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Friday, June 15, 2007

They need lots more than six cigars: Multiple births from fertility treatment

Less than a day apart, women from Arizona and Minnesota gave birth to a total of 12 babies. Two sets of sextuplets were born, one on Sunday in Minnesota to Ryan and Brianna Morrison and the other one on Monday in Phoenix to Bryan and Jenny Masche. The Masche babies were born at 30 weeks. The Morrison children were born at only 22 weeks.

One of the Morrison sextuplets died Thursday. His siblings' chances of survival are low. The future health of all of these babies is a big question mark.

"We'll be lucky, really lucky," said local fertility specialist Dr. Scot Hutchison, "if several of these children don't have to have long-term special care. The risk of cerebral palsy and learning disability is four times more likely for twins than for single babies. For triplets, it's eight times more likely. And so it's really an exponential thing when you get out to six babies."

And that's after the millions of dollars in intensive care unit charges the dozen premature babies are likely to run up, said Dr. Hutchison, director of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of Arizona.

Pregnancies such as these are dangerous for everyone, including the mother. Jenny Masche could have died Monday: several hours after the Caesarean delivery, she suffered acute heart failure because of the extra blood in her body.

The Masche family has health insurance to cover most of the cost, but expenses like this drive up premiums for everyone. The Masches have set up a Web site on which they are soliciting donations ranging from diapers to a vehicle large enough for two adults and six babies with car seats. A church sponsored a diaper drive and collected 22,000 diapers for them. It probably won't be enough. "This couple will exhaust all of their resources, and after a few months, when no one thinks it's interesting or cute anymore, they'll be left trying to struggle through," Dr. Hutchison said.

The number of American babies born in higher order births - triplets or more - more than quadrupled from 1971 to 1995, mostly because of fertility treatments, according to a National Center for Health Statistics report.

Fertility treatment is not an exact science. But there are things responsible practitioners can do to reduce the chance of multiple births, from limiting the number of embryos implanted in an in vitro procedure to the choice of fertility drug regimen to halting a cycle.

Dr. Hutchison said he considers twins an acceptable complication and triplets a failure. Years ago, his practice produced one set of quadruplets, which made him re-examine how aggressive he wanted to be with treatment.

Our best wishes for the Masches and the Morrisons.

Advice to women seeking fertility treatment: Ask not only about a clinic's success at births - not pregnancies- and also about what it can do to reduce their chance of having multiples. "The goal has to be healthy baby, healthy mother, and it should be one baby at a time," says Dr. Hutchinson.

Read another of our stories of too much of a good thing, or read Anne Denogean’s source story.

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