- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2009

While California “Octomom” Nadya Suleman floats between being famous and infamous, her newborns, all weighing less than 3 pounds, are making history every day as the world’s only set of surviving octuplets.

The rest of her story is still tumbling out — she is single and has been living on disability checks for a hurt back. She has six other children, all born via in vitro fertilization (IVF). A male friend is thought to be the sperm donor for all 14 Sulemans, and the same doctor is thought to be involved with all the IVF procedures.

(Corrected paragraph:) Let’s go back to 1997, when the nation was mesmerized by Kenny and Bobbi McCaughey of Iowa. She had a fertility treatment and wound up pregnant with seven.

Devout Christians, the McCaugheys refused selective reduction (removing one or more fetuses). On Nov. 19, 1997, the world’s first surviving septuplets were born, with weights ranging from 2 pounds to 3 pounds.

The seven babies stayed in the hospital for several weeks; one stayed more than four months. Other facts, reported by Mrs. McCaughey in a journal for American Baby magazine, were that:

• She pumped breast milk for all seven babies until they were 3 months old.

• The babies used 150 to 170 diapers a week.

• For the first eight months, the parents had child care 22 out of 24 hours a day.

• About 70 volunteers — usually eight a day — helped the parents feed, change and care for the babies.

• A few corporate sponsors helped with clothes and baby supplies, and the family uses a 15-passenger van.

Today, the McCaugheys, who have a daughter in addition to the septuplets, have a “normal Christian home,” according to a 2007 Baptist Bulletin article. The kids are in school, play sports, do chores and go to church. The two with cerebral palsy are advancing, thanks to medical care and attentive parents.

In hindsight, the McCaugheys told the Bulletin in a now-rare interview, the media focused too much on issues such as selective reduction and not enough on their faith in God. “I want people to remember not the babies, but the God who made the babies,” Mr. McCaughey said.

Now let’s go back to Ms. Suleman, who was recently interviewed for “Dateline” by NBC’s Ann Curry.

The 33-year-old woman explained how she pursued IVF treatments, despite a divorce and infertility. There was an emptiness, a void to fill, Ms. Suleman said. “I wanted that huge family, just to surround me, be surrounded by.”

She paid for several of her $10,000 IVF procedures with earnings, and used disability payments and student loans for the rest.

She thinks even though she is single by choice, her 14 children will have a father someday. She also thinks that volunteers, friends and donations are on their way, and the octuplets’ Jan. 26 birth is a sign from God that she is “done” having children.

“I personally do not believe I’m irresponsible,” she told “Dateline.”

Big families do not faze me; my husband is one of 10 children, his father is one of seven and his mother is one of 12.

But there are great differences between the McCaughey and Suleman families. Whereas one is intact, self-sufficient and thriving, I’m pretty sure the other is headed for the full embrace of the state of California and its child-welfare services.

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at [email protected]

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