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New triplet boys bring chaos, love to family

When Jacob Robert, Elijah Mark and Nathan David Gardner decided to arrive weeks ahead of schedule this summer, they threw their family into a dither.

Dad was out of town and Mom was home in Seminole with her teenage son, the proud owner of a learner's permit. Responding to the emergency, he was the one who rushed his mother to Bayfront Medical Center, where the tiny infants, weighing a little more than 2 pounds each, were delivered by Caesarean section on Aug. 17.

The babies spent 9{ weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit at All Children's Hospital. On Oct. 16, tethered to heart monitors, they went home, but Elijah and Jacob each underwent hernia repair surgeries later.

"Of course, that first week (at home) was chaos," said their mother, Anne Gardner, 37. "There is no way to prepare. Bringing one baby home from the hospital is one thing, but trying to bring three home . . ."

David Gardner, 44, who became a father for the first time with the three births, agreed.

"At first it was kind of overwhelming," said Gardner, owner of All American Pawn and Jewelry Store in St. Petersburg.

Now, life at their Seminole home has settled into a happy whirl.

Diaper changes occur six to seven times a day multiplied by three. Feedings, in four-hour cycles, average about 45 minutes an infant. The house overflows with cribs, swings and bouncing chairs.

"I do find myself just staring at them and I say, "You guys are really mine,' " Dad said of the infants, who now weigh about 10 pounds each.

Mrs. Gardner's oldest son, Matthew Sehner, who turned 16 on Dec. 1, now has his license. He drives the green pick-up truck in which he ferried his mother to the hospital and is eager to run family errands.

Mrs. Gardner said her mother, Joyce Varidin, supplies invaluable help. Her husband's father, David Gardner, and stepmother, Ruth, sold their home in Stuart and moved nearby so they could help.

The list of faithful assistants also includes Mrs. Gardner's sister, Paulette "Cookie" Delucia; her sister-in-law's mother, Helen Malzahn; friend Toni Chimbidis; another friend, Helen Marger, and her elementary school-age daughters, Sarah and Olivia; and Mrs. Marger's sister, Joan Cialetta.

"Thank God for the help we've got," David Gardner said, but he saves the highest praise for his wife.

"The bottom line is Annie. She's really been a trouper. I think God must give mothers some kind of special thing. I don't think since they have been home she's slept eight hours straight. And she's always bright and sunny."

Admittedly, it has not been easy.

"Looking back, I don't know how I did it. The sleep deprivation was very hard. Now I'm just used to not sleeping," Mrs. Gardner said. "Every day is a little easier."