Moms Offer Sober Reality Check on Multiple Births
The children from left are, Layne, Drayden, Kieran, Irelyn and Landyn. Ferrill and other parents of multiples say they would advise the California mother of 14 that donations that seem plentiful now will taper off after the first year. (AP Photo/Robin Sch
Carla K. Johnson / AP
February 15, 2009
CHICAGO – Nadya Suleman’s daunting future of raising octuplets into adulthood may best be understood by the exhausted but proud parents of other multiples and the researchers who study them.
And if there’s anyone who could give Suleman some frank advice, it’s a mom with five toddlers.
“There’s a lot of hype for the first few months and everybody is interested in how you’re doing, but the newness wears off after the first year,” said Jenny Ferrill, 31, of Danville, Ill. She and her husband, Pete, 35, are raising 2-year-old quintuplets. Four of the five children have lifelong medical problems and the Ferrills are falling behind paying bills.
She and other parents of multiples say they would advise the California mother of 14 that donations that seem plentiful now will taper off after the first year. Somehow free formula and diapers never morph into free shoes or forgiven medical bills. Requests for TV interviews dwindle. Offers to baby-sit, if they ever existed, vanish.
Next can come financial stress, emotional strain and marital struggles — although Suleman is single.
One German study of 54 families of multiples found that most were severely fatigued with worry about money problems, their children’s disabilities and chronic diseases. Nearly all the families relied on outsiders for help and financial support. Some felt guilty they had brought a burden on their families through fertility treatment.
A U.S. study of nearly 250 mothers found that for each additional multiple birth child — from twins to triplets, for example, or triplets to quadruplets — the odds of having trouble meeting basic material needs more than tripled. The odds of lower quality of life and increased social stigma more than doubled with each added child. And the risk of depression in the mothers also rose with each additional child.
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“Parents really underestimate the enormity of the burden of providing care for multiple birth children, and this increases with the number of children,” said study co-author Dr. Janet E. Hall, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
In focus groups conducted by the researchers, mothers who’d had fertility treatments described moral judgments from friends, and even strangers, telling them they had interfered with Mother Nature or God’s will.
These studies, among only a few on the topic, have led some experts to call for mental health screening or counseling for parents seeking treatment for infertility.