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  health > women > story pageAIDSAlternative MedicineCancerDiet & FitnessHeartMenSeniorsWomen

Multiple blessings bring multiple problems


June 28, 1999
Web posted at: 2:10 p.m. EDT (1810 GMT)

In this story:

The risks

The price tag

The workload

Why so many multiples?

Multiple blessings


By Parenting Correspondent Pat Etheridge

(CNN) -- When a mother gives birth to a large number of babies at one time, the world is fascinated with the records: septuplets one year, octuplets the next. Multiple births can be multiple blessings. But more often, they bring multiple problems. We are beginning to learn more about the fallout from the huge rise in so-called "higher-order" multiple births, up 178 percent in the last decade.

The risks

There can be devastating physical consequences. "Unfortunately, once we get more than triplets, we're really having a lot of problems with both complicated pregnancies for the mom and certainly complications for the babies," according to Dr. Alan Copperman, an infertility specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

Several of the McCaughey septuplets, now toddlers, continue to struggle with serious threats to their health.

Tiny Alexis has a delicate digestive system and must be fed through a tube in her stomach. At a year and a half, she weighs just 17 pounds and cannot yet sit up. She and brother Nathan are being monitored for cerebral palsy, an incurable neurological disorder. All seven receive professional therapy for varying degrees of developmental delays. "I've seen over the last year or so there have been daily challenges," said Dr. Peter Hetherington, the McCaugheys' pediatrician.

The price tag

  • description
  • risk
  • symptoms
  • treatment
  • prevention
    Source: WebMD
  • While the number of higher-order multiple births swells, the financial support that was once routine is disappearing fast. "It's not at all surprising to hear about families of quintuplets or sextuplets who receive very little corporate support whatsoever," said Maureen Boyle, executive director of the support group "Mothers of Super Twins." As a result, the high cost of raising multiples can bring many families to the brink of financial ruin.

    Carol and Don Terry of Atlanta are dealing with the difficult reality of raising quintuplets. For a time, the family received generous donations and relied on a small army of volunteers.

    Now the quints have turned 2, and with a house full of toddlers, the Terrys are struggling to make ends meet. Their upscale house is up for sale. Don's business is lagging. The freebies are few and far between.

    Unlike the McCaughey family, whose story brought national publicity and generous, long-term corporate support, the Terry saga was highlighted only briefly in local Atlanta media before the lights went out.

    "It's just hard. you know, when you don't have the money coming in, and I can't provide financial security for my family. It's just probably close to one of the worst feelings I've ever had," said Don Terry.

    The workload

    Even with all the help, imagine the sheer day-to-day workload. There's a never-ending load of laundry, room after room to clean. Another meal to prepare. Another mouth to feed. The McCaugheys change close to 16,000 diapers a year. They also have an older daughter, Mikayla, a 3-year-old. Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey approach this uncharted parenting challenge with a practical, no-nonsense approach. "I guess the thing that has helped us the most as far as daily life is having a schedule and doing things at the same time every single day," said Bobbi McCaughey.

    Why so many multiples?

    Why are so many women having so many babies all at one time? Part of the reason is that doctors have gotten very good at treating infertility but still have trouble controlling the number of fetuses that result. Many couples then face the heartrending prospect of aborting one or more of the fetuses to reduce health risks to the rest as well as to the mother.

    "I hope that the field of infertility as professionals continues to be very careful about how they give these very strong and powerful medications, and I hope that patients continue to make wise decisions," said Copperman.

    Multiple blessings

    The families of multiples we interviewed are steadfast in their dedication and devotion to their children. Both the McCaugheys and the Terrys draw strength from a strong faith in God.

    "God has told us that he won't give us more than we can handle. And on the other side of that, God wants to handle our problems for us," said Kenny McCaughey.

    Carol Terry concluded, "I always thank God for honoring me with the job of raising five of his children. I'm honored that I have these beautiful, beautiful babies. I am."

    Celebrate the Century: Bottle Babies
    Ethics Matters: Eight is Enough
    December 28, 1998
    Octuplets gaining strength but still not out of woods
    December 24, 1998
    Ethicists, doctors debate multiple births
    December 22, 1998
    McCaughey septuplets turn 1
    November 18, 1998

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    American Society for Reproductive Medicine
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