By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Two families with naturally conceived triplets beat stratospheric odds

Photos by Karen Quincy Loberg / Star staff: From left, Jake, Trenton and Connor Tupen, 6, sit upside down on their family couch. Identical triplets are very rare, but the city of Moorpark has two such families, the Tupens and the Mitchells.

Monday, November 5, 2007
Ventura County Star

What are the odds of having spontaneous identical triplets without the use of fertility drugs? How about the odds of two sets of identical triplets born within five years of each other? Even more compelling — the odds of two such families unknowingly living in the same city? And delivering their babies at the same hospital?

The numbers vary widely for the instance of spontaneous (sans fertility or genetic treatment) identical triplets — with one in every 2 million in the low range and one in 200 million most often quoted in Internet searches.

At any rate, the chance of two families with identical triplets being born in the same hospital and living in the same city is simply incredible. But it happened here, to two Moorpark families: Julie and Matt Tupen gave birth to identical boy triplets in August 2001, and Chad and Christine Mitchell had girl triplets in June 2006.

"It's pretty darn remarkable. It's a freak chance," said Dr. Ashim Kumar of the Fertility and Surgical Associates of California clinic in Thousand Oaks. "If you think about how identical triplets happen — when the embryo divides into three different entities — three people with the exact same genetic makeup is remarkable. Metaphorically, it's as close to cloning as you can get naturally."

According to statistics on, in 2000 in the United States, there were 118,920 twin births and 6,740 triplet births — and that includes those born with fertility treatments, which increases the incidence by several times.

Based on these statistics, the general odds of having multiple babies (both natural and with fertility treatments) is about 3 percent — or 1 in 33. The chance of having natural fraternal twins: 1 in 60; the chance of having natural identical twins: 1 in 250; the chance of having natural triplets: 1 in 8,100 — though only about 30 percent of triplets are conceived naturally. (Other statistics put the incidence of spontaneous triplets at 1 in 300,000.)

Based on the most liberal numbers, the odds of having spontaneous and identical triplets are 1 in 200 million — lower than winning the Powerball lottery (estimated to be 1 in 146 million odds).

"That still is the ongoing joke," said Julie Tupen. "People are always saying: What are the odds? You'd be more likely to win the lottery.' Yeah, well, now we just need to win the lottery so we can pay for it all."

Leah, Miriam and Claudia

When Chad and Christine Mitchell delivered identical triplets on June 7, 2006, at Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, they had no idea how rare the occurrence was — or that there was another set of triplets in the same city.

There was so much they didn't know — like how much attention their family would draw, said Christine, 33, mother of Leah Danielle, Miriam Lynn and Claudia Shay.

"We have had to adjust to that," Christine said.

Among the endless stream of questions and comments: "Are they triplets?" "Are they identical?" "Do multiples run in your family?" "Did you have fertility treatments?" "Do you get any sleep?" "Wow, you must have your hands full!" "Do you have help?" "Did you know you were having triplets?" "How do you do it?"

The attention onslaught aside, the Mitchells say the adjustments they have made to parenthood aren't much different than those faced by any first-time parents.

Still, they are aware of fundamental differences, said Chad, 29. "Some aspects of caring for a baby are different because we have triplets," he said, "and we have had to learn the logistics of feeding them at the same time, coordinating their sleep schedules and getting out and about with them."

The couple defied many odds with this pregnancy, Christine said: "I have no history of multiples in my family; women over age 35 are supposedly more likely to carry multiples — I was 32; taller women are supposedly more likely to successfully carry multiples — I'm only 5 feet tall; and being a Filipina puts me in an ethnic group that is one of the least likely to carry multiples."

The experience has driven home some core beliefs and fundamentally changed their lives in a number of ways. It also has deepened their faith.

"We have a renewed appreciation for our families, our friends and our church, Moorpark Presbyterian," Christine said. "All of these people gave us baby necessities, bought furniture for the nursery, provided meals a few times a week for over a year, took care of our household chores, helped maintain our yard and assisted in the babies' care."

By Chad's estimation, they have been given a once-in-a-lifetime gift.

Trenton, Jake and Connor

Little did the Mitchells know that, just miles away in the same town, Julie and Matt Tupen also were the parents of identical triplets — boys born on Aug. 9, 2001, at the same hospital, then called Los Robles Regional Medical Center. Today, the Tupen boys — Trenton Lee, Jake Matthew and Connor Hanley — are in kindergarten. In fact, before being contacted for this story, neither family knew the other existed.

Both families agree it's just one more oddity in an already extraordinary situation.

They have had similar experiences, including the attention triplets attract.

When people ask questions about the boys, "my standard answer is, No' and, No,'" said Julie, 40. "By this I mean, No, there were no fertility drugs,' and, No, it doesn't run in the family.'"

"It is simply a fluke of nature where one egg splits three ways," said Matt, 38.

For them, the triplets were a huge surprise. At the time, they had a 2-year-old daughter, Emily, and were simply trying for a second child. But after Julie's first doctor's visit, she knew something was up.

"I explained to the doctor that I felt much sicker this go-around. He was joking with me that, Just wait and see; when we do the ultrasound, we'll find you pregnant with triplets!' I told him to not even joke about that. It wasn't funny!"

During the ultrasound, two embryos appeared. In that moment, Julie readjusted her thinking to the idea she would be having twins. Then came the next moment.

"The doctor got very quiet and barely whispered, and there's number three,'" Julie recalled. "I became overwhelmed with emotion, as this was completely not expected."

Words of wisdom

The families have never met but, with five extra years under their belts caring for triplets, the Tupens do have advice for the Mitchells.

"I have a ton of tips," Julie Tupen said. "It ranges from practical tips, to help manage the schedule — especially when they're that age, 2 and under — to tips for morale" when the simple act of parenting becomes overwhelming.

"The old adage that the days are long but the years are short is never true with multiples, because you can get so caught up in just the day-to-day chores, everything just flies by," Julie said.

She advises the Mitchells — and every other parent, in a way: "Appreciate every single minute, even as crazy and hectic as it is. Take a deep breath and reflect on all the good and the positive.

"It goes by so fast. I can't believe my kids are 6 already; I really can't."

Well, time to run, she said before stopping herself:

"I have one more tip," she said. "Take time for date night. That is so important. That is key — key, key key. The kids, especially as they start talking, will leave you very little time to have any adult conversation.

"You become roommates, house managers. Date night is very important."

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