The Fitzgerald triplets were born while mum Leonie was in a coma. ‘Mother’s intuition’ may have kept them safe

Triplets Liliana, Isabella and Charlotte Fitzgerald had a traumatic start to life – they were born seven weeks early while their mother was in a medically induced coma.

Mum Leonie Fitzgerald had a seizure at the Mater Mothers’ Hospital in Brisbane the night before she was due to give birth to the tiny trio in a planned caesarean delivery.

The seizure triggered a “Code Blue” – a medical emergency – and she was rushed to the operating theater as husband Peter waited outside contemplating whether he would lose them all or if his wife would be left with brain damage.

Obstetrician Paul Conaghan said if Mrs Fitzgerald had not been in hospital that night, both she and her babies may not have survived.

“They were in a lot of trouble,” he said.

‘The evidence from the babies’ blood tests when they were initially born was that the seizure had been starving them of oxygen.

Triplets Liliana, Isabella and Charlotte Fitzgerald as newborns on mum Leonie's chest and dad Peter in hospital
Triplets Liliana, Isabella and Charlotte Fitzgerald remained in hospital for five weeks.(Supplied)

After giving birth, Mrs Fitzgerald spent 16 hours in a medically induced coma as a result of seizure, which was brought on by eclampsia – a rare but serious condition associated with high blood pressure during pregnancy.

It would be almost two days after the emergency delivery before she was well enough to be wheeled in her bed to the neonatal intensive care unit to see her babies for the first time, surrounded by tubes, wires and breathing equipment.

Liliana weighed just 1,190 grams at birth, Isabella was 1,590g and Charlotte was the heaviest at 1,920g.

Challenging road to motherhood

Their arrival at 9.16pm on August 23, 2020 – 21 minutes after their mother’s seizure – was the culmination of six years of trying for a family.

“I had four miscarriages along the way.

“If it didn’t happen this time, we were just going to let it go. And then we found out we were pregnant… with triplets.”

Newborn Liliana Fitzgerald having cuddle with mum Leonie and dad Peter in August 2020.
Liliana Fitzgerald had to wait for a cuddle with mum Leonie.(Supplied)

The girls were conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Two fertilized eggs were implanted but one split in two. Liliana and Isabella are identical.

Mrs Fitzgerald estimates the couple spent about $ 100,000 in their quest to become parents.

On top of three rounds of IVF, she tried Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture, went on detox programs, quit her stressful job and worked with a Buddhist monk during her journey to motherhood.

She was almost 44 when she conceived the triplets.

“I didn’t meet my husband until I was nearly 38 and I specifically chose not to have kids with anyone else because I wanted to be certain about the person I was going to have kids with,” said Mrs Fitzgerald, who runs her own successful property investment business.

Triplets Liliana, Isabella and Charlotte Fitzgerald swaddled in wraps as newborns in 2020 photoshoot
Liliana, Isabella and Charlotte Fitzgerald were born in August 2020.(Supplied: KPW Studios / Kylie Williams)

Her advice to other couples struggling to have a family is to be at peace with whatever happens.

“I’m quite keen to get the message out for all those that are on that fertility journey that I’m a big believer in everything happens when it’s supposed to,” Mrs Fitzgerald said.

“If I wasn’t going to be a mum, then that was my journey. If it didn’t work out then it wasn’t meant to be. That would reduce the amount of negative thoughts I’d have.

“Every time I had a miscarriage, I would hear myself say out loud: ‘The universe has got bigger plans for us.’ Bigger plans, all right. Holy moly.”

‘I didn’t want to be on my own with them’

The triplets were in hospital for five weeks before being discharged.

Leonie Fitzgerald hooked up to medical equipment while in coma in hospital in August 2020
Leonie Fitzgerald spent weeks in hospital in mid-2020.(Supplied)

Mrs Fitzgerald also spent two weeks in the Mater after the seizure.

“When I first came home with the girls, I didn’t want to be on my own with them, just in case I did have another seizure and nobody was at home,” she said.

“I was not comfortable on my own for months after that.

“My husband had to be home with me for a while until I kind of felt like: ‘OK, I feel it could be OK now. But only go out for an hour.'”

Mrs Fitzgerald’s mum also lived nearby and the couple hired a nanny to help.

When the triplets first came home, they collectively needed about 30 nappy changes a day and 24 bottles of formula.

“My milk didn’t come down. In the end, we actually switched over to donor breastmilk because the identical twins (Liliana and Isabella) were getting quite bad eczema and it came down to the formula,” Mrs Fitzgerald said.

Triplets Liliana, Isabella and Charlotte Fitzgerald
The girls live by a strict daily schedule.(Supplied)

The triplets turn 20 months old this month and have a regular routine after the couple gleaned advice from other members of the Multiple Births Association.

‘We’ve got a white board with the girls’ schedule written on it – at 7 o’clock they wake up and have a bottle, at 8 they have breakfast, at 5 o’clock at night they have dinner, at 5: 30 they have a bath, at 6 o’clock we go for a walk, at 7 o’clock they go to bed, “their mum said.

“We are very structured.

“One thing people said, ‘was make sure they eat at the same time and they all go to bed at the same time.’ Otherwise, you’re always feeding someone and somebody’s always awake.”

‘Mother’s intuition’ may have kept babies safe

The obstetrician triplets describe the night of their births as one of the most memorable of his 25-year medical career.

“It was an extraordinary evening,” said Dr Conaghan, who had to drive to the Mater Mothers’ Hospital from his home about four minutes away to deliver the babies.

He said Mrs Fitzgerald’s seizure came with little warning, speculating that “mother’s intuition” may have played a role in keeping her babies safe.

“We’d been trying to get as far along as we could in her pregnancy and Leonie had reached her end point, she’d reached a line in the sand when she was like: ‘I can’t do this anymore’,” Dr Conaghan said.

“That was the reason for us saying, ‘OK, it’s time to get your babies out.'”

Peter and Leonie Fitzgerald smiling with triplets Liliana, Charlotte and Isabella
Liliana, Charlotte and Isabella are now 20 months old.(Supplied)

At her suggestion, she was admitted to the hospital the day before the planned caesarean section. Four hours later, she had the seizure, its cause only diagnosed in the hours after she gave birth.

“Pre-eclampsia, which is the condition that leads to eclampsia, usually builds up over a period of days and weeks. You can see that it’s coming and you deliver before you get to a dangerous level.

“We didn’t really pick up any signs of it in any of her ante-natal care.

“She had that rare situation of… really rapidly progressive pre-eclampsia that resulted in an eclamptic convulsion before we’d even recognized that she had a problem.”

Brisbane Mater Mothers' Hospital obstetrician Dr Paul Conaghan
Dr Conaghan said the quick delivery made a difference to the outcome.(Supplied)

Dr Conaghan praised Mater hospital staff for getting Mrs Fitzgerald into the operating theater so quickly, describing the 21-minute interval between the seizure and the babies being delivered as “astonishing”.

“The biggest trouble we had to deal with is it was such a traumatic experience for the parents,” he said.

“That was not the entrance into parenthood that they wanted. But to have got out of it and have three beautiful children is such a lovely thing.

“I couldn’t be happier for them.”


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