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Wednesday, November 18, 1998 Published at 12:43 GMT


World gets fertile

They come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.

And one day there will no doubt be signs outside the city saying: "Des Moines - the birthplace of the world's first surviving septuplets."

[ image: Kenny, Bobbi and their first daughter Mikayla]
Kenny, Bobbi and their first daughter Mikayla
Who knows, there might even be a "McCaughey septuplets visitor attraction". It would certainly amuse museum afficionado Bill Bryson, who so famously had to come from Des Moines.

Kenneth, Brandon, Nathaniel, Joel, Alexis, Natalie and Kelsey were born a year ago on Thursday: their fame soon spread beyond Iowa, as their survival became almost as amazing as their birth.

[ image: Baby Kenneth McCaughey, one of seven]
Baby Kenneth McCaughey, one of seven
Mother Bobbi (whose pre-birth girth was 4ft 7ins) and father Kenny, both fervent Baptists, put their remarkable blessing down to the Lord. Cynics said it was more about fertility treatment.

But their church has rallied round to help, with volunteers helping with childcare. The world of business also lent a hand, donating cars, tens of thousands of nappies, and a year's worth of free groceries. The family is presumably stocking up now, before the time limit is up.

Well-wishers can also buy McCaughey septuplet dolls.

But aside from the practicalities, the birth has been part of a pattern of unusual births in the past year.

  • Most famously these include Mandy Allwood who carried octuplets which all died. Like Bobbi McCaughey, Mandy Allwood's pregnancy was the result of fertility drugs rather than 'test-tube' IVF treatment.
  • In January in Saudi Arabia, Hasna Mohammed Humair, 40, also gave birth to septuplets. But all did not go smoothly.

    Television pictures of Humair in hospital not wearing a veil reportedly led to her family not allowing her to go home with her husband, Abdullah Mohammed Ali. "Her family says I am not a worthy husband because I have allowed everyone to see my wife. They say I have besmirched my wife's honour," he told reporters as the couple separated.

    That was not an end to their problems. Three months after the children were born, the maternity hospital in Abha threatened to call the police unless their parents took them home. When they said the could not cope, Crown Prince Abdullah was reported to have donated more than US$50,000 to help them out.

  • Iowa continued its crop of babies in April by trumping even the odds of the McCaugheys' achievement. Identical quadruplets were born, without the aid of fertility drugs. Doctors at the University Hospitals in Iowa City said the odds of identical quads being born were one in 100 million, if not greater.
  • To top that, just a day later, in the same hospital, a further set of quads were born. This time, however, they were born with the aid of in vitro fertilisation.
  • British woman Diane Blood announced she was pregnant, having used the sperm of her dead husband.
  • 60-year-old Elizabeth Buttle gave birth, becoming Britain's oldest mum. Newspapers claimed she had received fertility treatment.

[ image:  ]
There are even more tragic cases than the Saudi couple. A 24-year-old Arizona woman who had given birth to quadruplets in January was arrested last month on 14 counts of child abuse.

Her son Anthony had been treated for injuries which one doctor said were like those one would suffer from being slammed against a concrete floor. The other three children had fractured skulls, among other injuries.

Go forth and multiply

The numbers of twins, triplets and other multiple births has soared in the 20 years since IVF and fertility treatments have been available.

[ image: It's not just humans: a sighting of Queensland's first recorded wild koala twins]
It's not just humans: a sighting of Queensland's first recorded wild koala twins
But as the techniques are refined, there is a move, in the UK at least, towards reducing the number of embryos implanted in wombs.

A spokesman for the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Authority said its rules allowed only three embryos to be implanted at a time, but most practitioners now regarded two as the best option.

Jane Denton of the Multiple Births Foundation, which aims to educate doctors and midwives about the needs of families with multiple births, said increased ante-natal care could make the situation easier for parents. In particular there could be help with typical problems for parents wondering how to cope, with children's behaviour, and with the learning of language.

But there is a certain irony that while the implications of increased multiple births are being worked out in the West, many parts of the world are struggling with overpopulation.

Which is to say nothing of the brotherless and sisterless Chinese.

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Internet Links

A tale of two families, from Salon Magazine


Picture tour of the McCaughey family from The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

McCaughey Septuplets dolls

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