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Leap Day triplets born at MUSC turn 16 (or is it 4?)

February 28, 2020
16-year-old triplets stand for photo in their back yard
From left, Harris Rowe, Elizabeth Rowe and Drew Rowe – triplets born on Leap Day (Feb. 29) in 2004 – celebrate their birthday today. Their mother, Kelly Rowe, reminisced about what life was like then and now. Photo by Sarah Pack

According to experts, the odds of having triplets are about 0.1%. 

Spontaneous triplets – when multiples don’t run in the family and no fertility drugs have been taken before pregnancy – are even rarer, on the order of 0.01%. 

The odds of being born on a leap day – that weird looking ‘February 29th’ on the calendar, one of which we have this year – are 0.06%. 

Combine all those odds together, and in 2004, Kelly Rowe had a better chance of winning the Powerball jackpot. Twice.

And then – statistics be damned – she had Harris, Elizabeth and Drew. Leap day triplets. And from that moment on, life was never the same. (Sadly, Kelly didn’t think to buy a lottery ticket.) 

The night before the triplets were born, Kelly and her husband, Jeff, handed off their two kids – ages 3 and 6 at the time – to some friends and made the drive to MUSC. Kelly, who was just shy of 38 weeks pregnant, knew it was finally happening. 

Their doctor, MUSC maternal-fetal medicine specialist Roger Newman, M.D., was alerted and arrived at the hospital excited and ready. But as is often the case in pregnancy, babies don’t always arrive when you’re ready for them. So they waited. And waited. Newman, who wasn’t on call that night but had made a promise to Kelly that he would be the one to deliver the triplets, patiently waited with them. It wouldn’t be until the next evening that she would go into labor.

Newborn triplets lying on a blanket 
This 2004 photo shows the triplets, all in a Rowe. Photo by Anne Thompson

Harris came first at 6:32 p.m. Nurses had warned Kelly it might be a while before the next was ready. Elizabeth, a go-getter just like her mom, was having none of that. She arrived seven minutes later. Then Drew, whose foot made a brief appearance before Elizabeth emerged, was born three minutes after that. In all, the three were only separated by 10 minutes. 

By 7 a.m. the next morning, word had gotten out, and people were already knocking at the door. Doctors, nurses, journalists. “We barely had time to eat,” Kelly says. “We were joking, it was like, ‘Next!’ It was just a whirlwind. It was exciting. I think we were all on an adrenaline ride.” 

Her blue eyes water as she thinks back to that time – four of her children and her in-laws in the room, listening, with rapt attention – something she says she really hasn’t allowed herself to do for almost 16 years.

“People use the word ‘surreal,’” she says. “And it is. You don’t feel like it’s you. You feel like you’re up above, listening and watching something happen to someone else. But it is you. And you can’t quite wrap your head around that.”

Oh, I call them the wrong names all the time. And it's really bad when I call them a name, and I don't even have a child by that name.

 

– Kelly Rowe

Though the triplets don’t want to admit it, the fact is they’re a tightly knit trio. The family talks about how when they were potty training, they used to cheer each other on. Once they got more mobile, they taught each other how to escape from playpens and rooms. And even today, as Kelly points out, Elizabeth – who was born in the middle – always seems to find herself nestled between her bookends on road trips. 

There’s a running joke in the Rowe household that on any given day, should the need arise, anybody could run things. With seven kids now, it’s not surprising that they all know how to look out for themselves. Kelly, a stay-at-home mom who homeschools the five children still under her roof (the other two are in college and graduate school), spends a lot of the day managing logistics. Cross country. Choir. Swim practice.

“I love a good whiteboard,” she laughs from the kitchen table in her Mount Pleasant home. Jeff, who is a structural engineer, is a good planner as well. They joke that he was able to calculate if their marriage could withstand the load of seven kids – turns out it was.

Nonetheless, keeping everything and everybody straight can still be a challenge.

16-year-old triplets studying at their kitchen table as mom laughs 
Kelly Rowe laughs as the family reminisces about a particular story about the triplets. The Rowe's kitchen is the scene of many family gatherings, such as this day's school work. Photo by Sarah Pack

“Oh, I call them the wrong names all the time,” she laughs. “And it’s really bad when I call them a name, and I don’t even have a child by that name.”

But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t love every minute of it. “I cannot imagine having a quiet house,” she says. “Just last week, Jeff took the boys out of town with him, and I was home with the two girls. And it was so quiet, it was weird.”

The Rowes – all of them (the parents, the kids, the in-laws) – seem to be perpetually smiling, upbeat, laughing. But with that comes a bit of societal pressure.

“A lot of people say we’re superhuman, but that’s just not the case,” Kelly says. “Do I get overwhelmed? Yes. Do I cry sometimes? You bet. But at the end of the day, all we can do is just try to be upbeat and have fun. We’re just normal people who work really hard.”

This weekend, they also plan to play hard. 

Typically, the triplets celebrate their birthday on March 1. On leap years, obviously, it’s a little more special. “It’s nice to celebrate it on our actual birthday,” Elizabeth says, prompting a laugh from the boys. 

This year for their 16th birthday – “or fourth, however you want to look at it,” Kelly jokes – the Rowes plan to have all their friends and family over for a big cookout in their backyard on Saturday. 

“The more the merrier,” Kelly says.

And with seven kids, it’s hard not to believe her.

About the Author

Bryce Donovan

Keywords: Features, Pediatrics, Trending Topics