When Kelli Fenley learned she was having identical triplets, she said she cried for 15 minutes. Her husband, Jason, just kept saying to himself, "How are we going to pay for this? How are we going to pay for this?"
But Thursday, as the Brightwaters couple stood in front of a phalanx of cameras at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola with their three boys, Owen Michael, Noah Charles and Miles John, they seemed the personification of grace under pressure.
The boys were born on July 1, each at 29 weeks weighing less than 3 pounds. Dr. Martin Chavez, Winthrop's chief of maternal fetal medicine, said the incidence of identical triplets is about 1 in a million.
The Fenley triplets, now healthy, were in the neonatal intensive care unit for 51 days, where they battled a series of problems typical of premature, low-weight babies: respiratory distress, jaundice, slow breathing and heartbeat, and an inability to suck.
Dr. Nazeeh Hanna, chief of neonatology, said the survival rate nationally for such babies is 85 percent. At Winthrop, he said proudly, it has been 100 percent for the 51 babies cared for so far this year in the NICU.
Since the babies went home last month, Kelli, 33, an assistant principal at a special needs school in Queens, and Jason, 38, a lawyer, said their life has been nonstop feeding, burping, diaper changing.
To tell the boys apart, the parents color-coded them, painting a toenail of each a different color -- blue, gray or green. They then dress the baby in that hue.
Though they're genetically identical, each has a different personality, the parents said. Noah is the most fussy, Miles the most laid back, Owen the most alert.
Brother Aidan, 2, has also done some adjusting, going from being the only child to one of four. But, Kelli said, he is good with his brothers, trying to calm them when they cry or offering a pacifier.
Mariellen Cain, a nurse in the NICU, said the labor room was controlled chaos when the babies were born. Kelli was scheduled to have a cesarean section, but Owen decided to be born first; the other two were then quickly delivered by C-section. Each triplet had his own team of nurses.
Cain marveled at the parents' composure throughout the pregnancy, delivery and after their births, when they visited each baby every day in the hospital.
"If anybody can handle this, they can," she said. "They were lucky to be born to this family."
In fact, she said, she plans to volunteer to baby-sit for them.
Margaret Murphy, the NICU nurse manager, agreed that the parents were uncommonly cool and collected.
"Some parents can be afraid," she said, given the babies' small size and apparent fragility. "But they stepped in and were very confident."
Right now, the parents are getting help from Kelli's sister, Nicole Roche, and Jason's mother. Kelli said she plans to go back to work in January and will probably need additional help.
Jason said he is still worried about money -- in fact, he said Thursday, he had a lottery ticket in his back pocket.
His father-in-law, John Roche of Babylon, believes a higher power was at work.
His wife, who passed away 4 1/2 years ago, always wanted grandchildren. In just two years, they now have five, including cousin Olivia, 20 months.
"I'm saying she sent them down," he said.