From The I-Don’t-Get-It Files: Eight is more than enough

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.”

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  1. Absolutely baffling. To have six children and choose IVF treatment for more. I don’t know, I think what you said is true. That people who think of a certain number as the ‘right’ amount of children (that number is 2 for me) find it difficult to see through someone else’s perspective.

    Also, I do not like the idea of more media exposure for this woman or her children. Having children should not be the means in which to become pseudo-famous.

  2. Well, for the TV angle, since when has actual qualifications had anything to do with being a pop psychologist? Look at Dr Laura (PhD in what amounts to Phys Ed) for instance.

    What I am not seeing in any of this debate is the question of why it’s so easy to get doctors to impregnate women but if a woman goes in for sterilization she is generally told to go away under the idea that she will regret not having kids so ‘for her own good’ the doctor won’t do the procedure.

  3. I am not sure about the “to each their own” Society will be paying for this. How much do you think it costs just for the birth of those children? $1,000,000 is my guess and she is a single mother with 6 already. It is not right to me. How can she raise properly that many children on her own? How do Christian’s feel on this?

  4. Hello to all the visitors who found this post via the “from the blogs” link on! Your comments are welcome, as long as they are polite and civil – discussion and debate are fine, insults and abuse will get you deleted.

    Michelle – I know that my own experience makes it hard for me to grasp this, but I also fall back on it in an effort to sound less judgmental :-). But having said that, I agree with you about the fame issue (or is it more like infamy?) – that’s all about the mom, and it’s going to happen, no matter how wrong it seems.

    Jythie – That’s a good point, especially with younger women; I’ve heard of it happening. I think it’s the focus on “having babies” rather than “raising children” that influences it both ways.

    Amy – Obsession with babies and with getting media attention, maybe? If that’s all it is, then I think it’s just sad for everyone.

    Jim – That’s one of my questions too. I suspect her plan is NOT to raise them on her own; she’s looking for subsidies and sponsorships, and if those don’t come through, social services probably will (and as a SoCal taxpayer, that means me).

    Kathy (Bermudaonion) – No argument there, and I find it interesting that no one has stepped forward about that. The doctors who delivered the babies were quick enough to announce they hadn’t been involved in the conception. Either someone knows he/she is in for trouble, or there’s some credence to the theory that the mother got IVF in another country and/or it wasn’t IVF, but unauthorized use of fertility drugs.

  5. Can anyone really, give every of the 14 children emotional “nutrition”? Everytime there is news about families with excessive numbers of children, people or media treat it as if it is a blessing (like recently the family with 18 children). What about each and everyone of the kids who can never get enough of any attention because mom is busy with a new baby/pregnancy?

  6. Considering the general problem in the world of population explosion, it would not seem prudent to implant even one embryo into a woman who already had 6 children and was struggling financially to support them. It is even questionable when people who can afford to raise large families have many children (obviously exempting those who adopt).
    I’m not suggesting that we go to the extremes that the Chinese government has, but we cannot continue to bring an unlimited number of babies into an already overcrowded planet. I believe that the concept of implanting embryos is to assist couples, who for whatever reason, cannot create a child naturally. It is not to bring an endless supply of babies into the world.

  7. I agree with one of the anonymous comments above: I always believed IVF is to help all those that are not able to have children naturally. This mother obviously is plenty fertile!

    I spent a year waiting/trying to get pregnant — and I was so excited when I finally found he was coming. So if that hadn’t happened, I can understand eventually turning to IVF and being overwhelmed but excited with multiples. But I honestly can’t comprehend the drive to have more children when she already had six…I think she needs to spend more time with the children she has! I can’t imagine they get the nurturing they need…Just one baby is a lot of work!

    As for the other anonymous comment above about no family of 14 getting enough love, I don’t necessarily agree with that. If the children are spaced out enough and the family is able to afford it (because that does make a difference in stress levels, I think), I think children in a large family can feel equally loved. It’s just a different dynamic than being in a small family.

  8. Where are the fathers of this woman’s other six children? Are they paying child support?

    I am the youngest of five. I know what it’s like to go to an expensive private school with knots in my hair, starving and cold. My childhood wasn’t pleasant. As an adult in my forties, I have never been pregnant. I have adopted dogs. There are enough children that need adoption. Why didn’t this woman consider being a foster mom? This is very wrong.

  9. “QUOTE”

    Anonymous said…
    Get over it! This is NOT being paid for with tax dollars so mind your own business.

    February 4, 2009 11:39 AM

    PROVE IT!!!!!!!!!

  10. On 2/4 at 11:39 AM, Anonymous said…
    “Get over it! This is NOT being paid for with tax dollars so mind your own business.” It is our business if that unknown benefactor does not keep up the payments for medical insurance, private education, extra help (one of the original 6 already is known to have autism), clothing, food and shelter.

    If he/she doesn’t continue paying for all 14 of these children….then we will be paying for them….or the state that has them living there will.

    Those poor kids will have to pay for the stupidity of their mother and their doctor(s)……I hope the sperm donor had a higher IQ then those already mentioned, so some of those kids have hope!

  11. Linsey (TheKroliks) – Thanks for that link; I’ve added it to the round-up I’m posting this weekend.

    Amy (SelfishMom) – The more public the mother goes – or has a publicist go on her behalf – the more unsettling it is, and the more it really does seem to be all about HER and not the children.

    Rebecca – Since these 14 children are all under the age of 10, I think there might be a good possibility that some won’t get the attention they need or deserve. It does NOT sound like a healthy situation. And I can’t understand that drive to have more kids either – I know some women hate to let go of their “babies,” but they do grow up. They’re SUPPOSED to.

    Momgonenutz – One way or another, I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a social cost for this.

    Responding to some of the anonymous comments, although you’re doing fine generating discussion amongst yourselves already:
    – “I believe that the concept of implanting embryos is to assist couples, who for whatever reason, cannot create a child naturally. It is not to bring an endless supply of babies into the world.” – I think so too. But I think this woman is more caught up in “having babies” than concerned with “raising children.”

    – “Where are the fathers of this woman’s other six children? Are they paying child support?” – According to the reports I’ve read, ALL of the kids were conceived via IVF, and may have had the same sperm donor, but there are no father(s) in the picture.

  12. Well, this should be an interesting comment thread.

    I agree with the many people who have said the IVF really should be for those who can’t conceive, or have trouble doing so. Also, you need to be able to afford to feed the children once they come. And how many eggs were used?I thought only 2-3 were used in general.

    Oh, and to anonymous who thinks you won’t be paying for this; think again. We will be, one way or another.

  13. The wiseass response here would be to link to one of the many permutations of the Urban Math test.

    I think it’s pretty safe to say that nobody gets the motivation behind this, so I’ll spare that line of thought. For me, at least, I’m not even sure this should be a story; the more I read about it (note: this shouldn’t imply I’ve read a lot about it), the more I’m convinced that most of the writing about it has been of the trainwreck variety – that blows. Of course, the fact that she may be trying to take advantage of the attention to line up …well, funding really doesn’t help matters. I’m not really sure I like that, either.

    In most situations, I’d say let’s leave her alone, she’s going to have enough on her plate soon enough. That, for me at least, applies here as well – let’s not even take into account any psychological issues that may or may not be in play here (and let’s also not take into account how hectic the next, oh, 18 years of her life are going to be. Quite frankly, I don’t know where she gets the time).

    And yes, there will be a societal cost, but will it be large? Well, I imagine her friends will know all about it. Her neighborhood probably will. Will we have any idea what’s going on with the family in …oh, 6 months? Probably not. I also somewhat resent the word “cost” here; cost implies some sort of societal burden, that these eight new kids will take more than they give to society. That’s patently untrue, and implying otherwise would mean making way more assumptions than I care to make – ever.

  14. Mike – I’ve read a couple of reports that four embryos were transferred (the mother supposedly had several frozen ones) but after they implanted, they all twinned themselves or something. That’s still more than is common, though.

    And yes, it helps if you can support the kids yourself, and not be looking for “sponsors” once they arrive.

    Magpie – I’ve seen some very interesting responses to this story from women who share that story with you.

    Chris – I both agree and disagree. It’s a story on its own merits because it’s unusual, and because its backstory is even more unusual. However, while I agree that it will probably fade from the attention of the general public fairly soon, especially if the mom doesn’t get a lot of celebrity/money from it, some groups will follow it closely for quite awhile.

    As far as the “cost” references go, I don’t mean that to be directed as a slap at the kids (and I can only speak for myself about that) – it’s more about the mother’s choice to take on something she’s unlikely to be able to handle on her own.

    And thanks for coming by, even if it took CNN to get you here :-)! (Full disclosure – Chris is the “one child” I mention in this post.)

  15. I missed this post, Florinda! I don’t know how.

    I too have an only child, not by choice. We had a hard time conceiving and IVF was an option, if we weren’t as lucky as we were to keep pregnant that last time. I agree that IVF is for people with trouble conceiving. How you get to that choice is usually after all else fails. It’s very expensive and quite hard on the mom’s body. I don’t understand how her doctor let her do this. It seems unethical. It blows my mind.

  16. Chris – If it’s true that all 14 children were conceived via IVF, and the mother is only 33 and has been single the entire time, this is certainly an unconventional case. It’s getting to where I’d really like to hear from the doctors.

  17. I don’t get it, either. I don’t want ONE kid, let alone FOURTEEN – not that I don’t love my nephew, and all my friends’ children, but jeez! As a teacher (especially in a rural high school with a high teen pregnancy rate), it really frustrates me that people like this woman are – for lack of a better word – glamorized, because it sends teens the wrong message. We already have a few girls dropping out to raise babies and collect welfare, and their parents encourage it! Argh!

  18. Jessi – I could NOT do your job. Parenting teens is a job in itself, but at least I’ve had that experience one at a time – just imagine having 14 teens in your house! And I think this story sends more than one frustrating, and potentially damaging, message.

  19. Two of my three pregnancies were fertility and the third was a huge, wonderful surprise. The reasons behind our choice to pursue fertility are many and complex. There is an agony to wanting children and being unable to conceive naturally.

    We were screened very carefully, both physically and psychologically, before our specialists agreed to move forward with treatment. While this was a little irritating initially (parents who conceive naturally are never screened about whether they are psychologically prepared for children), the fact is that child birth through fertility takes a huge toll — mentally, physically and financially. In the long run, I was grateful to have a team of specialists who looked after all our needs. I have grave concerns that this mother does not have the same kind of council available to her.

  20. Susan – You make a good point about the screening; people who just have kids don’t have to jump through the hoops that RE patients and adoptive parents do, and it really doesn’t seem right.

    I get the impression that the Octuplet Mom either does not have the sort of medical support team you mention, or she has chosen to ignore their advice and just do things her way. We may learn more as she goes public with her story.

  21. (Found this post again in your link round up today! I must not have been subscribed because I don't remember reading your response!)

    Florinda, I completely agree with your assessment that this situation is healthy. Those kids won't get the attention they need.

    I meant, by my first comment, that in general, it IS possible for a family with 14 children to love and care for their children. Simply having 14 children does not automatically indicate that they're being neglected.

  22. Rebecca – I think that certainly can be true; a large number of children isn't automatically a guarantee of neglect. If there's spacing between them, sometimes the older ones end up helping to raise the younger ones; that may not be direct parental attention, but it's not neglect either.

    Still, for a single mom with 14 kids clumped together like Nadya Suleman, it's just hard for me to imagine there's enough parental attention to go around.