By Jennifer Hatcher
Elisabeth Nixon Photography
News Anchor Martha Sugalski catches us up on life after the birth of her triplets
The last time we sat down with Martha Sugalski, she had scaled back her busy days to the most basic of activities – attending her kids’ sports, doing the news and growing “the bumps,” as she affectionately nicknamed her triplets in the womb.
We recently visited Martha and her big family at their Lake Mary home. With a college student, a high school student, a middle school student and three mobile babies, there is no scaling back these days. Martha is as busy as ever, and she couldn’t be happier.
It is organized chaos in Martha Sugalski’s home. Twenty-year-old Chase lies on the floor so his baby sister, Holden, can crawl on him. Thirteen-year-old Spencer snaps a selfie with baby Heaton. And sixteen-year-old Maxwell tries to keep baby “Wild-Man” Wilder from closing his tiny fingers in the dresser drawer he methodically opens and closes, opens and closes.
Whether she’s feeding Holden a bottle and catching Wilder as he wobbles over to give her a hug or joking with Chase about whether his college friends are enjoying or mocking her Twitter posts, Martha is in her element as a mom. As she describes family dinners and having all six kids together in one house – a rare thing since Chase is away at college during the school year – Martha lights up. Over and over, she emphasizes that her big family isn’t only about triplet toddlers. “It’s important to me that everyone feels included. It isn’t all baby, baby, baby. Chase and Maxwell and Spencer will also always be my babies.”
As the photographer snaps photos of all the kids, Martha and her husband, Rob Reich, loudly pretend to sneeze, eliciting laughter from the thirteen-month-old triplets. Later, back in the nursery, Martha talks with us over the noisy din of baby laughter and toy car beeps as the older children play with the little three. Every couple of minutes, Martha interrupts herself to say,
“Hey, don’t hold the baby upside down,” or “Watch him, he’s falling,” or “Seriously, that’s enough selfies.”
Then Maxwell is holding a puppet book and tickling Heaton with the puppet, and Chase is helping Holden, in her fru-fru dress, onto a riding toy, and Spencer and Wilder are pushing a loud, popping toy on wheels. In another room, Rob is wrapping up the final details for the first big family vacation since the triplets were born. The caravan of three vehicles will leave the next day to cart all the people and baby gear to the beach rental.
This is the kind of noise and bustling activity that Martha and Rob waited two long years for. “Sometimes things will be crazy, and Rob and I will think, ‘Yeah, but what’s the alternative?’ We could still be sitting here two years and thirteen months later with no babies. And I’m just so happy, so grateful for them. I’m so happy that they’re mine – all of them!”
Martha is especially grateful for the health and normal development of all three babies. Born by C-section at 33-and-a-half weeks, identical twins Heaton and Wilder were just over and just under five pounds each, but sister Holden was only two-and-a-half pounds and had to spend more than five weeks in the NICU.
“The worst five-and-a-half weeks. . . .I lost it. You feel like you’re abandoning your child. You can’t be in two places at once . . . I would get up in the morning, pump, nurse the boys, then race down to Winnie Palmer, feed her, have kangaroo, skin-to-skin time with her, spend time there. I didn’t want her to be alone. They are fantastic there in the NICU, and someone was always there with her, but you want to be with your baby. Rob would stay the night with her and have his time with her while I was here with the boys. But it’s awful. You just feel like you’re abandoning your child. It is the worst feeling in the world. . . . It was a sad feeling knowing Holden wasn’t here with the rest of her family. Those five weeks were really tough.”
Today, Martha cuddles little Holden, smoothing her wispy blonde hair and cooing, “Punkie, punkie, punkie pie,” as Holden’s bright blue eyes light up and she bursts into baby giggles. “She is a miracle. Look at her now. She’s a miracle.”
When the babies first came home from the hospital, they were all in one crib in Martha and Rob’s room. The boys slept on one side, and little Holden slept in the other corner of the crib. “You want them near, you know? Watching them sleep, being right there to feed them. But we weren’t getting any sleep. I’d wake in the morning, and Holden would be on Rob’s chest, and I’d have dozed off with a twin in each arm. We could not keep going like that. The babies weren’t sleeping. We weren’t sleeping. And so some friends from work told me about Moms On Call in Atlanta. They are nurses with like 20 years experience. They are very Southern, and they tell it like it is. They tell you how to do it.”
After a phone consultation with the nurses in Atlanta, Martha began using the Moms On Call system. They moved the crib to the nursery and set up the video baby monitor. They bought a white noise machine, which they cranked up for naptime and bedtime. And they swaddled the babies for sleeping. That combination of advice worked for Martha and Rob, and before long the babies were sleeping through the night – just in time for the end of maternity leave and Martha to return to the WESH2 anchor chair.
Now, the babies stick to a pretty tight schedule, napping twice a day and going to bed at 8:30 every night. When they are awake, though, they blend right into life with the rest of the family. “Yes, we go to Publix. Yes, we go out to eat. This is our family. We do what families do,” Martha laughs.
Sometimes the reactions of people to seeing them all out in public amuses Martha, and sometimes it brings out the mama-bear in her. “One, two, three,” Martha points with her finger and counts children, “that’s what some people do. I can see them pointing and counting. And some people are just curious and that’s OK. But one woman actually had the nerve to tell me, ‘Better you than me!’ and I was thinking, ‘Yes, I am so glad it’s me.’”
“People ask, ‘How do you do it?’” Martha shrugs. “I just do it. I don’t know. It just works. The older kids are great. The babies are happy. It’s easier than I expected it to be. I say that apologetically, and maybe I shouldn’t. But it is easier than I expected. It just works. We’re happy.”