By Anna Grace Moore
Photos by Lauren Ustad
Morgan and Cooper Carden first met at a homecoming dance when they were freshmen at Hoover High School. They began dating in ninth grade and got married in 2019 not long after they both graduated from Auburn University.
Life seemed simple then, Morgan says. She was on track to become a speech pathologist, and Cooper majored in engineering, although he transitioned into wealth management after school.
However, life took a complete “180-degree turn” when this precious couple realized their family was growing–by three. The couple welcomed their spontaneous, identical, triplet sons, Harrison, Charlie and Wells, on May 19, 2021.
“We had them the day after our second anniversary,” Cooper says. “They were a great anniversary present. We thought we were having one. We went back, and they told us we were having twins. Then we went back and they told us we were having triplets.”
Imagine the shock a soon-to-be mom must feel, realizing she’s carrying not one, not two but three babies! Now imagine that exact feeling but hearing the news alone at a doctor’s appointment during a peak in the Covid-19 pandemic at already 11 weeks into pregnancy–and that will describe Morgan’s first steps into motherhood.
“We were excited when we found out that we were pregnant,” Morgan says, smiling. “It was probably a little sooner than we were planning. When we found out it was twins, it took me a little bit to get used to, but that wasn’t near as hard to accept as triplets. [I was] about five weeks when we found out it was twins. It wasn’t until 11 weeks that we found out it was triplets.”
Most parents have the full 40 weeks to prepare for an incoming blessing, but Morgan and Cooper had less than 15 weeks. Morgan has Lupus and struggled with the complications that arose from the autoimmune disorder during her pregnancy.
She was admitted to UAB at 25 weeks for high blood pressure and heart failure, and at 27 and a half weeks, her water broke unexpectedly. She had an emergency cesarean that included more than 40 people working together to deliver the babies safely and take care of her, too.
“When they were born, there was an eight-to-10 person team per child,” Cooper explains. “It was really impressive. We can’t speak enough about UAB and the entire High Risk OB/MFM department, especially Dr. Brocato and Dr. Knupp. They were so good to us. They did a great job preparing us for the long road.”
And a long road it was–that is, coming home from the hospital and navigating the triplets’ different feeding, napping and diapering schedules. Two of the triplets came home from their stay in the NICU in September, and the third made his debut at home in October.
“They all came home on oxygen, so they all came home with all of the challenges that comes with being on oxygen,” Cooper says. “Getting home, trying to maintain cords, breathing. It felt like we were trying to keep them alive. Now, it feels like we’re teaching them right from wrong, and that’s a lot harder than just keeping them alive.”
When asked how they did it, both Morgan and Cooper are adamant that their family, friends, neighbors, doctors and nurses–their village as they call it–are the reason why their triplets are living happily and healthily, and they as parents are thriving.
“We have a great support system,” Cooper adds. “I get to go to work everyday for eight hours. I get more of a break than she does. We had to be really good at communicating when we needed a break because you get worn out and worn down and just want to fight each other. That forced us to be better communicators, a better team.”
Morgan, too, nods the same sentiment. “There are three of them and two of us. We are already outnumbered. We had no choice but to do things together.”
Several individuals such as Dr. Carter, who is the triplets’ physician at Greenvale Pediatrics, is on Morgan’s speed-dial list. “We love him to death,” Morgan says. She, herself, was actually one of Dr. Carter’s first patients when he began practicing after medical school.
Another friend of the family, Katie Batson, who is a student at UAB, has personally lent her time to the family any time they needed her.
“She helps me most days,” Morgan explains. “She is an absolute lifesaver. We could not do it without her. Our friends, the community, strangers–so many people have stepped up.”
At any given day during the triplets’ first few months of life, the Cardens’ front door was always open. Someone, usually a team of two-to-three people, were there everyday to help Morgan and Cooper with the babies.
Every two hours, teams would rotate to help diaper, then feed, then burp the babies and help put them back to sleep. They did this for months and even as the formula crisis hit in 2022, Morgan and Cooper never not had what they needed.
“When the formula shortage was going on, we had some friends in Auburn who picked up formula for us,” Cooper notes. “We ended up having too much, so we gave it back out to other people in Birmingham who needed it. People have come from near and far to help out.”
Morgan adds that the triplets were going through a large, Costco-size tub of formula a day, which is three-to-four tubs a week. They also had on average 30-to-40 diaper changes a day. In their first year of life, the triplets likely had between 12,000-to-13,000 diaper changes between the three of them. Before their first birthday, the triplets together attended 80 doctor’s appointments.
Morgan says she cannot imagine raising children without her family’s love and support. She even believes that they have more help than some parents of only one child. Whenever she had a question or needed help or even just wanted a break, she says she could always rely on Cooper, her rock.
“He has definitely stepped up and helped more than I could’ve ever imagined,” Morgan says, smiling at Cooper. “I’ve never had to ask or beg him to get up in the night or change diapers. He’s always jumping in to do those things to help me out and give me a break.”
When talking about becoming a father, Cooper says his experience has “made me appreciate a mother’s love. Morgan will go above and beyond for them in protection. That made me appreciate her more.”
Now in their “terrible twos,” the triplets’ personalities are starting to form, and Morgan and Cooper say they are enjoying watching their children hit new milestones.
“Wells is our eater and our bruiser,” Cooper says, chuckling. “He’s knocking somebody over. Charlie is usually getting into something he doesn’t need to be–the fireplace. Harrison is the baby. You can tell, looking at him, that he’s always wanting to be held.”
Although the triplets are actually genetically identical, Morgan can tell them apart better than anyone.
“Everyone thinks I’m crazy, but I just don’t think they look the same,” she says. “Looking at them, it literally blows my mind that they’re genetically the same.”
As the pitter patter of tiny feet echo in the halls, she says seldom does she do a double take. It’s a mother’s instinct.
Whether the boys grow up to become interested in sports, music or anything else, Morgan and Cooper say they are so happy the boys are alive, well and honestly, love each other and always want to play.
“It’s chaotic every single day, but it’s a lot of fun,” Morgan says. “We get to experience something that most people don’t. We feel super blessed.”
To keep up with the Cardens, follow Morgan on Instagram @morganscarden.