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My triplets died within hours of their birth. It changed how I parent my 3 living children.

Kelly Burch   

My triplets died within hours of their birth. It changed how I parent my 3 living children.
  • Johnny Sirpilla's triplets were born very premature and died soon after birth.
  • He and his wife had two failed adoptions and miscarried twins.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Johnny Sirpilla, author of "Life Is Hard, But I'll Be OK." It has been edited for length and clarity.

It took three years for my wife and I to conceive. After so many inseminations, surgeries, and medical procedures, learning that we were expecting triplets was joyful. My wife Susan and I never wondered how we would handle this — we felt it was God's plan for us.

Susan's water broke at six months. This was 29 years ago when life-saving technology wasn't what it is today. Doctors said they could try to save the triplets, but when we asked if it would be painful for the babies, they said yes. We couldn't put them through that. Instead, we decided to hold our children and be a family of five for however long we were able.

For the hours that we had with Nicholas, Mary, and Peter, we were the happiest people in the world. The day of their birth is still one of the most meaningful, spiritual days of my life. But when a nurse asked us what funeral parlor we'd be using, the enormity of what we had lost washed over us.

We focused on grieving together and not letting the loss tear us apart

We heard many well-intentioned but awful things at the babies' funeral. One person said, "At least you didn't get to know them." They didn't understand that all we wanted as parents was to know our children.

We knew the stats about the toll grief can take on a marriage, so we intentionally tried to grieve together. If Susan was having a good day when I was down, she gave me grace, and vice versa.

At one point, we realized we were visiting the triplet's grave too much — sometimes twice a day. We promised each other we'd only visit every other day. But when I snuck there after work, I found Susan already beside the headstone, getting the physical closeness with the babies that we so craved.

We had 2 miscarriages and 2 failed adoptions

Our loss was profound, but as an infertile couple, we knew we couldn't wait long to try IVF again. Five months after the triplets were born, we did IVF and got pregnant with twins. Susan lost the babies, one at nine weeks and one at 12 weeks. The miscarriages were awful, but after holding our children in our arms as they took their last breaths, the scale was different.

On the way home from Susan's D&C after the second loss, I told her I wanted to adopt. She said no, but I put in an application anyway. It made me feel I had some control over a situation that I really had no control over.

After a failed adoption, we brought home our son Beau. Later, we planned to adopt Beau's biological sibling, but at the last minute, his birth mother changed her mind.

We had 3 children within 4 years

When Beau was a toddler, we found out Susan was pregnant. As practicing Catholics, we don't use birth control, but we have never been able to conceive on our own. After our daughter Bella was born, doctors urged Susan to get her tubes tied, but she declined. That led to our son Stone.

After so much loss, we added three children to our family in less than four years. Fatherhood made me feel like the Grinch when his heart grew three sizes. I had no idea how deeply I would love these little people. I even started writing them typed love letters. They had no idea I was doing it until I gave them each a bound book on their 18th birthdays.

I was a more intentional parent and leader after experiencing loss

The triplets changed so much. As a businessman, I had always urged my employees to leave their personal stuff at home. After the triplets died, I saw how absurd that idea was. I started trying to create a culture where work could support employees — fill their cup, so to say — and they could return home with more to offer their families.

Personally, the miracle of birth and family was always alive and well in our home. I was an extremely intentional parent. I was OK putting aside aspects of my wants and desires for 18 years to focus on the children. Susan and I made sure our house was where our kids and their friends wanted to hang out.

Today, our three living children are young adults who live within minutes of each other in Chicago. They know Nicholas, Mary, and Peter as their siblings. Each year on the triplets' birthday, our family celebrates them and the impact they made on all of us in just a few short hours.

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