TROY — Young Nathan Wren kicked his pudgy legs as his father aimed a spoon of baby food at his mouth. It was lunchtime a few days after Christmas, and the 21-pound infant was ready for a meal. Hungrier than his two sisters, who watched patiently from their infant swings, Nathan smacked his lips over the day’s offering — mashed chicken, sweet potato and peaches.
At 7 1/2 months, Nathan, the last born of a set of triplets, has rebounded from a somewhat shaky start and now outweighs and outeats his siblings, Brianna and Darian, each 19 1/2 pounds.
The triplets are the children of Dana and Angela Wren of Troy. The products of in vitro fertilization, they were born at 31 weeks’ gestation last May 16. Their birth weights ranged from Nathan’s 3 pounds, 10 ounces to Darian’s 3 pounds, 15 1/2 ounces. Brianna, the healthiest of the three at birth, weighed 3 pounds, 12 ounces when taken by Caesarean section.
The third set of triplets born in 1997 at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, the Wren trio appears healthy and happy. The children have each been treated for one ear infection since their homecoming early last summer to the Wrens’ log cabin in Troy.
Nathan, easygoing and energetic, likes attention, his parents said. At 27 1/2 inches, he is the longest of the trio. Darian, quiet and dimpled, is 24 1/2 inches long. Brianna, jolly and outgoing, is 25 inches.
The triplets serve as a collective testimonial to the joy and wonder that an infertile couple can experience through conception by science, according to their parents.
Multiple births have captured the media spotlight recently. Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey of Iowa await the arrival home of their septuplets, who were conceived with the help of fertility drugs.
The Wrens had no plans for multiple births when they investigated the procedure. In fact, Dana Wren said the McCaugheys may have made a mistake in having so many.
The McCaugheys “will never be able to take care of all those children themselves. They’ll always need help,” said Dana Wren, a restaurateur who helps his wife with the care of the children.
Despite their concerns about multiple births, the couple could not pass up a chance at having their own children, even though preparing and undergoing the in vitro fertilization procedure is stressful and complicated.
“We are a young couple who wanted children but could not have them any other way,” said Angela Wren, 28. She had been diagnosed with endometriosis and suffered three tubal pregnancies before she and her 30-year-old husband decided to try to conceive outside the womb. Angela Wren’s gynecologist recommended they take part in a program at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
In vitro fertilization occurs when a woman’s eggs are extracted and fertilized with sperm in a petri dish. Viable eggs are then implanted into the uterus when they have divided into eight cells.
The Wrens had been through a failed attempt at in vitro fertilization in July 1996. They decided to try again two months later and began the arduous task of traveling to Boston nearly every other day in September 1996, so that Angela Wren could undergo tests and monitoring.
In early October 1996, Angela had eight eggs extracted. Five eggs degenerated after they were fertilized, but three were judged viable for growth. They were implanted on Halloween that year. Two weeks later, Angela Wren took a pregnancy test.
“It was positive. In fact, the technician said he wouldn’t be surprised if there were multiple babies because the hormone level was so high,” she recalled.
In vitro fertilization is fairly economical compared with adoption, the couple said. They spent $5,000 on each try at the Massachusetts General Hospital IVF clinic. Adoption, on the other hand, can range upward of $30,000 especially for children from foreign countries.
`We didn’t want to go through any more disappointment than we had to,” Angela Wren said.
From its start in 1981, in vitro fertilization has stirred up right-to-life advocates nationwide.
Dr. Frederick Wirth, a Bangor neonatologist who attended the Wren birth, knows about the controversy that swirled around in vitro fertilization. Wirth took care of Elizabeth Carr, the nation’s first baby born by the technique in 1981, almost from the moment of conception.
Carr, of Westminster, Mass., turned 16 on Dec. 28, 1997.
“I have a picture of Elizabeth Carr when she was 2 cells old,” recalled Wirth, during a recent interview.
A former colleague of Georgianna and Howard Jones, two physicians who helped develop in vitro fertilization, Wirth now is head of nurseries at EMMC. He recalled right-to-life advocates who feared scientists were creating monsters in petri dishes.
In reality, the technique has proven that the conception of human life, once thought to be a delicate process that could occur only in the uterus, can occur in many scenarios, according to Wirth.
“We are taking eggs out of the darkness of the womb, putting them into an atmosphere full of oxygen and light, and they still divide,” the medical specialist said. “It’s a miracle that the reproductive process can withstand these insults and flourish.”
The triplets were delivered by the Wren’s obstetrician, Dr. Robert Boley, and another physician, with Wirth in attendance. Several nurses and technicians also were in the delivery room to tend to the premature babies, who were born in 57 seconds.
Wirth also was present at the birth of Elizabeth Carr at the Eastern Virginia Medical School’s Institute for Reproductive Medicine. The event produced a media frenzy, Wirth recalled, but the birth was uncomplicated.
Like Angela Wren, Elizabeth Carr’s mother had suffered reproductive problems. Judy Carr — a University of Maine alumna — had suffered several miscarriages and had her fallopian tubes removed before she got pregnant with Elizabeth. She carried the baby to term after in vitro fertilization..
The Wren triplets, however, were born seven weeks short of full gestation. Nathan, in particular, suffered complications common to pre-term babies and was put on a ventilator shortly after birth, according to Wirth. The ventilator forced the baby to breathe oxygen, a compound vital to his life. His lungs, however, weren’t mature enough to process oxygen properly, which led to other lung complications. A medicine called Survanta eased the infant’s lung disease. Nathan and Darian suffered from sleep apnea and sometimes forgot to breathe when resting. Both infants came home five weeks after birth wearing monitors to alert their parents to sleep apnea episodes.
Brianna, the smallest of the trio at birth, apparently was the healthiest. After gaining weight, she came home on June 8. Her sister Darian followed her on June 18, and Nathan came hom on June 21.
Despite continuing concerns, the Wrens said in vitro fertilization was the answer to their burning desire for babies.
“If God did not want humans to do this, he would not have given us the knowledge to do it,” said Angela Wren, responding to a question about in vitro fertilization that causes concern among some groups.
The only thing different about the Wrens’ babies is that “they didn’t travel through my tubes to get to my womb,” she said.