The Power of Three tells the deeply personal story of author and broadcaster, Cole Moreton, his wife Rachel and their 18-year-old triplets, Ruby, Grace and Josh.
Over the course of the three-part BBC Radio 4 series, we follow their journey from IVF conception to the present day where the triplets are preparing to go their separate ways, leaving mum and dad with an (almost) empty house! Cole has used this enforced timeout to contemplate how this 'break-up' of the unit will affect them all and the challenges that Ruby, Grace and Josh may face being truly separated for the first time.
Despite having a full house for many years (the triplets' have an older brother Jacob, who has also left home), Rachel and Cole's fertility journey was not a simple one. As with many couples who struggle to conceive, they assumed that having children was a given and the fertility treatment route proved very tough on them both. The uncertainty of success weighed heavy, the couple finding it difficult dealing with friends who were having families of their own.
Eventually, they 'got lucky' and in 1997, Jacob was born. They then decided to try IVF one more time. The podcast flips to now with the triplets meeting consultant Dr Michael Ah-Moye of the Herts and Essex Fertility Centre and it is here that they really begin to realise what miracles they are and appreciate their parents' effort in bringing them into the world. Dr Ah-Moye tells them that their first encounter was as three sets of cells – all of which were implanted (the maximum allowed for females aged over 39). Amazingly, all three embryos took, leaving Cole and Rachel with the option of fetal reduction – a procedure that can increase the chances of embryo survival, but one that was never even considered by the couple.
Casting back to the moment that they discovered they were having triplets, both Cole and Rachel recall being full of fear. Despite a relatively straightforward labour – the babies being born within 45 minutes of arriving at the hospital - what followed was a 'tsunami of childcare and sleeplessness' – 12,500 nappies were changed and 10,980 bottles of formula made! A sentiment echoed by new parents of triplets, Scott and Katty who are in the midst of their own relentless cycle, Katty suffering from depression and both feeling a sense of failure when all is not going well. Cole remembers how he would spend time with Jacob and when it all got too much retreat to the car, but one day he packed his bags. Wise words from Rachel pulled him through and it was then that he began to realise he did not want to escape anymore.
Fast forward to now and Grace, Ruby and Josh are ready to start their adult lives. Duly concerned at the triplets going their separate ways, Cole receives some reassurance from psychologist Kari Ertresvåg, author of Parent Like a Triplet. She describes how her sister thrived during separation, at last able to be her own person and it is this feeling of being seen as one entity rather than as individuals that the Moreton triplets recall growing up. Always being asked if they could read each other's minds, Grace and Ruby used to trick people that they could, while friends often needed reminding that an invitation to one did not need to be extended to all three!
Naturally, the Moreton triplets do have a lot in common – they all enjoy working with people, for example – but they are very different characters. Grace is easy-going and level-headed, Ruby sharp and funny, while Josh, perhaps the outsider amongst two triplet girls, is more serious. In fact, Josh, who is preparing to go to the University of Cambridge, has been devoted to his studies for so long that he feels he has been separated from Ruby and Grace for some time.
The girls on the other hand are still so close. Grace is on her way to the University of Bristol, while Ruby has a place as an apprentice pharmacist at the local hospital. With both so used to talking to each other whenever they like, sharing each other's wardrobes – leaving was much harder than it was for Josh. COVID has not helped the settling process, with both Josh and Grace contracting the virus and having to isolate. However, they are now muddling through and Rachel, despite dreading this moment for years, is happy that all three feel that they are in the place that they need to be, and is beginning to enjoy the adult relationships that she and Cole are forming with Grace, Josh and Ruby.
The Power of Three is a fascinating podcast bringing together the difficulties of going through IVF, the challenge and ultimate rewards of bringing up triplets and the way in which triplets develop as individuals while maintaining that strong, insoluble bond.