Whenever someone comes over to our house, he says, ‘babies’ and pulls them around the house to see the babies,” Grace said.
Raising kids is time-consuming, but when births are spread out, there can be time for the parents to do things they enjoy. With multiples, time is virtually nonexistent.
“I ran four marathons last year, and I haven’t run one time this year,” Wilson said.
“It’s hard to go from almost 1,000 miles in 2016 to zero in 2017. We also like to travel, and we can’t travel anymore. And we love our children more than we love those things, but it’s hard for those things to just be gone.”
Sometimes, having more than one child can multiply whatever behavior is going on, but for multiples of the same age, it’s different.
“Instead of multiplying things, it’s exponential,” Amy said.
“When they fight or start screaming, it builds and grows and seems to cycle around and never end. It also goes the same for the adorable factor. You see the same the kid three times and it’s super cute. When it’s cute, it’s super cute… when it’s not, it’s really stressful.”
Since the triplets are identical, one might think telling them apart would be difficult – they would be right. Both families use tricks to tell the boys apart.
“Usually we dress them in sets,” Amy said.
“Liam is usually in green, James is usually in blue, and Joel is usually in red. I get them confused all the time. If a babysitter switches their clothes, it gets very confusing.”
Callis tells his sons apart by their personalities.
“Within 10 seconds of being around them, we can figure it out,” he said.
“James is usually on the floor sucking his thumb, throwing a fit or hoarding toys. Liam is usually pulling things apart trying to figure out how they work. Joel is usually throwing a ball at someone’s face.”
Coming home from the hospital, it would have been easy to accidentally switch the babies.
“We left their ID bracelets on for a few months after they got home,” Wilson said.
Grace Wilson painted their toenails in the beginning to tell them apart.
“…but that was tricky any time they were wearing socks or shoes,” she said.
The Wilson triplets are still too young to have many distinguishing behaviors, but they have subtle physical differences.
“Alex is the smallest,” Wilson said. “James’s head is more round-shaped than Luke. And Luke also has a red mark on his right eyelid and left nostril. Still, there have been times when I thought I was holding James but I was really holding Luke.”
If Callis or Wilson ever seem sleepy in class, it should be no surprise. In the first few months after being born, the babies needed to be fed every three or four hours.
“We don’t have very many memories because we were so sleep deprived,” Amy said.
The first couple of months after the Wilson triplets were born, Wilson, Grace and her mother took rotations feeding the babies one at a time. There was someone eating in the house for 12 hours a day.
“The thing I look forward to most in the immediate future is sleep… but we know it’s for a season,” Wilson said.
With both of them working full time jobs and taking care of their four kids with the help of a full-time nanny, the Wilsons still aren’t getting much sleep.
“I’ve found that if I can get a good four-hour block of sleep and couple of cat naps around that, I can survive,” Grace said. “But, I’m pretty tired.”
As many difficulties as there are, the couples said they look forward to the future of their triplets.
“They’re still too young to have much personality… I’m looking forward to getting to know them on an individual level,” Wilson said.
“I’m looking forward to them being involved in group activities, learning about teamwork and camaraderie and things like that – I’d love to be able to coach their baseball or basketball teams.”
Callis also counts on seeing more individuality in his sons.
“As they get older, [I look forward to] getting to treat them all as individuals instead of as a unit all the time,” he said.
“Getting to focus on that more instead of as a unit which is what they are right now. That’s the only way we can deal with them.”
Amy uses most of her time trying to keep the family running.
“[I look forward to] being able to enjoy them more and not being tired all the time,” she said.
“Now, the work is 80 percent and then 20 percent is either doing something on my own or maybe enjoying what’s happening. It’s just such a small percentage of not feeling like you’re trying to keep the machine oiled.”
Raising triplets is no piece of cake, and one person would struggle to handle the job alone.
“The thing I’m most proud of is that we make a really good team in a crisis,” Grace said.
“It’s been one crisis after another, but I’ve been proud of the way we’ve handled it. And I’ve been extremely grateful for our family and friends because we definitely could not do it with just the two of us.”
Both families also know they couldn’t raise their kids without help.
“It has forced us to ask for help more for sure and to rely on our community,” Grace said. “And obviously day to day, life is super different. Right now, our entire life is organized around the babies.
Having triplets causes more than just a dependence on community as well.
“I just think God used it to take away a lot of things and it was painful, but he gave me something better – a lack of control,” Amy said. “It forced me to trust Him more.”