Multiple Births: The More the Merrier?

Jody Kirsch says she was shocked when she learned she was going to have triplets. "I knew that there possibly could have been multiples, but when I thought 'multiple,' I thought twins — never triplets," she recalls. "When the doctor saw the three sacs [by ultrasound] and said, 'there's one, there's two, there's three,' I just couldn't believe it."

But Jody's experience is becoming increasingly common. For American women in their thirties, like Jody, the rate of multiple births has jumped by 400 percent in just the last five years. For women in their forties, the multiples rate has skyrocketed 1000 percent. In 1997 alone, U.S. women ages 45-49 had as many sets of twins as were born to the same age group during the entire decade of the 1980s.

This particular baby boom is mostly attributable to the increasing use of fertility treatments, however, it is not necessarily a source of pride to most assisted reproduction specialists. Widely publicized pregnancies involving "high order multiples" (triplets or more) have provoked harsh criticism, even from fertility doctors themselves, because of the risks to both mother and babies.

"This shouldn't be a contest. When we see fives, sixes, sevens, eights — I'm sure we'll be seeing nine at some point—I think that's a horrible outcome," says Jody's fertility specialist, Dr. Alan Copperman, Director of Infertility at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. "I wish these couples well," he explains, "I hope that each of these babies does just fine, but in the majority of cases, these kids are going to have problems, so this is not something to celebrate. This is not a good day for reproductive medicine when we help a couple get pregnant with sextuplets. That should help us reevaluate what medications we're using, what treatments we're using, and how we're using them."

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