Mom on the move, balancing multiple children, brain surgery

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

DACULA -- Michelle Fitzsimmons, 39, hasn't been to a movie theater since January 2005. Three weeks ago, she had her first meal alone with husband Michael in two years.

It's hard to find time for yourself when you're raising five small kids, including triplets, while recovering from a surgery to remove a brain tumor.

Fitzsimmons' life is a busy one, and one of her many duties is being president of Gwinnett Mothers of Multiples, leading 200 women who have similar family situations. The organization sets up playgroups and offers mutual understanding of the challenge raising twins and triplets.

It also helps members tackle financial struggles. This weekend, the group is having a large consignment sale to buy and sell used clothes and other child care items. Fitzsimmons says she makes $500 each sale, funding her kids' five October birthdays.

"Everyone says it's a blur. The triplets are two already. Yesterday it feels like I found out I was having triplets," Fitzsimmons said.

After the kids finally go to sleep she has a part-time customer service job from home 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. She's used to five hours of sleep.

Fitzsimmons was one of five kids in a big Catholic family in Pennsylvania. She grew up always wanting many kids, especially twins. Her wish was one-upped. Her five kids include: Sarah, 5, Maria, 3, and the 22-month-old triplets, Robert, Anne-Marie and Edward.

Without any relatives in town, day care and a husband working 10 to 12 hour days, Fitzsimmons takes care of the kids herself in the day. She gets up at 6:45, an hour before the kids do, to prepare breakfast and lunch. Dinner is tough: no kids in the kitchen for two hours so their mother can make enough food for two days. Lately, bedtime takes an hour.

"You cannot stress and you have to kind of let (misbehaving) go and laugh about it. You just do it," Fitzsimmons said.

Plastic mini-cars and bikes litter the driveway of their four-bedroom home. Inside, the living room floors are overrun by stuffed bears and boxes of toys. The kids can get dressed practically anywhere with three racks of clothes in the living room and a dresser in one hallway.

"You want to keep your house as neat as you can, but I feel some days all I can do is pick up," Fitzsimmons said.

It took seven years for her to have a child. Like five to 10 percent of all women, Fitzsimmons suffers from polycystic ovary syndrome which causes infertility. All of her pregnancies required in vitro fertilization.

When the Fizsimmonses found out they were having triplets, the father wondered how they would pay for college.

"I was like 'How am I going to birth them? Let me worry about birthing healthy kids and then we can pay for college," Michelle Fitzsimmons said.

The mother was confronted with a difficult decision when doctors suggested aborting one child because of health risks. She refused, and in October 2008, the family doubled in size.

People who approach her (about seven every grocery trip, she estimates) are shocked to hear Fitzsimmons wants even more kids. The obstacle isn't stress, it's the brain tumor, partially removed in 2006. Growth hormones during a pregnancy can make the benign tumor larger, which happened when she had the triplets.

"I don't need it to grow, cause a problem and leave five kids without a mother," she said.

About the only time Fitzsimmons gets to herself is 90 minutes at the gym (with child care). But with the triplets entering the Terrible Twos, the gym visits are getting rare.

Fitzsimmons' 22-month-old daughter Anna-Marie claws her mother's face, shoving tiny fists into mom's mouth. Later, the toddler yanks at Fitzsimmons' shirt, pulling it out as far as her stringy arms can. Some moms might yell or shout. Fitzsimmons chuckles.

"We have to laugh with them because if not, I would have had a nervous breakdown by now," she said.