A rare set of identical triplets born in the US, with a father from the ACT, have become an unexpected global sensation.
The one-in-a-million Laurel, Abby and Brindabella - named after the mountain range to the ACT's west - were born to former Canberran Tom Hepner (formerly Kaminskas) and his American wife Hannah, at a hospital in Sacramento, California, on November 22.
Doctors put the odds of naturally conceived identical triplets being born - without fertility drugs - as high as one in 200 million.
From front-page news in The Sacramento Bee, the story soon took off, popping up across the US and as far afield as Britain.
''It has been overwhelming, but we knew it would be short-lived. I'm sure our girls will be amazed one day that the rarity of their birth was so celebrated,'' Mr Hepner said.
The triplets are in a neonatal intensive care unit after being born via caesarean at 33 weeks, and all three are putting on weight and progressing beautifully, their blissed-out parents say.
''I'm in awe of the fact that the girls are here and doing so well,'' Mrs Hepner said. ''Every day I think about the fact that they are still supposed to be incubating inside of me. I feel like I've cheated the system and get to meet and cuddle my girls so soon.''
Mr Hepner, who grew up in Canberra, said he had spent a lot of time exploring the Brindabella Ranges. ''They are an intimate part of my history and early appreciation for the natural world. It is also where we had our small wedding ceremony in 2007, on top of Mount Franklin,'' he said.
The couple moved to the US in 2010. Mr Hepner works for a mapping and modelling company and his wife manages a farmers' market.
When they discovered they were having triplets, Mr Hepner remembered that ''time stood still that first few minutes''.
''We both started nervously giggling the way you do when in shock. Then there were a few tears,'' he said. ''I think that for most pregnancies, at some point, there is probably a joke about the possibility of twins. Triplets never ever got mentioned.''
At birth, Abby weighed 1.36 kilograms, Laurel was 1.81 kilograms and Brindabella was 1.67 kilograms.
''They are healthy, and very feisty, the nurses say,'' Mr Hepner said. ''Two were on breathing help for a short while, early on. Now they just seem like normal, happy babies. They are just small … and are learning how to feed on their own.''
The triplets are expected to leave hospital closer to their full-term date, and their parents are now looking to the logistics of suddenly going from being a couple to a five-member family.
The Hepners live in the mountain community of Quincy, in north-eastern California. The community was recently named one of the 10 coolest small towns in America, and their friends and family are rallying to welcome the family home. Mr Hepner's younger brother Tim is visiting from Australia and Mrs Hepner's mother Susie lives about five hours away. Some friends are building a carport for them to protect their Subaru from the snow.
''I do miss my mum in Canberra dearly, who is unlikely to travel, and I have two brothers there, too,'' Mr Hepner said. ''Other family and friends in Australia are missed a lot at a time like this. Once you've got roots in two different and wonderful places, it can really hit you hard.''
The couple are not planning on any more children; they feel ''incredibly lucky'' to have their girls - all of whom will be cherished as their own person.
''Most importantly we want to raise our girls as individuals, and will go out of our way to ensure they don't always feel like part of a package deal,'' Mr Hepner said.
''They are already showing their personalities, although it is hard to tell them apart sometimes. There's no denying the whole triplet angle will be fun sometimes, for both us and them, I'm sure.''
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