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The more the merrier

Mentor Julie Spisak helps new parents through their baby booms

One bowl, one spoon, three mouths.

'It's impossible to keep them from sharing germs, so we don't even worry about it,' Kim Kloft says as she shovels spoonfuls of yogurt and diced peaches into the mouths of her 14-month-old triplets. Zachary, Logan and Matthew sit in matching high chairs, eating and playing with their lunch.

Their mom learned the 'one spoon, one bowl' and other sanity-saving techniques from Julie Spisak, a triplet mom and mentor who offers advice on everything from diapering to dealing with sleep deprivation.

'You have to let go of your paranoia and start being more practical,' says Spisak, a former human relations manager who lives in Tigard and runs Triplets & More, a support group for parents of multiple children in Oregon and Southwest Washington.

There are more than 70 families in the group; most have triplets, and six families have quadruplets. Members have an annual picnic, and moms meet monthly for a night out Ñ without the kids. Parents share ideas about raising three or more, and they provide emotional support when times are tough.

'Your Þrst eight weeks are hell, and nobody tells you that,' Spisak says, 'but it's only temporary.'

Spisak had her own mentor, another triplet mom who now lives in Bend, when her babies were born three years ago. It was such a positive experience she wanted to return the favor to other new moms. She takes on four or Þve families at a time, usually phoning or e-mailing weekly and making periodic house calls. She takes no money for her services.

'When I talk to all my moms, it allows me to relive my own experience,' Spisak says during a visit with Jenny Gholson and her 4-month-old triplets in Northeast Portland.

Reign, Loch and Noah lay in a semicircle on 'boppy' pillows, which are bottles propped with rolled-up towels.

'My husband, Will, and I had to Þgure out some way to feed all three at one time, so we came up with this,' Gholson says.

Spisak offers an alternative Ñ turning a teddy bear upside-down and using its legs to prop up the bottle. That way, she says, the babies can play with the bears while they're eating.

But this new mom faces a more serious challenge, trying to function with very little sleep. Since her husband returned to work, he can't help out as much, and Noah, the smallest of the triplets, needs to eat more often than his brothers.

Spisak offers some tips to get all three babies on the same schedule. Gholson should start by feeding them at the same time every morning, she says, even if Noah has just eaten an hour before. Eventually, Spisak says, he'll catch up with his brothers and be able to go longer between feedings.

She tells Gholson to put the babies down for naps together, even if she has to listen to them cry themselves to sleep.

'Parents are more likely to hold a single baby, but with triplets you can't hold them,' she says. 'They get used to each other's cries, and they are better at self-soothing because they have their little buddy right next to them, usually in the same crib.'

Gholson started talking to Spisak before her triplets were born, and she says having that support has been invaluable:

'It's deÞnitely made my life easier. I would advise anyone having more than one baby to get hooked up with a support group or a mentor.'

Kloft, the Vancouver, Wash., mother of the 14-month-old triplets, says the best advice she got from Spisak was to take time for herself.

'Taking an hour away every day makes me a better mother, even if it's just grabbing a cup of coffee, reading a book or taking a walk,' she says.

Spisak tells moms to get that free time with the help of a spouse, relative or friend.

Another challenge in raising triplets: paying for three times the 'stuff.' For example, 24 bottles a day, and 36 diapers, comes to about $500 a month.

Spisak says many formula and diaper manufacturers offer discounts and freebies to parents of multiples. Triplets & More also has a preemie closet, where parents can pick out clothes at no charge for babies as small as 2 or 3 pounds. Spisak also maintains an e-mail mailing list that parents can use to advertise used strollers, car seats, swings, bouncy seats and other baby items.

'It only takes two to three hours a week,' Spisak says, so she doesn't mind volunteering her time to mentor other moms. It helps her to keep perspective in her full-time job of raising 3-year-old Sabrina, Sophie and Simon.

Even though she's become an expert, she still has a lot to learn. Spisak called her own mentor recently to get some tips on potty training.

Spisak says her volunteer job is satisfying. 'I have the opportunity to relive my pregnancy and the birth of my babies. I get to share it.

'Just as I was grateful, I think they are truly grateful for my thoughts,' she says. 'No one really understands unless they've gone through having triplets.'

Contact Julie Spisak and 'Triplets & More' at spisak3@ihpc.net. To find discounts and more information on multiples go to www.tripletconnection.com.