June 05, 2000 12:00 PM

The odds against what happened to Richard and Crystal Williams would make the hardest-boiled bookie hedge his bets. On April 17, 1998, Williams, née Cornick, now 19, gave birth to healthy triplets. And that’s just the half of it. A mere 20 months later, on Feb. 1, she did it again, beating 10 million-to-1 odds against a repeat performance. Amazingly, Williams has never taken fertility drugs, multiple births do not run in either family, and when she got pregnant the second time, the studious Goucher College freshman (now on leave) was taking birth control pills. Notes Dr. Ira Gewolb, who supervised delivery of the latest triplets at the University of Maryland’s Hospital for Children: “It’s more common to get hit by lightning or to win the lottery.”

The Baltimore couple feel as though they’ve done both. “I’m still in shock,” says the mother of six. “I already have gray hair at 23,” adds her husband, an only child who put college on hold to drive a truck 60 hours a week to support his family. Since the birth of the second set, the media have come calling for a peek—from Today’s Katie Couric to a German television show. Strangers have donated diapers—the family goes through nearly 300 a week—and the hospital where all six were born has set up a trust fund.

In the middle of all this baby bedlam, the couple got married on Feb. 5 and moved into Richard’s parents’ three-bedroom townhouse. Having delivered her babies just four days earlier, Williams left her own wedding reception to visit Tyree, 4 lbs. 5 oz., Tyler, 3 lbs. 13 oz., and Ariel, 5 lbs., who had to remain in the hospital for a few days longer.

The newest arrivals snuggle shoulder to shoulder in their crib while their 22-month-old brother and sisters—Richard Jr., Erin and Iman—toddle circles around their parents and charm with new phrases like “thank you” and “bless you.” Blessed is how Richard feels. “What is the chance that all of them come out healthy—no heart problems, no dramas in the delivery room?” he asks. “A lot of credit goes to God.”

But the day-to-day responsibility falls to the young couple—and to their supportive parents. Williams is a special young woman, says Dr. Gewolb: “Here’s a mom who is going to school, really wants to finish, is serious about it. And Richard is committed to her.”

The pair began dating in the summer of 1997 after meeting at a mall bus stop. That December, Williams, an honors student at the all-girl Western Senior High School, discovered she was pregnant. “The doctor gave me a sonogram and said not only are you 16½ weeks pregnant,” she recalls, “but you’re going to have twins.” Look closer, Doc. A month later, a second sonogram spotted a third baby. Williams, who had already sent out college applications, did not take the news well. Neither did her mother. This was, after all, the dutiful daughter who had missed only four days of school since kindergarten and planned to become a financial analyst. She tried to keep her pregnancy a secret. “A lot of people put you down, and that’s not right,” she says. “It’s like, don’t assume I’m not going to do anything with my life.”

When she discovered she had won the trifecta again, everyone was incredulous. “I started lighting cigarette after cigarette,” says her mother, Phyllis Jones, 47. “Then I thought, ‘Oh well, we’ve got three, we’ll just have three more.’ ”

Her daughter is determined to return to school someday. Meanwhile, Williams dreams about spending a few hours with her husband. “We haven’t been to a movie since last summer,” she says wistfully. And that time, she adds, “Richard fell asleep.” Who could blame him?

Christina Cheakalos

Joanna Blonska in Baltimore

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