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Babies on parade.

Barren at age 80, Sarah had good reason to laugh when the Lord promised that she would conceive. Today's barren woman, however, is not laughing. nor is she taking the situation lying down, in a matter of speaking. Instead, more and more childless women are correcting their condition by taking fertility drugs. And boy oh boy, and maybe a girl or two, are those drugs working!

Consider the case of Ria Gadeyne. After undergoing treatment for sterility and taking drugs that increase the possibility of multiple births, she and her husband braced themselves for twins while the doctors predicted triplets or even quintuplets.

At 9:10 p.m. on August 19, 1983, at Blankenberge's Queen Fabiola Hospital in Brussels, head nurse Gadeyne gave birth to a boy, Bruno. And two minutes later she introduced a second son, Tom, to the world. Then, at two-minute intervals, three more boys and a girl. That's right, six Brussels sprouts in all, all healthy, all doing well. But is six at a time the way to go?

Even without the benefits of TV's six o'clock news, Canada's Dionne quints created a worldwide furor in 1934 because of the rarity of multiple births. Whether the feat was inspired by the bonus the government was paying per baby at that time is not known. Certainly it isn't the reason that today's childless woman is relying on fertility drugs to make her a potential mother.

The idea has by no means waited for the last decade or two. Ancient Canaanites are known to have ascribed magical powers to the mandrake, a perennial herb belonging to the potato family, which they used extensively in their fertility rituals. In some parts of the Near East, women still think the presence of mandrake in their homes will induce pregnancy and passion. The juicy, pulpy fruit, long known to contain poisonous properties, is considered not only a delicacy, but also a love potion. "The first aphrodisiac," it is sometimes labeled.

The Bibl tells of Leah bearing Jacob's child by using the mandrake root. And Rachel, Jacob's childless wife, presumably wanted her sister's mandrakes to cure her barrenness.

Before going out to harvest a wheelbarrow load of these roots, hopeful mothers and hopeless men should be warned, however, that the plant we currently call the mandrake can cause hallucinations, dizziness, severe headache, nausea, diarrhea, cramps, heart damage and confusion. An overdose can be fatal. Surely a big risk.

modern medicine has provided some much more reliable potions for infertility--perhaps too reliable.

The phrase "population explosion" has taken on new meaning in Indiana after a rash of triplets, quads and even a set of quintuplets. And Indianapolis can be counted in the vanguard of a multiple-birth baby boom now sweeping the country. In the last three years Indianapolis hospitals have produced at least four sets of triplets, four sets of quadruplets and a set of quints.

The phenomenon in Indiana is only part of the story. In the greater Boston area four women have given birth to quadruplets in the last five years. In 1982, quints were born to an Illinois woman; in 1983, two more sets, to two women from New Jersey and Maryland, respectively. But the frequency with which twins and triplets are born is increasing so dramatically they rarely make the national news.

Quadruplets were formerly expected only once in about 700,000 births, and when nature is left to her own ways, quintuplets have the astronomical odds of 63,500,000 to one against their birth. Not so with the use of fertility drugs. And thus the baby boom we are now witnessing is too new for demographers and census-bureau statisticians to measure. But one researcher who studies multiple births says, "All the old stastics have been blown out of the water."

Donald M. Keith, executive director of the Center for the Study of Multiple Births, adds that there aren't even any good, new statistics. "Reporting of multiple births isn't even done systematically from state to state," he says, "so it's hard for anyone to know what's really going on. We do know that far more multiple births are occurring now than would be expected--were it not for fertility drugs."

Keith attributes that increase in twins, triplets and other multiple births to at least three factors: First, "Many women are having babies later in life, well into the 30s in many cases, and at that age multiple births are more likely." Second, he cites additional evidence suggesting that women who have taken birthcontrol pills for long periods are more likely to have multiple births. Finally, the use of fertility drugs, chiefly Clomid and Pergonal, genetically increases the likelihood of multiples. And far more women are being treated for infertility than ever before in history.

One spokeswoman for the National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs agreed with Keith and noted that more and more women are having multiples and turning to are having multiples and turning to her organization for information and support.

Another researcher, Dr. Milada Zahalkova of the Children's Hospital, National Health Institute, Brno, Czechoslovakia, has noted that multiples tend to occur in clusters in specific communities or regions in specific time periods. She hasn't suggested causes, but one authority, who declined to be identified, believes that factors such as sudden changes in atmospheric pressure or ion concentrations during the time of conception may be responsible.

Whatever the cause, the multiple baby boom is on.

Dr. Steve West, a cardiologist in Indianapolis, is the proud father of quadruplets. Like so many women who have had multiples in recent years, Steve's wife, Jan, had been taking fertility drugs. "We had a good understanding of the risks," says Dr. West. "But they always seemed remote. When we first found that Jan was carrying multiples, we were scared. We knew there was a risk to her and to the babies. But there was nothing we could do. Now taht the birth is over, and the children are all well, we couldn't be happier. Things were pretty scary at first. And I really couldn't recommend fertility drugs to othe women because of the risks. You know the odds are one in a thousand, but when it happens to you, it's a hundred percent."

nancy hardie of Kokomo, Indiana, also has quadruplets. She recalls "a lot of disappointment" when she and her husband first learned that she was carrying more than one child. "We were concerned about the babies. We knew there was a greater risk to them. I'm a small woman, and it just didn't seem posible that I could possibly carry triplets, let alone quads, to full term. But as each week went by, we felt a little better. I'm delighted with the children now. They are constantly into everything, and the fatigue gets to me now and then. But my husband and family, my friends and neighbors have really been supportive. Having quads could really wreck a marriage, you know, but I'm very happy to report that it has strengthened mine."

Back in the baby-boom town of Indianapolis, Sidney and Suzanne Gaither had always wanted a big family--maybe up to four kids. Instead they got five, and all within a matter of minutes.

"I knew there would be more than one," Suzanne says. "How many, I didn't know." The nurse who had scanned her with ultrasound had originally counted three. This she later changed to four. Dr. Frank Johnson, her physician, came up with the fifth Gaither baby (all without the use of fertility drugs in this case).

"It was probably one of the simplest Caesarean sections I've ever done," he says. "The babies just popped out from the pressure. It wasn't up to me who was born next."

But five are more than an armload, as the Gaithers have learned. And mothers of one should try a three-hour feeding schedule (eight feedings a day) for five little mouths, along with some 40 to 50 diaper changes, not to mention sleeping arrangements, baths, colic comforting and all the rest; while dad looks ahead to cars and college and careers.

Noblesville, just north of Indianapolis, is the home of Larry and Debbie STrickland, who became parents fof our instant tax exemptions in '82. "I had wanted twins," said Mrs. Strickland after the Caesarean section. But she didn't at all mind getting double what she asked for, with some help from the fertility drug Perganol.

After their family explosion, the Stricklands purchased a van to hold the infant seats now required by Indiana state law. "When I stopped at a gas station one day with only three seats in the van at the time," Larry jokes, "the attendant said, 'Wow, you got triplets, huh!' You should have seen his face when I said, 'No, quadruplets!'"
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Title Annotation:multiple births
Author:Stoddard, Maynard; Born, David
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Apr 1, 1984
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