Michigan husbands Kevin O’Neill and Eric Portenga have introduced the world to their identical triplet daughters, who were born via surrogacy earlier this fall in Ohio.
The nearly 2-month-old babies, Parker, Robin and Sylvie O’Neill, were born via cesarean section in September at Cleveland Clinic Akron General. They were taken directly to the neonatal intensive care unit at Akron General, where they spent 18 days in the NICU, according to the Akron Beacon Journal.
New dads Eric and Kevin met in Kevin’s native country of Scotland, and now live in Eric’s native of Michigan. Kevin is the chief administrator for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Michigan, and Eric is an assistant professor of earth surface processes at Eastern Michigan University, according to PrideSource.com.
They started researching adoption and surrogacy agencies a couple of years ago, hoping it would help them start a family. Not long after they moved to Michigan, the couple met a woman named Cathy Cherico through her boss, and they became close friends. Cathy would eventually go on to earn herself the moniker “the surrogate whisper,” because Eric, Kevin and their future surrogate would be the second set of friends she would connect to start a family.
Cathy knew of Eric and Kevin’s struggle as a gay couple wanting to adopt or find a surrogate. So she racked her brain, and finally thought of Maureen Farris, a college classmate who she had met about a decade before while studying to be a teacher at the University of Akron. Farris had previously told Cathy that she had enjoyed being pregnant, but that she and her husband weren’t going to have any more kids, according to USA Today.
One day before her other surrogate-friend gave birth, Cathy got a text from Maureen, who said that she had quit her job to stay at home. Cathy responded to Maureen and apologized if it was wildly inappropriate, but asked if she would consider being a surrogate for a gay couple? Maureen admitted that she had actually been thinking about her long-held desire to be a surrogate, although she hadn’t told anyone.
“In my mind, I hadn’t even mentioned it to my husband yet, so it was sort of like, ‘Oh my God, the universe is working way too quickly!' But I need to at least investigate it," Maureen told USA Today. "I told Cathy I was interested.”
Once they all met up and agreed it would work, they began working out the details. They found an egg donor, and they agreed that Maureen and her family could continue to be in the baby’s life. After Eric and Kevin had embryos made, doctors transferred just one embryo to Maureen’s uterus for hopeful implantation. In early January 2021, they found out it had worked.
Since their pregnancy was amid the pandemic, the dads and Mauren’s husband were only able to be present virtually at doctor’s appointments and scans. At the first ultrasound, at six weeks pregnant, they heard of their first surprise. “Oh my God, it split,” the doctor said. “It’s identical twins.”
A week later, when Maureen experienced some spotting, she went back in for another checkup. "Are you guys sitting down?" the doctor asked. "There's something else here." As USA Today reports, the doctor said she was “unsure” if she was hearing an echo, or if it was one of the baby’s heartbeats through the umbilical cord, or something else. So Maureen went to see a specialist at Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio.
Ten days later, Maureen saw the specialist. She left the appointment with a long stretch of ultrasound images labeled “Baby A,” Baby B,” and Baby C.”
It seemed the couple’s single fertilized egg had split multiple times, resulting in the rare case of identical triplets born via surrogacy.
"Nobody ever dreams of having triplets," Kevin told USA Today. "It’s just a bizarre fantasy. It changed our mindset of being so overjoyed, to ‘Oh my God, we’re getting three, and all the logistics that come with it.’”
The girls were all born healthy, via C-section, on September 9th 2021, each weighing in at around 4.5 pounds. After three weeks in the NICU, the dads got to take their beautiful babies home for the first time.
Kevin told USA Today that they are now settling in at home, spending their paternity leave learning their daughter’s individual personalities, and adjusting to life as triplet dads.