- Born at just 23 weeks triplets Alfie, Dylan and Connor weighed under 3Ib
- Doctors warned Emma and Ray Bateman, from Hampshire, of the risks
- But the miracle triplets showed a fight but it was miss and go at times
Spend just a few moments in Emma Seaton’s company and you’ll realise she’s got her work cut out. It’s a scene familiar to any parents of toddlers: two small boys are trying to climb onto the windowsill in her living room, while another is whizzing round on a tricycle.
It’s all a bit of a blur, not least because Alfie, Dylan and Connor are identical triplets. All wearing the same outfit — smart red-checked shirts, blue jeans and stripy socks — it can occasionally feel like you are watching one of them on a fast forward cine-reel as they maraud around the room.
‘They can certainly be a handful,’ Emma admits cheerfully.
However, the 32-year-old from Havant, Hampshire, rarely complains about it because, for a long time, it was touch and go whether her boys would survive at all.
Emma Bateman, from Havant, in Hampshire with her premature triplets who are the tiniest to have ever survived
Born at just 23 weeks, the triplets collectively weighed less than 3lb — little more than a bag of sugar.
On the very cusp of viability, doctors warned Emma and her partner Ray Bateman, 40, that there was no way of knowing whether the triplets would make it — and, if they did, whether there would be serious long-term health issues.
It would be several agonising months — populated by several touch-and-go medical scares — before those questions were answered.
Yet here we are just over two years later, and the biggest worry Emma and Ray face most days is how to keep their three boisterous little bundles occupied.
Moreover, not only are the boys healthy and thriving, but they have turned out to be double record-breakers, too. Last month, Guinness World Records confirmed that the trio were the lightest-born triplets in the world to survive and also the most premature.
Today, the certificates are waiting to be hung above the fireplace. It is an official record, if you like, of just how far the brothers have come.
The triplets were born at 23 weeks and weighed together 3Ib which is less than a bag of sugar. Pictured one of the triplets Alfie in intensive care
‘It’s such a positive outcome for them after everything they have been through,’ says Emma. ‘It’s lovely that they have something official for when they get older.
‘And for all of us really, because there is not a day goes by when I don’t think about the fact that things could have been different. Whenever it’s tough going, I always remember that we have been through much worse.’
Emma is certainly a composed presence amid the chaos, despite the fact that she rarely has a moment without one of them clambering over her or requiring scooping out of trouble.
Peace is only briefly restored when the trio go down for their morning nap, giving Emma a chance to get on top of her never-ending round of chores, not least the mountains of washing.
The record-breaking family is all the more remarkable when you learn that her pregnancy wasn’t even planned.
Already mum to Billy, now eleven, Emma says that while she and Ray, a highway maintenance worker, had planned to have another child at some point, they had ‘never quite got round to it’.
That is, until in early 2014, after days of nausea and exhaustion, a test confirmed that she was expecting once again. ‘I was pretty surprised, but obviously happy,’ Emma recalls.
With no history of multiple pregnancies in either family, the couple assumed she was having just one baby — until the 12-week scan told them otherwise.
‘The doctor said it was twins, before announcing: “Oh, hang on, there’s another one,” recalls Emma. ‘Ray and I were in complete shock.’
And not without reason: today scientists say the odds of naturally conceived triplets are around one in a million.
The pregnancy was high-risk, particularly as the babies were quickly established to be identical (generally where just one egg divides into three), and sharing the same placenta.
Fortnightly scans followed, while Emma battled exhaustion and endless nausea.
As with most multiple pregnancies, the couple knew that the babies would be delivered several weeks before their due date at the end of December.
So when, in late August, Emma started to experience mild contractions as she travelled into her work in telesales, she tried not to worry.
Left to right, Connor, Dylan and Alfie keep their parents on their toes when playing around at home as they are now healthy boys although a bit small for their age
‘I was only 22 weeks and six days at that point. I thought: “This can’t be it,” ’ she recalls.
But she was wrong. The contractions got worse and, after visiting her GP, Emma was sent straight to hospital, where the consultant confirmed the worst: the babies were coming. ‘We had a pretty awful conversation,’ Emma recalls quietly.
‘At that stage they did not know what the prognosis was. We thought we had lost our babies and we were devastated.’
After hanging on for another two days — vital days in which Emma received steroid injections to help the babies’ lungs — her waters broke, and at 3pm on August 31, she gave birth to Alfie, weighing just 14.81oz. ‘I remember seeing his tiny translucent little feet. They looked like something on an action man figure,’ she recalls.
There was no chance of a cuddle: Alfie was whisked away and put on a ventilator.
‘We both felt helpless,’ says Emma. ‘Ray brought back photos to show me and Alfie looked so tiny, surrounded by so many wires and tubes.’
The following day, first Connor then Dylan arrived, 90 minutes apart and weighing 15.16oz and 1lb 0.36oz respectively. Again, they were immediately rushed to special care, their lives in the balance.
‘It was a case of watch, wait and see,’ Emma recalls. ‘All you can do is take it one day at a time but it’s very hard. You can’t touch them, they are surrounded by machines in their incubator and all you can do is look at them and urge them to be strong.’
Countless scares followed.
The couple went through some very tough months unable to hold their children for a long time
‘It felt like there was always a monitor going off,’ says Emma. ‘We just had to trust the nursing staff, who were absolutely amazing.’
Two weeks after his birth, Alfie’s lung collapsed and he had to be given a chest drain, while at five weeks, all of them had to undergo surgery to close a duct in their hearts which would enable them to come off their ventilators.
It was at this point that she and Ray got their first chance to hold one of their sons — Connor, the middle-born but at this stage the most robust — for the first time. ‘It felt amazing, but a little bit frightening as well. He was so fragile.’
Over the next few days they got to cuddle Alfie and Dylan, too. ‘I felt like each day we were watching our babies get stronger,’ says Emma.
There were other hurdles to navigate though: all the boys had a retina disorder, common in premature babies, which can cause blindness and required laser eye surgery.
It was only in February 2015 — six months after they were born, but less than two months after their due date — that the boys collectively arrived home for good.
‘The first few weeks were a blur,’ admits Emma. ‘It was just a whirlwind of nappy changes and feeding. It was exhausting.’
With two of the three babies on oxygen for the first few months too, it also meant huge planning to leave the house.
‘Aside from nappies and bottles I also had to take portable oxygen so sometimes it was just easier to stay home,’ Emma admits. ‘Put it this way — we couldn’t do anything last minute.’
It hasn’t got much less exhausting since now the trio are all on their feet. And while they are still slightly small for their age, they have plenty of energy, are happy and have no health problems.
‘Dylan probably has a bit further to go than the others,’ says Emma. ‘He was on oxygen for longer and had feeding issues, so he’s a little bit behind. But there is nothing that time won’t sort,’ says Emma.
The boys’ personalities are developing in their own unique ways, too.
‘Connor is the bossy one, the brains. I’d say he’s the leader of the pack,’ says Emma.
‘He’s a lot more vocal than the other two. Dylan is the smallest so he gets frustrated sometimes, but he’s the biggest cuddler. Alfie is somewhere between the two and he’s probably the cheekiest.’
The big question, of course, is how does she tell which is which? Aside from a slight difference in size — Dylan is a tad smaller — and what Emma insists is Alfie’s slightly rounder face, it is pretty difficult to distinguish them. ‘Even I can’t really tell them apart from the back,’ Emma admits.
And what about Billy — for so long an only child and now the elder brother to not one but three boisterous boys?
‘It was a big adjustment for him but he’s been brilliant,’ Emma says. ‘He mucked in from the beginning. When they were in hospital he would sit and read to them, and when they got home he changed nappies and helped to feed them.
‘He’s been really grown up. Like all of us, he’s enjoying being a family of six.’
And a record-winning one at that.