Last week, a Southern California woman gave birth to octuplets. Early news reports focused on the medical accomplishment - all of the babies were delivered healthy and seemed to be thriving, including the "surprise" eighth one (the doctors were prepared for seven) - and didn't divulge too much personal information about the family. But people are curious, and before long details began to leak out. At this point, there's still a fair amount of rumor mixed with fact, but these are a few of the things on the "fact" list: the mother is in her early thirties, conceived the babies through fertility treatments - and already has six children, including one set of twins (all of whom were also conceived via IVF). If eight is WAY more than enough, then what the heck is 14?
It's mind-boggling to me, mostly, especially considering that the mother is a single parent who lives with her own mother, in addition to her children. Then again, my own experience makes it hard for me to wrap my head around this story. Even though the number of children one has should be a strictly personal decision, we all know it gets second-guessed by other people. I suspect it happens more when your number is at the extremes. As the mother of an only child, I'm familiar with the questioning and judgments that come with "fewer," and I'm sure it happens at the other end of the spectrum too - because I've engaged in it. A mindset that considers one child the "right" number can have a hard time grasping how anyone could manage, let alone want, five, or six, or ten(!) children.
My response to this story is shaped not only by the fact that I have, by choice, only one child, but also that the child resulted from only one pregnancy. The timing of that pregnancy wasn't ideal - I was nineteen years old, single, and a full-time college student - but it didn't change my feelings that I'd had my one, and now I was done. My own efforts during the last 25 years have been focused on avoiding another pregnancy, so I confess that I've never felt the drive and urgency to conceive a child that makes many women turn to modern reproductive technology.
While the first reports on the successful octuplet birth presented it as a medical achievement, the circumstances that led to it are now bringing up serious questions about medical practice and ethics, and quite a few of those questions are being asked by women who have been through similar procedures themselves, with very different outcomes. The medical team at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center who delivered the babies has stated that the mother was almost through her first trimester when they met her, and she did not go through fertility treatments there - but it's been established that she did somewhere, and this was not the first time. Inquiring minds would like to know more about how this was even allowed to happen, given official guidelines concerning the number of embryo transfers and pyschological evaluation of IVF patients. (One rumor suggests that the Octuplet Mom went through the procedure somewhere outside of the US, where there might be fewer restrictions.)
Inquiring minds would also like to know how exactly these 14 children will be supported, but there's a pretty strong suspicion that our tax dollars will be at work here. However, the mother is already working on lining up (even more) media exposure, which she hopes will lead to corporate sponsorships. According to her own mother, the Octuplet Mom has been "obsessed" with having children since her teens; according to one news story, she plans a career as a "television childcare expert." To my knowledge, a huge family has never been one of the prerequisites for childcare "expertise" - but if she does intend to raise these 14 children successfully over the next 18 years, she's definitely going to need some expertise.
I don't get it, though. I don't get wanting to have 13 or 14 children in the first place; I don't get going to extreme lengths to have them; and I really don't get when it seems to be more about a woman wanting to have babies than it is about the lives those children - they're not going to stay babies - will have. If you get it, can you please explain it to me?
Parts of this post were originally published on the Los Angeles Moms Blog. Other bloggers in the Silicon Valley Moms Group weighed in on this story too - look for links in this week's "Saturday Review."