A Brief History of Multiple Births


A Brief History of Multiple Births

Cecile Dionne learned to say the word “doctor” before she did the word
“mother.” As one of the Dionne girls — the first set of quintuplets to
survive infancy, born 75 years ago May 28 — Cecile spent her first nine
years under medical care in “Quintland,” a hospital that essentially doubled
as a government-run theme park. Born in Ontario to a pair of devout
Catholics , the
Dionne quintuplets were an immediate media sensation, a Depression-era
precursor to today’s Octomoms and Jon and Kates. Two months premature,
weighing about two pounds each, Cecile, Annette, Yvonne, Marie, and Emilie
were quickly made wards of the state by authorities who feared that their
father would exploit them for his own financial benefit. Then, in a supreme
irony, the quints were set up in a hospital directly across the
street from their parents’ farmhouse, where tourists and passer-by lined
up for hours to gawk. The local service station, which began to rake in the
dough as people flocked to “Quintland,” had five gas pumps, each one named
after one of the girls. The town and the government both benefited greatly;
at one point the Dionne Quintuplets were considered a more popular tourist attraction than Niagara Falls.

At one spot along the queue outside the hospital lay a pile of rocks
dubbed “fertility stones.” The thought was that their proximity to such a
miracle of reproductive biology — five girls! — might help mothers who
were finding it difficult to conceive. Modern society has no need for such
good luck charms, however. All one needs is nine months, several thousand
dollars and a good OB/GYN.
Thanks to in-vitro fertilization , the skyrocketing use of fertility drugs and the
increasing numbers of women who delay childbearing until their 30’s or 40’s,
the incidences of multiple births have increased in the past two decades. In
1980, IVF — where hormones are used to induce the production of eggs,
which are externally fertilized and then implanted back in the uterus —became available in the United States. Since then, the percentage of twins
and triplets as a proportion of total births has increased several fold.
It’s almost as if no one is impressed by them any more. Two kids Blah.
Three kids A teeny bit warmer. But quadruplets, quintuplets, sextuplets,
septuplets, octuplets Now we’re talking. Multiple births have become
easier, yet the dangers are very real for both mothers and children alike.

Multiples, as opposed to singletons, are more likely to be born premature
. The risk of miscarriage is
higher. Cesarean sections are utilized more frequently. Gestational
diabetes, hypertension, and preeclampsia can all occur. Multiple births can
also create potential long-term health implications for the child, such as
cerebral palsy. In the short term, in many multiple birth situations,
newborns are at greater risk of birth complications and death, though all
eight of the kids born to Octomom mother Nadya Suleman earlier this year
notably survived.
Now clearly, the chances of naturally conceiving eight children at once
are
well-nigh impossible. And the facts of Nadya Suleman’s conception — she had six embryos implanted in her womb, two of which split into twins — are troubling.
Medical guidelines limit the practice to one or
two implanted embryos at most. A fertility expert quoted in the Los Angeles
Times noted
that octuplets are “unbelievably rare. When people use fertility drugs, 80%
even then are single births. The vast majority of the others are twins.” By
that token Suleman, who is entertaining offers of a reality show and has reportedly fired her troupe of free nurses because she thought they were spying on her, was
just extremely lucky .
Aside from that appealing sense of rarity, multiple births carry a
nostalgic whiff of the idea of a big, sprawling family at a time when the
American nuclear family is largely shrinking. Shows like TLC’s Duggar’s
Big Family Album, where an Arkansas couple flaunts their seventeen
children, or the same network’s Jon & Kate Plus 8 sell
the idea
of multiples as special. In the case of Jon and
Kate Gosselin, who gave birth to a set of twins and a set of sextuplets,
they were doubly blessed. Even before the TV show, their Pennsylvania
community kicked in with financial, material, and moral support. Such warmth
and attention can drive people to extremes, though. In August, 2006, a
Missouri couple admitted to conning their neighbors out of some cash by
faking the birth of a set of sextuplets. Everyone thought it was a
miracle.
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