Multiple blessings bring multiple problems
June 28, 1999
Web posted at: 2:10 p.m. EDT (1810 GMT)
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.
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
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
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.
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 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.
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
Twins and Multiple Births Association
American Society for Reproductive Medicine
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
LATEST HEALTH STORIES:
China SARS numbers pass 5,000
Report: Form of HIV in humans by 1940
Fewer infections for back-sleeping babies
Pneumonia vaccine may help heart, too