What is going on with the mother of the octuplets who were recently born at Kaiser Permanente Bellflower Medical Center?
I speak as someone who had a history of infertility and was given fertility treatments myself. I also speak as a parent of three children who includes a set of twins with another son who is a year younger. My journey began when I became pregnant on my own in 1999. Within weeks however the pregnancy took a turn for the worst as doctors diagnosed me with an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy is when the fertilized ovum is implanted in any tissue other than the uterine wall. Most ectopic pregnancies occur in the Fallopian tube. This was extremely difficult knowing the the embryo itself had been fine but was in the wrong spot to grow. My doctor did the test called the HSG which determined if my fallopian tubes were blocked or if they were clear. Upon doing this test it was determined that my tubes were in fact blocked and that my doctor would need to refer me to an infertility specialist called a reproductive endocrinologist. After having exploratory surgery it was determined that I had one tube that was viable and the other was a congenital defect that stopped it from developing when I was in the womb. My doctor took great pains to discuss the options and go over all of the specifics. Our path involved artificial insemination, injectable medications, and finally in-vitro fertilization. We had to pay all costs out of pocket as our insurance did not cover any part of it (which is the case in most of the US). By the time we got to in-vitro (about 2 yrs later) and with those costs included we spent over $20,000. Needless to say we were excited to have 3 embryos of great quality be implanted. That was the most that could be implanted and there are strong guidelines that suggest the number of embryos based on patients age. I had thirteen embryos that were fertilized and remain cryogenically frozen until the time I want to use them or donate them for science. Our twins (boy and girl) were such a blessing and you cannot imagine the surprise when 4 months later I found out I was pregnant again all on my own. My doctor was a very ethical man who adhered to the guidelines set down by the ASRM ( American Society of Reproductive Medicine).
I have been through the process which is rough even with a husband. Injecting yourself with medicines, bloodwork, doctor’s visits, etc. It is not an easy road even without taking into consideration the emotional toll. What do I think of the woman who had the octopulets? There are two parties who need to be held accountable in this situation. The patient who I am sure was counseled on her choices and chose a path which both put her health and the babies’ health at risk. After having had the in-vitro fertilization previously, I understand she had eight previously-frozen embryos placed into her womb. Speaking as a mother and as a person who has eight embryos frozen still today, I know that there is no justification for use of all of them at once. The research states that there is not a time limit at this point on when they need to be used so this is not an argument that she had to use them or lose them. The ASRM released a press release regarding the birth of these octuplets by stating: “If this resulted from an IVF treatment, we can say that transferring eight embryos in an IVF cycle is well beyond our guidelines.”
The doctor has not been identified as of yet, but I hold him the most responsible in careless and unethical treatment. He not only went against guidelines set down by the organization that has the most research and experience with these methods, but he put the lives of nine people at risk. The mother and baby were at high risk for serious complications including possible death. Doctors are to give patients options on what the choices are and let them decide. However the doctor is the one who can also refuse to treat someone based on the fact that it is against medical advice. This doctor must be held accountable for the actions he took to make this possible. The costs of caring for these premature babies are extremely high and financially it is a drain on whoever pays this bill. Most likely the bill will not cover everything and there will be additional costs that the hospital would try to collect or have to write off as a loss. At any point in this process the doctor who was treating her could have said to her ” I will not treat you, because I do not support your decision.” These kind of doctors are in the minority but need to be held accountable.
I won’t respond to the emotional health of the mother but I will say that as a licensed clinical social worker I find her decisions to be not well thought out and possibly damaging to these children. I think that this decision was based on what the mother wanted and the risks to the babies were not primary. I am someone who prides myself in being empathetic and non-judgmental, but on this subject I feel qualified to offer my opinion. We can only hope that the children are not the ones who will have to pay for the mother’s choice. This job is hard enough for me with twin six year old children and a five year old child with a husband. I wish this family well on a journey of unexpected twists and turns. It most surely will be a journey that which will require much support, and for that I hope she finds it. We are not to put the blame on these children, but we do need to make someone accountable for this situation. We can only stop and say “Eight is enough.”