Saturday, January 31, 2009

14 Babies for a Single Mom

So, the news this week that a 33-year-old unmarried woman in California delivered eight babies -- with six already at home with grandparents -- is obviously creating a frenzy of conversation. In the media. On the Choice Mom discussion board.

One version of the story is here.

Undoubtedly this will lead to speculation about where ethically the line should be drawn. Some certainly want it drawn tight -- only a husband and a wife should be allowed to have children together. Others loosen it slightly. Not many feel there should be no lines drawn at all when the well-being of a child is concerned. But who decides? And at one point is it drawn?

Should there be a limit to age of a parent? Is 50 too old to start? What about the women we've seen in the news delivering babies at 60? Is it only the women who are "too old?" What about when men father children in later years, Charlie Chaplin style? Is that more acceptable? And if so, why?

In adoption, some countries reject applicants who are obese, or who smoke, or who already have children.

Certainly many places reject lesbians and gay individuals and couples as being "unfit" parents (even though research tends to indicate this is not true).

So, drawing lines is not an easy matter.

On the Choice Mom board, the story has kept us busy. Most of us consider it unethical for a single woman to be allowed treatment to implant multiple embryos when she already has six children at home. Here are a few excerpts of our varied opinions.

"I work in the pediatric ICU as a nurse practitioner and I have seen the effects of prematurity (both health issues for the children as well as the economic consequences for hospitals). I hate to pass judgment but it is soooooo hard to not when we are in a community that is struggling as single moms to provide the best environment for children. I am very shocked at the apparent lack of thoughtfulness on either the mom or the fertility doctor. I am glad *I* had an ethics consult when I was getting started. I am not saying no single woman should have more than 6 kids, but I think her situation is very concerning. Living in a 3-bedroom house with her parents."

Here's a CNN article about it.

Said another:
"I hate to be judgmental, but I really think this is very irresponsible, with or without a dad in the picture. I would not think of bringing even one child into this world if I was having trouble supporting myself and my current obligations financially."

"...And all that is said with complete respect to a mother's choice not to reduce or abort for any personal, ethical or religious reasons (except that if she used fertility drugs, I would PERSONALLY consider it hypocritical not to use medical means to reduce the number of fetuses in order to improve the lives of the remaining ones, since using medication in such a way, probably without proper medical supervision, is already a risky step outside the realm of natural / religious circumstances)."

It does affect society's view of our path. This woman's path is different. We support bringing into the world kids that we are prepared to support financially and provide loving care to. We support responsible medical ethics in using assisted reproduction. This will have an impact on the entire industry and maybe on our choices, too. It is hard to conjure up a scenario in which this is a justifiable choice."

Another (note that the eighth baby was a surprise during delivery; the mother chose not to abort any of the seven known children):
"I draw the line where parents inflict harm on their children. Attempting to carry 8 babies to full term is risky and almost guarantees that at least some of them will not have healthy lives. Same goes for drinking or using drugs while pregnant. I also draw the line where parents put themselves in a position where they are unable to meet their obligation to their children: to provide each and every child with sufficient love, attention, care and guidance, in reasonable living conditions."

"I think that having a baby as a single mom is a debatable topic (with people on both sides of the fence, which is fine). Having 14 children when you cannot adequately provide for them is not. It'll be interesting to see the story unfold. See what her motives were in trying IVF, who the sperm came from, where the money for IVF came from, how she expects to support these 14 kids, if she ends up with her own "+14" tv show. The women on this discussion board put so much thought into having children. We're well prepared, we've done our research, we've got money in the bank. Imagine if everyone put this much thought into having babies. Every kid would (hopefully) know just how much he/she was wanted and is loved. Ah, utopia."

This smart advice:
"Before you undergo the process, you really should consider what you would do if you found yourself pregnant with multiples, especially high order ones. Since many of us wind up using ovulation-stimulating drugs or IVF, our risks are higher. You should have thought through the options beforehand so you have a fair sense of what you would do in certain situations, rather than wait until it's thrust upon you and you have to make a quick call in an already stressful and hormonal place.

"I decided early on that I could not do anything to increase my chances for multiples. All of my planning and my understanding of my resources (financial and emotional) told me that I could really only handle one as a single parent. I would have liked more than one child, but at this point unless Prince Charming does pop into my life in the next year or so, that's not going to happen."

"It is hard for me not to "judge" as I see things from a medical standpoint. I don't know how many of you have been in a NICU and have see the heartbreak I have. You always hear the wonderful stories of how well premature babies do, rarely do people talk of the grief and sadness that can and does happen all too often. Sometimes being alive is not living. I do not know why someone with six children would opt for IVF, OR have all embryos transferred. I try to be open-minded but I am enraged. There are so many ramifications that aren't medical."

On the other hand:
"I have been following this discussion with a certain amount of trepidation. Who are we to judge a woman's actions? How do you justify passing judgment on another when we ourselves are going against societal mores and rules pursuing our own paths? Where do you draw the line? Do you watch the TV show about 17 kids? Is THAT criminal? Do you decry the woman's choices because of her singlehood? Because of the idea she may have used injectibles or IVF to super-ovulate, or because she has so many children under 7? I can only say I am very glad I am not in her place. I know I would be having trouble managing 6 children, despite the fact that I have a supportive family, etc."

Here's a BioNews article about it, and the responsibility of the fertility doctor.

So...let's open it up in the more public forum. What do YOU think about this story?

And, does it make a difference to your thoughts if the woman is 33, or 25, or 40? Does it make a difference if she has a high school education, or is in her post-graduate studies? Does it make a difference if she has the means of financial support for all of her children?


Beth said...

Thanks Mikki, this is a nice summary of the discussion... Those are interesting questions I think... I personally think the most important issue is whether she can support these children, and I don't mean just financial support. I think it's very important to prepare yourself and your life for the new addition to a family. Even women who are suprised by pregnancy, need to formulate a plan for caring for the child or children. That plan is what's important (assuming it is a realistic and legal plan), not the amount of money needed to put the plan in action, or the credentials of the parent or parents. When a woman chooses to become a mother on her own (as we have), I think the plan needs to be formulated before the conception of any children. You mentioned in the last post that you were suprised by the declining age of the group members, and I am as well, but I think it's much less pertinent to the question of parental fitness than that of relative financial security (ie. not accepting public assistance for your current family unit).

Jacqueline said...

I think it is appauling that we live in a country where we insult a woman who has many kids when we should all be coming together to help her financially,physically,and emotionally.She is doing what she feels is right in her heart and she is being rediculed for it. We help people in other countries who have babies knowing that they are going to 'literally' starve yet everyone thinks it's so bad that she has had so many children. Why do people in Africa continue to have kids even though they KNOW their baby's will starve? Why do we continue to help them? That's the questions that come to mind when I see this woman being insulted by the world when she should be being helped!!!!!!!!