- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mega-birth is no simple matter. The fertility-enhanced birth of octuplets to an unmarried mother with six other children has forced Americans to wrestle with questionable celebrity.

Even while recovering in a California hospital after the arrival of her eight premature babies, Nadya Suleman hired a publicist to handle the onslaught of curiosity from press and public - not to mention potentially lucrative offers from book publishers, film producers and television bookers.

There’s a bidding war: Oprah Winfrey, ABC’s Diane Sawyer and CBS’ Katie Couric are among those seeking that elusive first interview.

“This one story has become a lens to examine 20 different features of modern American life, none of them simple,” said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture.

“This won’t be the first time that the children of extreme multiple births could earn money to support the family, even as the experts argue over fertility management and the nation treats human beings like mascots,” he said.

Miss Suleman is a cultural icon, though - a canny “Octo-Mom,” according to Radar magazine, and one seeking publicity to help pay for a $2 million medical bill.

“Having a litter sounds difficult,” said Alyson Hannigan, an expectant mother and star of the CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.”

Still, Miss Suleman has made real history. The Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Whittier, Calif., announced Tuesday that the six boys and two girls are now the world’s longest surviving octuplets.

“It’s what I have dedicated myself to doing - giving premature babies the best care possible. And I love it,” said neonatologist Mandhir Gupta, one of almost 50 medical specialists tending Mom and her offspring, who all arrived within five minutes on Jan. 26.

Miss Suleman, who gave birth to all 14 of her children through in vitro fertilization from the same unidentified donor, must also answer criticism from medical ethicists who have publicly parsed out “a woman’s right to choose,” the riskiness of the procedure, and the potential burden of care on the public.

“We are pleased that all eight babies and their mother appear to be doing well and applaud the medical team,” said Dr. R. Dale McClure, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. “Nevertheless, the occurrence of high-order multiple births is not a desirable outcome.”

“High order” refers to three or more babies in one birth. There are no laws currently regulating assisted reproduction in the U.S., though Dr. McClure’s group offers safety guidelines based around the mother’s age and other factors. They recommend one or two fertilized embryos per procedure, not eight. Miss Suleman’s doctor has not been identified.

Other critics have taken issue.

Miss Suleman currently lives with her parents, who reside in a modest home and declared bankruptcy last year. Her decision to become a mother was questioned by mother of eight Kate Gosselin, star of a cable reality show centering on how she and her husband manage the family.

“Now that more has come to light about the octuplets’ family situation, medical authorities would be right to look into the mother’s in vitro treatment,” the Los Angeles Times said in an editorial Tuesday.

The mother of the octuplets might get magazine deals and free diapers - or perhaps not. The revelations about her have resulted in more derision than delight.”

But for now, things are on the sunny side.

“She is the most sought-after mom in the world right now,” said Joanne Killeen, the newly hired baby flack, who added that inquiries and offers are arriving at the rate of several hundred a day.