When Jeff Johnston found a cell signal and turned on his phone at 8:30 a.m. on the last Sunday of May, he had three text messages from his wife, Nanci Johnston.
4:30 a.m.: "My water broke."
5:30 a.m.: "I'm going into delivery."
6:30 a.m.: "The babies are here. Get here safely."
Jeff Johnston was on a road trip north of Shasta, two full weeks ahead of the scheduled delivery date — but babies run on their own timeline. The president of the Lodi teacher's union had just become a father to triplets.
After some uncertainty and lots of hope, Patrick Timmons Johnston, Genevieve Grace Johnston and Jacob Dale Johnston were born on May 27.
"People ask us, did we want three? What a question. We were just happy to be pregnant," said Nanci Johnston.
The road to parenthood wasn't easy, but it was paved with good luck for the couple. Married in 2008, Nanci and Jeff Johnston were not sure if children were a possibility. Doctors said in vitro fertilization could offer them a 5 percent chance of pregnancy.
They shared the happy news with family and friends at Christmas in 2011: Triplets were on the way.
Carrying multiple babies creates a high-risk pregnancy. Everything is exponential with three, said Nanci Johnston, who was able to continue teaching at Beckman Elementary School for much of her pregnancy. By taking it easy and keeping her feet up, she made it through without any complications. Even the delivery was calm, she said.
That's when the good luck really flowed in.
"The generosity of everyone is overwhelming," she said.
Friends and family donated clothes, chairs, diapers and other baby care items.
"We just bought our first box of diapers yesterday," said Jeff Johnston. "It's as though everyone said, 'The Johnstons have triplets, give it to them.'"
The couple are paying it forward by shipping extra and outgrown baby clothes to expectant mothers who lost everything in Superstorm Sandy.
All three children were released from the hospital on the same day. Jeff Johnston's cousin from Iowa was able to spend a month in California while the new parents devised a system to care for their babies.
"With three, it's all about organization," said Nanci Johnston. Mom and dad keep a clipboard to track each child's meals and diaper changes. Whoever gets up with the first baby also gets up with the third at night.
Nanci Johnston is grateful for the international online mommy networks she has tapped into. During a 2 a.m. feeding, there's almost always another mom to talk to.
At 6 months old, Patrick is a sturdy boy with an eager grin, Genevieve has just learned to blow raspberries, and Jacob pulls his thumb into his mouth at naptime. Each one runs on his or her own schedule, but the couple are able to keep up and keep their day jobs with the help of a nanny.
"By and large, they're pretty easygoing babies," said Jeff Johnston. "And we just love them."
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.