Imagine having three children, born on the same day but in different years and having just one communal birthday to celebrate!

A trio of Irish joy

A couple who farm near Touws River welcomed their third daughter into the world on 7 March 2024 – precisely a year after their second child was born and exactly two years after their first child was born.

Tashe and Christian Spence, both 26 years old and married for only a few years, now have three children under the age of three, each born on 7 March: Lienke (2022), Mihané (2023) and Chrissie (2024).

“Having children was always in our sights as a couple, but not necessarily so early into our marriage. We got married, and I fell pregnant straight away. Then, when Lienke was just three months old, I fell pregnant again. When Mihané was four months old, we were surprised to find out I was pregnant again, this time with our third baby. So, yes, we were a little bit in shock because of the timing,” says Tashe.

Mediclinic Paarl gynaecologist Dr Auden Carolissen, who performed all three caesareans, says: “This is extremely rare and the first time it has happened to one of my patients, although I previously delivered two siblings, who happened to be born in different years on the same day.

“Two children born on the same day but in different years are colloquially known as ‘Irish twins’ and the chances of being an Irish twin naturally are 1:100 000. Maybe the Spence girls are then Irish triplets,” he says, adding that he had teased Christian for having “swimmers that only perform well one day a year!”

Sharing a birthday

When she was 10 weeks pregnant in her first pregnancy, Tashe contracted COVID-19. “Because of uncertainties about the effects of COVID on the placenta, we usually stop these pregnancies at 39 weeks. So, Tashe was induced at 39 weeks and one day but, because the induction failed, we did a caesarean,” he says.

Doctors generally recommend that if a woman delivers a baby within 18 months of the last baby’s caesarean section birth, then the new delivery will also be a caesarean, so this was the plan with the delivery of Tashe and Christian’s second baby.

Mihané had her own ideas about timing, however, and at 37 weeks and four days, Tashe went into spontaneous labour precisely on her sister Lienke’s first birthday. The couple rushed to the hospital for an emergency caesarean section, without even time to pick up the hospital bag, a two-hour drive. There, Dr Carolissen determined that Mihané was lying horizontally – a transverse lie – and the umbilical cord was around her neck, making an emergency caesarean a necessity.

“With their third baby, Chrissie, we wanted to let the pregnancy go to 39 weeks. She went into pre-term labour at 33 weeks, but we managed to stop this and prolong the pregnancy. This baby was due in mid-March, so we decided to do the caesarean on 7 March, since this was the perfect time and so that the sisters would share a birthday.”

A big decision

Says Tashe: “Christian and I spent a long time deliberating the third birth date. In the end, and knowing the pregnancy had gone to term, we decided on the delivery date of 7 March as well. We thought, why not: the girls will share a birthday and it will be a very cool story to tell one day!

“We have budgeted and realise that every year we will only need to have one birthday cake and a big present for all three of them!” she jokes.

While the Spence couple’s situation was unique, in general, Dr Carolissen is not keen on parents ‘designing’ their children’s birthdates and feels that children should have their own birthdates unless there is a medical necessity for them to be born sooner. In his 26 years working in private practice at Mediclinic Paarl, Dr Carolissen has had a few requests from parents wanting their baby to be born on one of the parents’ birthdays.

“In this situation, however, after the two girls were born a year apart on the same day, the parents and I agreed that their third daughter would feel a little ‘out’ to be born on a separate day but so close to that of her Irish twin siblings. She was due around the same time, so deciding on the third date for the third baby’s caesarean was easy,” says Dr Carolissen.

An extraordinary occurrence

The gynaecologist says it is quite unusual for a woman to fall pregnant so soon after having had a baby, but having babies a year apart and born on the same day is certainly very unusual. “I have read that the chances of having three siblings born on the same day, not necessarily in consecutive years, is about 1:100 000 – but this is not necessarily within three years, with each baby born a year apart as was the case with Tashe and Christian’s daughters.”

Interestingly, the birth weights of the three girls were similar, from 3.78kg for their first-born, 3.53kg for baby number two and 3.68kg for Tashe and Christian’s last-born.

Tashe and Christian, who bought their farm in 2019, certainly have their hands full now, but they are not complaining and seem to have boundless energy to cope. Tashe has continued to do the administrative and payment duties for their livestock and crop farming operations – even just weeks after her third-born was delivered.

Tashe says her mother-in-law, whose birthday is on 8 March, complained this year that she hadn’t had her own birthday in three years – but Christian told her that they had given her a very big gift each year for the last three years with another precious grandchild!

Tashe says she had anticipated difficulties in having three babies in such close succession, but she says they have been fortunate. “Becoming a mom for the first time was a bit of a struggle, but it got easier after that. Christian and I are very lucky to have such sweet girls who are no trouble at all,” she says.