Brooke Butterbaugh-Larson, 30, a nurse from Mansfield, Ohio, along with her husband, Chris Larson, recently became a new mother—to three babies at once. Brooke and her husband welcome triplets, daughter Dixie and two sons, Barret and Crew.
Having three babies at once wasn’t the only surprise in Brooke’s life. She also was surprised to learn that after struggling to conceive on her own and learning she and her husband would need some assistance to start their family, that travel nursing would be a tool to help in that journey.
It Starts with Family
Brooke’s new family being helped by nursing is a bit of a full circle moment, as her own journey into nursing was inspired by seeing the nurses who cared for her own family when her grandfather was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was in fifth grade.
After attending Ohio State and then graduating from Ashland University, Brooke and her husband married in 2018 and she decided to try travel nursing in 2019, after a friend of hers spoke highly of it. “I wanted to broaden my nursing knowledge and experience and I thought that was the best way to do things by going to different hospitals and working different floors and seeing new things that are done, because not every hospital, nor every floor, does things the same way,” she explains.
As she worked as a travel nurse, Brooke and her husband also tried for two years to start their own family but did not have any luck conceiving naturally. The couple tried some fertility assistance, including Clomid and IUI, before being advised that in-vitro fertilization (IVF) would be a good route for them. She was told that she would need to do the prep steps, then take medicine before the retrieval could be scheduled. But when she went to pay for the medicine needed to start the process, she got her first surprise.
“My husband was like, ‘Brooke, I think we need to just hold off a second,’” she remembers. “It was $4,500 just for the meds.”
The couple debated doing IVF but worried that spending the money without a guarantee of a baby was too risky. So they decided to spend the same amount as the meds would cost on more cycles of IUI—three more—before turning to IVF as a last resort. After enduring a chemical pregnancy in their third and a failed IUI in their fourth, they came to their fifth and final attempt. That time, Brooke recalls, felt “different.”
“Usually, I take 800,000 pregnancy tests,” she laughs. But after that fifth attempt, she adopted a “whatever happens happens” attitude and didn’t test at all—until she said she felt “weird.” She went to the store and picked up a pregnancy test, but decided to wait until the morning to take it. (And if you’ve ever been trying to conceive you know the level of restraint that takes).
The next morning, there was a faint line on your test, but she didn’t want to get her hopes up then. Another test later that day showed a darker line, so she allowed herself to finally start to feel a “little optimistic.” However, it wasn’t until she was finally able to take a digital test days later that showed her long-awaited positive result that she finally accepted her journey had finally come to an end. “I was very ecstatic,” says Brooke.
Covering the Cost of IVF
The cost of growing their family did come as somewhat of a surprise to Brooke and her husband and she made it work with a combination of travel and staff nursing. She had been working as a travel nurse before COVID but decided to go back to staff nursing in October of 2020 for the insurance as they started their fertility journey.
However, once they started exploring the costs of what that journey might actually entail—including possible IVF-–she soon realized that a staff nursing salary would not cover the financial aspect they needed. For instance, she knew that while costs can vary, for them, if they had to go the IVF route, they would need about $15-20K upfront, plus an additional $4K out of pocket for genetic embryo testing. Then, add in, the hour drive back and forth to the fertility clinic several times a month to the fertility clinic and other associated costs of tests, medications, and pregnancy tests, and Brooke decided to go back to travel nursing.
Brooke tells Nurse.org that she was fortunate to have a “phenomenal” recruiter who understood her goals. She was able to be honest with her and the manager she ended up interviewing with at the Cleveland Clinic, letting her know that she needed to work her staff job as well for the insurance and only needed a part-time travel contract for 13 weeks.
“If it wasn’t for her and my recruiter,[I] wouldn’t have ever got my babies,” Brooke says.
Her experience was so positive—with her nurse managers at both jobs working around her schedule and allowing her time off with the miscarriage—that she ended up turning her 13-week contract into a full year. “It was definitely a great place to work,” she adds.
A Triple Surprise
After getting her positive pregnancy test, Brooke was scheduled for her first transvaginal ultrasound. Because her husband had no medical knowledge, she remembers explaining to him what they would see on the screen.
“I told him, ‘You’re gonna see a little black circle with a little white circle and that little white circle is gonna be the baby,’” she recalls.
But during the actual ultrasound, while she had prepared her husband for what he might see, no one could have prepared them for what they actually did see. The screen was pointed away from her during the ultrasound and she heard the doctors and her husband talking—when she finally couldn’t take it anymore she grabbed the screen.
“I turned it towards me and there were three babies on the screen and I said, ‘Shut up. You’re lying to me!’ I probably said, ‘Shut up, you’re lying to me five times,’” she added with a laugh. “We were in total shock.”
Although the news came as a shock, it didn’t take long for Brooke to fully embrace the idea of becoming a mom to three babies at once. “I think throughout the whole pregnancy, like, you know, you can’t undo what’s already done,” she says. “So we just laughed about it. Like how, how are we going to take care of three babies? This is crazy.”
The physical demands of growing three humans in her body did soon take a toll on Brooke, but she worried about losing her FMLA eligibility. Fortunately, her nurse managers once again worked with her and allowed her to shorten her shifts but keep her hours so she could have maternity leave. She worked 8-hour days 5 days a week until her travel nursing contract was over and then she went into preterm labor at 27 weeks, so she was hospitalized on bedrest for two weeks. She attempted to go home but ended up having contractions shortly after.
Brooke was flight-lifted to a larger facility and although doctors attempted to stop her labor and administered steroids for the babies, her medical team decided it was time to deliver her babies into the world. Her three children were born via emergency C-section at 30 weeks and 2 days in December of 2022.
A Happy Family
Brooke and Chris are enjoying their new family—her daughter is “growing like a weed”—and adjusting to navigating the medical system once again for their sons, who are facing some medical diagnoses and challenges. For instance, Barret is having some hearing problems and Crew has some additional medical issues that they are continuing to work with his medical team to address. The babies remain at the hospital, which Brooke admits makes it difficult to embrace the idea of being a mother of three.
“It’s hard to think that I have three kids because I don’t have them with me at home,” she says. “They’re at the hospital— have very expensive babysitters it seems there.”
As the babies grow stronger, Brooke stays at a nearby Ronald McDonald House, where she pumps breast milk for the babies at midnight, 4 AM, and 8 AM again before heading to the hospital to spend time with and take care of the babies. “It’s kind of hard juggling the three but the nurses are very accommodating to me with helping me out and seeing what things would work with me and what things I would change and things like that,” she says.
While there’s a lot that still remains up in the air, Brooke says she would “love” to do travel nursing again in the future but for now, she plans to go part-time at her staff job to allow time for juggling the babies’ needs, medical appointments, and doctor visits. However, she’s still a big advocate of travel nursing, especially for anyone who may need financial assistance in growing their family.
“I would recommend travel nursing to anybody regardless of anything but if you’re wanting to have a family and you can’t afford it, travel nursing was definitely a way easier route to go than, you know, taking out a second mortgage on our home or taking a personal loan with high-interest rates,” she points out. “It was definitely one way to get money quickly doing what you love…I would recommend it to anybody.”
And while there are additional challenges that come with welcoming three babies at once, including facing medical diagnoses, Brooke is feeling grateful for both the nursing career that helped her welcome her family and will undoubtedly continue to help her as her children grow and become a mother as she always dreamed of. It may be hard to juggle becoming a mother, but Brooke is embracing it and excited for the future that lies ahead.
“We only wanted one and God blessed us with three,” she says.
All photos were provided by Brooke Larson.