When Angela Rielo’s grandson Noah started school, he noticed that his classmates’ families were bigger than his. His friends had siblings—brothers and sisters—to play and grow up with.
One day he came back from school and asked his grandmother if they could expand their family unit and if she could give him a little sister.
“I was surprised at first,” explains Angela. “I thought I can’t — I don’t have a partner.”
Angela (45), originally from Brazil but now living in Dublin, is raising Noah (8). When her daughter, who is currently living in Brazil, became pregnant, she was unable to take care of her son. Angela said she would take care of him.
At the time, Angela, a nurse and healthcare assistant, was in Ireland learning English. Actually she wanted to stay a year, but she flew back home for Noah’s birth. The two then returned to Europe, living in Germany and Italy before settling in Ireland.
“I came to Ireland knowing what it would be like to raise him here,” she says.
She liked the quality of life she could give her grandson and had grown fond of the country.
While she was initially surprised by Noah’s desire for siblings, the more she thought about it, her opinion began to change.
“I thought about it for a bit and thought it wouldn’t be fair for him, just for the two of us in the country. I chose this life, but he didn’t choose it,” she says. “If he could have decided, he would certainly have preferred to stay in Brazil, but for me it’s different.”
There was another factor in Angela’s decision-making process. At the age of three, Noah was diagnosed with autism.
“He’s autistic and it’s not easy making so many friends… he’s a great boy. Such a great boy and I [wanted] that he will grow up with someone who will love him like I love him. I didn’t want him to grow up alone and he asked for a sister. I said, ‘Well, why not?’”
In 2018 she started IVF. It was going to be a long road: a total of five IVF cycles with two failed implantations and two miscarriages.
After the first miscarriage, she chose not to tell Noah about future pregnancies if they resulted in loss, and he found the news too depressing.
On her third round of IVF, Angela was diagnosed with endometriosis and inflammation of the uterus. She returned to Brazil, where her doctor recommended surgery in December 2019.
After this operation it was not possible to use her eggs in further IVF rounds. Instead, Angela would have to find an egg donor. And so she began to wait to find a suitable partner, someone who shared her physical characteristics.
This can be a lengthy process. But as fate would have it, while she was waiting, Brazil’s Federal Medical Council changed its rules on assisted reproduction.
For the first time, daughters and nieces of parents-to-be were allowed to act as surrogate mothers or provide egg cells. Angela turned to Noah’s mother, her daughter Mayara.
“After the miscarriages, she saw how difficult it was for me,” explains Angela. “And she said, ‘I’ll try to help you.'”
Mayara was living in Spain at the time and traveled to Brazil to start the process.
The fifth round of IVF was successful for Angela and she was over the moon with the news. However, when she got to her scan, she was surprised to find that Noah would not have one sibling, but three, as she was pregnant with triplets.
“In the beginning I was scared [but I also felt] blessed after two miscarriages,” she says. The multiple pregnancy was different from her previous pregnancies as she was more mature, but she found it an extremely positive experience.
She had her babies on Holles Street and found the team there very supportive and encouraging. “The care was great. They were very good.”
Early in her pregnancy, Angela knew she wanted to breastfeed her triplets because of the health benefits it would bring.
Multiple pregnancies can often be shorter than single-child pregnancies. Triplets are usually born in the 34th week of pregnancy.
Hospitals, including Holles Street, encourage preterm and preterm infants to have breast milk.
Rosie Murtagh, who runs Holles Street Breastfeeding Clinic, explains: “The gut motility isn’t that good [in preterm babies] as a term baby. Breast milk can prevent a condition called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).”
NEC is a disease in which tissues in the gut become inflamed and can lead to perforation of the gut and serious infection.
Knowing her babies would be born at 34 weeks, Angela decided she wanted to breastfeed all three.
“It was something I wanted to do. I knew how important my milk would be to them and I decided to work hard for it,” says Angela.
She spent time with Helen Batson, Holles Street’s lactation consultant, before and after the arrival of her children.
“I couldn’t be more grateful. When I said I wanted to do it she was so supportive, she made sure I have everything you need. When you start pumping you need all the pumps and bottles and she showed me how to do it.”
On March 29, 2022 Vince, Liz and Mia were born. Both Angela and Noah were over the moon.
“It’s not just my dream, it is [Noah’s] dream too. To give him a family, and genetically these children are his brothers and sisters. I chose to be part of this country and he has a brother and sisters [here] now… I’m so happy.”
Of course, caring for and breastfeeding triplets presents challenges and requires a lot of organization.
“It’s hard because you don’t have three breasts!” She laughs. “That means you have to pump constantly. I have to pump more than if you had a baby or twins… to make sure they have enough milk. I’m tired but soon they will start eating and they won’t want my boobs anymore. I do my best, we have a routine, we play, we go for walks.
“It’s difficult,” she says. “I’m not telling you it’s easy. I don’t sleep that much, my food is always cold, but I’m so happy.
“People say you have your hands full, but my heart is so full. All you need is love and belief in your dreams. That’s all. I don’t want much, I just want them to grow up happy and [for them] have each other.”
The NMH breastfeeding clinics are listed here nmh.ie/your-baby/breastfeeding.13618.html
National Breastfeeding Week runs from October 1st to 7th
https://www.independent.ie/life/family/parenting/my-heart-is-so-full-meet-the-grandmother-who-gave-birth-to-her-grandsons-siblings-42040842.html “My Heart Is So Full” – Meet the grandmother who gave birth to her grandson’s siblings