Monday, 2 February 2009

Quick hit: And octuplets make fourteen

The Herald has this story from the Observer, about the family that added octuplets last week.
The birth of Suleman's eight babies - six boys and two girls - was clearly an extraordinary event. Only one previous case of eight surviving babies had been recorded in the United States.

Yet as the eccentricity of Suleman's background and biography emerges, America is recoiling in shock.

The more that becomes known about the Suleman family, the more it seems something disturbing has occurred. Public reaction has quickly turned from joy to shock and anger.

By yesterday, it was clear that Suleman was not an infertile mother who sought medical help to have children. The 33-year-old Californian already has six children. She is single and has no visible means of support for her current family, let alone the additional eight babies that now give her enough offspring to field a football team with three substitutes.
There's a whole lot of judging in there about Suleman's irresponsibility in having these kids and in seeking fertility treatment to have so many. That annoys me. But there's also quite a lot of the article devoted to the real difficulty of having lots of children, financial and otherwise, and what sounds like some dodgy medical ethics too.


wickedferretknits said...

If people are criticising her 'reproductive' choice, it's because she was irresponsible. 8 newborns? From what I've read, dealing with one is hard enough. How are these kids going to be given the attention they deserve? Along with the SIX other children?

Being a feminist does not mean that sometimes you can't call women out on their own behavoir. Choice is all very well and good but there is an assumption that people will chose sensibly.

Azlemed said...

i think the medical community also needs to look at itself too... why was this women able to access fertilty treatment and why were 8 embryos implanted given the risks associated. I have had a family member do the clomidiphene part of treatment and she was told if she concieved triplets or more that they would be given counselling on whether to reduce the number of foetuses.

She was also told that if she ovulated too many eggs that she was to abstain from sex so that there were less complications. this was for a healthy 28 yr old women.

Access to IVF in Nz isnt easy and its very costly, its also very rare for them to implant more than 2 eggs, and if you are having a government funded round then only one embryo is done at a time.

The ethics around fertility treatment can be blurry but this case does mean some self examination does need to be done by the american medical fraternity.

As for the mother, it sounds like she needs some medical help and is going to have a rough time with 14 kids under 7. the cost alone of that many children will be crippling and the health cost to her from carrying that many babies will also be noticeable as the mother ages.

I have three children, the eldest was 4 when the youngest was born, that has been hard at times let alone dealing with 8 newborns at once.

Anna said...

I'm also not in favour of this - but it's not to do with the financial costs of raising kids. I think those and the other responsibilities childraising involves should be shared with the community as far as possible.

There are two things that make me uneasy about this, though.

As WFK says, there's the extreme difficulty of actually caring for so many kids. I don't know how you could spend meaningful time with each child. Even with the whole village raising the child/ren, it would be pretty hard.

The thing that bothers me even more is that children are human beings, not things to be collected on a whim like any old consumer item. That seems quite hedonistic and distasteful. It's hard to say what this woman's motives were, but you have to wonder whether the wellbeing of the kids was her priority.

I've thought about this quite a lot - I'm from what some would consider a big family (5 kids), and know heaps of other, much larger, Catholic families. Pasifika families often have lots of kids too. Criticising large families tends to lead down the path of criticising people's cultural beliefs. But ultimately, I think that being respectful of people's beliefs has to come second to ensuring the welfare of kids - a bit harsh, I know. And it's not just a solo parent-bashing thing either - two parents would struggle to raise 14 kids.

Small families are a bit Eurocentric, but challenging that by having a large family is likely to come at the cost of your kids' welfare.

Azlemed said...

I know some large non catholic family with over 8 children, some of these have very small ages gaps between each children, and two families I know of with more than 8 also home school their children.

I have three children and will have a fourth, I am in a stable relationship and we both take responsiblity for our children.

Each pregnancy takes energy and caring for a newborn is very time consuming and that just with one, I cannot imagine how hard 8 would be, you would need at least 3 or 4 people involved just in day to day care, and that is not including the other 6 children she has who also have needs that need addressing as well.

It does make you wonder whether people should be allowed that many children, but then it also brings in the question of how many is too many, or should the state be sanctioning the number of children such as in China.

Giovanni said...

Criticising large families tends to lead down the path of criticising people's cultural beliefs.

Which is something that progressives and feminists do all the time. Anti-women and discriminatory behaviour are firmly enshrined in lots of cultures - mine, to name one. I certainly hope they get the criticism they deserve.

Lucy said...

I feel very torn about this, because on the one hand, I feel iffy about criticising someone else's reproductive dections. On the other, there is clearly no way this woman is in any position to look after these kids without a great deal of outside help, and it's not just her; no-one would be. Fourteen kids is impossible. Knowingly making the decision to implant that many embryos and carry them to term was irresponsible on the part of the doctors and the mother. Given the circumstances, it is very likely some or all of those kids will suffer ongoing health problems, which adds another layer of difficulty. It seems as if she didn't consider the welfare of the children at all when making this decision - any of them. And that's not on.

Hugh said...

A lot of people I know who come from large (8+ families) have stated, as adults, that they feel their parents made very poor decisions in having so many children.

Giovanni said...

Stephen Colbert was the last of eleven children and he turned out okay. Just sayin'.

Anna said...

I don't want to be unduly critical of big families either. They certainly have disadvantages (lack of quality time spent with each kid is one), but I loved having a bunch of siblings on hand to make mischief with.

The other thing is that there's a world of difference between having a large number of kids at intervals, and having a multiple birth - particularly one like that. You literally don't have enough hands to change one toddler's pants while preventing another from playing with an electrical socket while getting another out of his/her highchair before he climbs out, etc - to say nothing of doing all the other domestic tasks. Getting a bit of help from older kids isn't an option, of course.

Trouble said...

There are some people who would laud someone with 14 kids as a poster-woman for motherhood and antifeminism. Take away a husband and the poor woman doesn't have so many friends.

My own view is that she's making some very poor (and possibly pathological) choices, husband or not, and she's not getting the support she needs to act in her own, and her children's, best interest. Perhaps doing the whole book/tv deal thing will put her in touch with some help, but I don't hold out a lot of hope if it comes from the likes of Dr Phil.

Hugh said...

Giovanni, if Stephen Colbert had a deeply pathological and fucked up personality, would we necessarily know about it?

sas said...

Why is it anti-feminist/wrong to judge this woman?
She has 13 kids and no means to support them. Its no different to a man who impregnates 13 woman with no means to support them.
That's just stupid and irrespsonsible.
It's incredibly selfish. There is no way those children will get the love, attention, time they need to flourish.
That's just maths.

Julie said...

The more I read about this story the more I question Suleman's choice. However I think some of the language used in the story I linked, in terms of the judgements about her actions, are unnecessarily misogynistic. In particular the bits about the fact she still lives with her parents (in plenty of communities it is quite normal for extended families to live together), the speculation about the father(s) of Suleman's many children, and the discussion about her employment history.

I think it's quite possible to raise serious concerns about this situation without having to go to those places.

My brother-in-law is a wonderful man and he's the youngest of nine children (none of them multiple births). I have a great deal of respect for any woman who can go through many pregnancies, particularly as no doubt there would probably have been additional pregnancies along the way that ended in miscarriage.

These days the survival rates for children (and the effectiveness of contraception) are so much higher in our society that big families are not the necessity they once were. Many people are choosing to have smaller families, or not have children at all, and we generally don't judge them harshly for it. If we took the mental health issues out of the Suleman situation, should we still judge this mother?