|By: Mara Tesler Stein, Psy.D. and Deborah L. Davis, Ph.D.|
With the birth of the Iowa septuplets, the media are getting swept up in the celebration of this "modern medical miracle". Even the experts seem to be colluding, sidestepping tough questions, and putting a positive spin on the situation. Unfortunately, for those of us who are personally acquainted with the issues of infertility, multiple gestation pregnancy, selective reduction, premature birth, and parenting multiple babies, we know the emotional, physical, ethical and logistical truths. It can be aggravating and undermining to our own sense of reality to see such unrealistic media portrayal. This whole affair is far more complicated than how many diapers these babies will need during their first year.
So, dear media, here are our counterpoints.
To entertain the real possibility that some of these babies could die or be permanently disabled would burst the fairy tale bubble of good tidings. Yes, they are doing fine for septupletsthey are only the second set to be born alive in the world. But they were born more than 9 weeks early at around 2 ½ to 3 pounds apiece, and after their birth, they were all on ventilators, and they were all listed in serious or critical condition. Of course their parents are grateful to have beaten incredible odds by delivering 7 living infants. In fact, considering there were 7, they were relatively overdue, huge and healthy. But the key word here is RELATIVELYfrom the way their condition is discussed in the media, people who have never seen a preemie may imagine somewhat small, robust, chubby babies. (No doubt, thats what the reporters are imagining too.) The biggest one has been nicknamed "Hercules", for heavens sake. But 30 weekers do not look like little Gerber babies, much less strongmen. They are still very sick and the NICU roller-coaster ride is just beginning. It may be weeks before mom and dad can cuddle every one. Even the healthiest ones will probably remain hospitalized for at least 2 more months. And it may be many more months before their developmental outcomes are known. As preemie parents watching the news coverage, you may wish for a few more words and images that focus more on the journey of having a preemie and less on how many cases of infant formula these babies will presumably need.
Focusing on the "miracle" of seven babies being born simultaneously just avoids the tough issues. This has not been an easy road for the family, and the road ahead is still unclear. For those of you who have experienced the journey of infertility, high-risk pregnancy and preterm birth, having the focus be on the "miraculous" birth, but not the impact of the preterm birth on the babies and on the family may feel like a negation of what you have been through! You may think, "If nobody out there seems to be worrying about these 30 weekers, is there something wrong with me that Im so worried about mine? Why is this so hard for me and my baby(s) and so easy for them?"
Yes, morphine and Percoset are powerful narcotics and work wonders after a C-section. But this mothers body has been through hell and back. On bed rest for months, her muscles have atrophied. She will need intensive physical therapy to regain her strength. To stop contractions, shed been drugged to the max. In the days following delivery, she is just beginning to understand her children's conditions. She is undoubtedly becoming increasingly overwhelmed with what she and her sick babies are facing. (Imagine going from radiant warmer to radiant warmer to radiant warmer to radiant warmer to radiant warmer to radiant warmer to radiant warmer.) It will be months before she feels herself again, and even then, the sleep deprivation may be so terrific, that it might be years before she rests comfortably again.
First of all, fertility drugs are NOT working well when they hyperstimulate a womans ovaries to the point that they release 7 eggs during one cycle.
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