If you had walked into Sutter Medical Plaza Sacramento on Wednesday morning, you would have found yourself seeing double, or even triple, as families with twins and triplets gathered to thank the staff who helped them get through their pregnancies.
The 27 families present were all "graduates" of the Sutter Moms of Multiples (MOMs) Center, offered under the umbrella of Sutter Women's Services.
The program is designed to help mothers expecting twins, triplets or more with pre- and postnatal care.
Its goal is to help the women carry their pregnancies to full term, if medically possible, so the babies are as healthy as possible when they are born.
The center is the brainchild of Dr. Bill Gilbert, medical director of Women's Services for Sutter Health Sacramento Sierra Region and a local perinatologist who specializes in high-risk pregnancies, including multiple births.
"I got the idea when I realized that I was seeing a lot of patients who were expecting multiples enrolled in normal birthing classes," Gilbert said. "The problem was that these women have special needs and there are aspects of their pregnancies that are very different from giving birth to a single child."
Gilbert created a focus group consisting of mothers of twins and triplets who had already delivered and asked them what kind of care they would have appreciated while pregnant. Then he created a six-member team consisting of himself, a coordinator, a massage therapist, an exercise physiologist, a lactation consultant and a social worker.
Together, the services they offer range from weekly check-in phone calls during pregnancy and nutrition classes, to postpartum lactation consultations and support groups for fathers.
"Our four main goals for the program are education on what it means to parent multiples, risk prevention since these women can have complications, producing healthy size babies, and providing emotional support," said current program coordinator, Jacqueline Masullo.
Masullo's role as coordinator includes follow-up home visits after delivery to screen for signs of postpartum depression.
"These women are at higher risk for postpartum depression because of the stress that can come with raising multiples," Masullo said, "so we don't stop caring for them just because the babies have been born."
The center's staff keeps tabs on patients for at least six weeks after hospital discharge, and participants are encouraged to contact the center if they continue to have questions or concerns. Many families go on to join local support groups for mothers of multiples within their neighborhoods.
Since its creation in November 2008, the center has helped 226 mothers. While most participants who come through are expecting twins, the center has also worked with 14 families with triplets and four families with quadruplets.
"Finding out that you're having twins in the first place is overwhelming," said Emily Lambert of Roseville. "It's nice to know that you're not alone."
Lambert, who is mother to 4 1/2-month-old Audrey and Stella, said she was able to keep the babies in utero for 34 weeks with the help of the MOMs program, despite the fact that her daughters were monoamniotic monochorionic, or MoMo, twins.
This rare condition means the identical twins shared an amniotic sac and placenta while in the womb, which put them at risk of getting entangled in each other's umbilical cords.
When the girls were born, Lambert was required to stay in the hospital for 6 1/2 weeks, and her daughters were placed in the neonatal intensive care unit, where doctors could monitor their weight gain. Lambert said several of the MOMs staff, including Masullo, came to visit her during her inpatient stay.
"It was just nice that I had this support group," she said.
Since most multiples require some time in the NICU, the program also offers hospital tours to registered parents so they can understand where and how their children will be cared for, Gilbert said. This is meant to alleviate the parents' stress after delivery.
"I never thought I was going to have twins," said Cassandra Gossage of Sacramento, mother to 11-month-old twin boys Wyatt and Kaleb. "But I did, and I'm so grateful for the program. It's not only for the kids, but it's also for me and my husband, which has been so helpful."