Flummoxed could be one word used to describe my emotions when I read about the California woman who recently gave birth to octuplets. Thoughts of tandem diaper changes and nonstop tag-team feedings filled my mind, and I couldn’t begin to fathom the logistics of such a thing. Twins are common, triplets aren’t unheard of, and multiple births of four and more occasionally make the news – but eight?
When I learned she had six other children at home, all under the age of seven, my consternation turned into shock and dismay. I am the mother of only two children, and each will tell you that I spent more time and energy on the other. It has to be infinitely harder to divide the mommy pie by 14. Now, of course, there is word that the mother is attempting to peddle her story on the open market to the highest bidder.
Uh oh. The fairy tale bubble of a woman who loves children so much she has to have a football team’s worth (and then some) bursts like sticky gum all over her face. The woman may indeed love children, but with the addition of the “For Sale” sign hanging over her head, her motives for family expansion are looking shakier by the minute.
Don’t get me wrong. In vitro fertilization is a wonderful thing for couples (and singles) who can’t conceive on their own. The intent is to aid infertile women, not to make them baby making machines. It was my understanding that women seeking the service are thoroughly screened, but somehow the fact that this single mother, who was likely not infertile and with six children to begin with and just wanted to have more, slipped right through the cracks.
I love my children, but pregnancy was, well…a drag. My first one was enormous, weighing in at over 9 pounds. I went from 92 pounds to over 140 in less than six months. I wasn’t worried about the weight gain; it was the logistics of carrying that much extra baggage up front. I was a Weeble that wobbled and fell down on more than one occasion. I’m ashamed to admit the second pregnancy drained me, and I spent more time napping than parenting my two-year-old son. Multiply the pregnant body by eight and you can see where I’m coming from.
Large families can be wonderful. My personal limit of two children was based partly on the fact that I know my own limitations as a parent. I may have only had two, but there are lingering regrets regarding the amount of time I spent with them and the quality of that time spent. My two-children limit was also based on the fact that I came from a large family myself, six siblings in all.
Large families weren’t unheard of in the 1960s. My father was a career military man (i.e., he wasn’t a rich man) and my parents could just barely afford all of us. It would have been nice to have some of the extras my husband and I have been able to give to our own children, like music lessons, involvement in sports, and private schooling.
In addition to strained finances in my household growing up, there were times when I needed the attention of one or the other parent and felt crowded out by a mob of younger children. Although we weren’t close in age (my baby sister is 18 years younger than I am), there was the feeling that we were all being lumped into the same category, by friends, classmates, teachers, and even by our own parents. That was always hard for me to understand. We didn’t look the same, act the same, or have the same interests, and yet to everyone else we were a single unit and not individuals.
On one hand, it’s comforting to have so many sisters and a brother to fall back on, even though we are as different as any six random people on the street. Some of us are close, and some of us are not even friends. Now that we are adults with our own lives and children, gaining my father’s undivided attention can be daunting with all those other bodies revolving in his sphere of influence. In coming years, I can only imagine the level of sibling rivalry and the loss of self in a household where one must jockey for attention with thirteen other children on the playing field.
The reports that the octuplet’s mother has no visible means of support are troubling to say the least. While she may have stellar parenting skills and is emotionally equipped to handle 14 children, I have to wonder who will be footing the bill for their care and upkeep. Free diapers and baby formula from goodwill donors will only last so long, and I can imagine that a baker’s dozen and then some will gobble up a two-million dollar payout in a hurry. Does this then mean the state of California will pick up the tab when the book and movie deals have dried up?
Support is by no means limited to the financial aspect. With word that the grandmother is not going to provide assistance to the mother once she and the babies return from the hospital, and with no spouse in the household, I have to wonder about the safety and well being of all fourteen children and the mother as well.
Speaking from personal experience, my husband was a key component in raising our two children. It wasn’t just the aspect of having a strong father figure in the picture; he added facets of his own personality and experience into the mix that I still feel was necessary. There were times when we traded off parental duties because we needed to take a break away from the kids. Parental downtime is necessary for the psyche – absolutely! In the end, there is no possible way we could have done as well as single parents.
That the clinic involved may have some culpability is yet to be determined. Hopefully, in the future, both doctors and clinics will be more vigilant and the screening process will include some key questions (like how many children do you have now?). The last thing the world needs is another baby making machine churning out nine children to beat this one’s record.