Hitting 'jackpot' with triplets

Madam Ermita Soenarto and her husband, Mr Loo Ming Da, with their 10-month-old triplets (from left) Lucia, Liora and Lysbeth, and three-year-old daughter Livia.
Madam Ermita Soenarto and her husband, Mr Loo Ming Da, with their 10-month-old triplets (from left) Lucia, Liora and Lysbeth, and three-year-old daughter Livia.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Madam Ermita Soenarto's friends often tease her that she struck the jackpot.

After all, it is extremely rare - an estimated one in 6,400 pregnancies - to conceive triplets naturally. Recalling her reaction when she learnt she was expecting triplets, the 33-year-old doctoral student said: "I was horrified. Twins seem manageable, but not triplets." She also feared her babies would not be healthy as such pregnancies are often fraught with difficulties.

Meanwhile, her husband, engineer Loo Ming Da, 31, fretted about their finances as he is the family's sole breadwinner and they have a daughter, three-year-old Livia.

Madam Ermita gave birth last September to Lysbeth, Liora and Lucia. They were one of eight sets of triplets born last year.

The number of triplets born has halved since the Health Ministry imposed a rule that a maximum of two embryos at a time - instead of three - can be implanted in a woman's womb through in-vitro fertilisation. This is because implanting more embryos raises the chances of a woman having a multiple pregnancy, which poses greater risks.

There are some exceptions to the rule, such as for women aged 37 and older, who have gone through at least one assisted reproduction cycle but failed to conceive, to boost their chances of having a baby.

Before the rule was introduced in 2011, an average of 20 sets of triplets were born a year between 2000 and 2010.

Dr Chee Jing Jye of the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Centre, a private clinic, explained that the chances of having triplets are greatly reduced if only two embryos are placed in a woman's womb.

She may still have triplets if one embryo splits into a pair of identical twins, while the other develops as a single baby.

Dr Lim Min Yu of the National University Hospital Women's Centre said women with multiple pregnancies were three to seven times more at risk of developing problems such as hypertension and gestational diabetes. There are also greater risks of miscarriage, premature delivery and still birth. Besides triplets, there were three sets of quadruplets (four babies) and one set of quintuplets (five babies) born in the past decade, official records show. The largest number of babies born from a single pregnancy was in 1998, when a woman gave birth to six children.

Madam Ermita, who has no maid or help from her parents, said the first few months after the triplets arrived were the hardest, even though her husband was a huge help. "It's physically very demanding to care for triplets. You have to do everything three times," she said. "But it's easier now that the girls are 10 months old."

Theresa Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 02, 2015, with the headline 'Hitting 'jackpot' with triplets'. Print Edition | Subscribe