The woman who gave birth to octuplets said she is confident she can love and care for 14 children — even though she was struggling to feed her six other children as an unemployed single mother.
“This is my choice, to be a single parent,” said Nadya Suleman in her first interview, given exclusively to TODAY’s Ann Curry and broadcast Monday.
In a separate interview with TODAY’s Matt Lauer, a medical ethicist and the director of a fertility center criticized both Suleman and the in-vitro fertilization doctor who implanted six embryos in her.
One by oneThe 33-year-old mother showed off her eight babies for the first time, introducing them one by one to Curry.
“Hi, Maliah, your eyes are open,” she said, putting her hand on the head of the baby in the first incubator before moving to the next tiny infant. “This is Noah and he's doing well. He's blond, the only one with blond hair.”
She moved on down the line of incubators, each child identified by the hospital with a letter from A through H.
“Hiya, Jonah ... this tiniest one was the troublemaker,” she told Curry, gently putting her hands on each child. “This is Isaiah, baby C, he's getting bigger, he's starting to recognize my voice.” Next was Nariah. “I wish I could be here all day,” Suleman told the infant.
“This is Jeremiah,” she continued. “He’s on lights for jaundice.” Then it was, “Hiya, McCai,” and “Hi, Josiah, I wish I could stay all day long, but I can't. Your brothers and sisters at home want to see you ... I can't wait until they're all together. We are not a whole family.”
The eight babies turned 2 weeks old on Monday and are expected to remain at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Bellflower, Calif., for several weeks.
NBC chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman has estimated the cost of delivering the infants and caring for them until they are healthy enough to leave the hospital at $1.5 to $3 million.
The Los Angeles Times reported on Monday night that Suleman is receiving $490 a month in food stamps, and three of her first six children are disabled and receiving federal assistance.
The Times reported that Suleman's publicist, Michael Furtney, confirmed the information after two sources told the newspaper that Suleman was receiving food stamps and federal Supplemental Security income.
Furtney said Suleman didn't consider the federal assistance to be welfare.
"In Nadya's view, the money that she gets from the food stamp program ... and the resources disabilities payments she gets for her three children are not welfare," he said. "They are part of programs designed to help people with need, and she does not see that as welfare."
Furtney declined to tell the Times what kinds of disabilities the three children have.
Single parent by choiceAll 14 of Suleman’s children were conceived with sperm donated by the same father. Suleman told Curry she talks to the man once or twice a year, but he has yet to see any of the children.
“He was shocked,” Suleman said of the man’s reaction to the number of children she has had. “He didn't know what to say. He needs time. So in the future, someday maybe, he would be open-minded to knowing them. He expressed a desire to know the six kids.”
But if that happens, she said, it will be some time in the future.
“This probably makes him feel a little bit worried and scared and apprehensive, you know, to be in their life right now. And it's maybe just not the right time,” she said. “Someday, he will. I'm not going to say that I am hoping or relying on that. No. No, life goes on regardless. This is my choice, to be a single parent.”
Curry told Suleman that many people think she had the octuplets in the hope of making money off her story.
“That's funny how untrue that is,” Suleman said. “Money? Money is necessary to raise children. But it's — it's paper. It is paper. To me, it is superfluous in contrast to the importance of my kids.”
Suleman lives with her mother, Angela. Suleman worked at a state mental hospital from 1997 until 2006. She was injured in a riot in 1999 and has been on disability payments.
Curry said that Suleman also told her that when she was working, she put in double shifts and saved as much money as she could to pay for the in vitro fertilization procedures that enabled her to have all her children. The woman also told Curry that she is relying on her church and friends to be there when she brings the babies home, which is not expected to happen for several weeks.
“I'm not receiving help from the government,” Suleman told Curry. “I'm not trying to expect anything from anybody. [I] just wanted to do it on my own. Any resources that someone would really, really want to help us, I will accept, I would embrace.”
“How will you feed all of your children?” Curry asked.
“I will feed them. I will do the best I possibly can,” she said. “And in my own way, in my own faith, I do believe wholeheartedly that God will provide in his own way.”
Overwhelming desire for childrenSuleman has said that her desire to have a large family is the result of growing up an only child and always wanting siblings. In a segment of her interview with Curry broadcast Friday, she had called her upbringing “dysfunctional.”
“To what degree is this too much about you and not enough about them?” Curry asked in Monday’s segment.
“I think after the six, I started to acknowledge that,” Suleman said. “Well, I don't want to have too many more. I'm going to use what I have available. That's acceptable. So I already acknowledged this at that point.”
Both Suleman and the in vitro clinic that made it possible for her to have 14 children have come under heavy criticism for having the six embryos implanted that resulted in her octuplets.
Suleman said she used the West Coast IVF Clinic in Beverly Hills for all of her pregnancies. Video from 2006 aired Monday morning on KTLA-TV in Los Angeles shows Dr. Michael Kamrava from the clinic treating Suleman and discussing the implantation process, according to the Associated Press.Without identifying the doctor, the Medical Board of California said last week it was looking into the matter to see if there was a "violation of the standard of care" for implanting so many embryos. The wire service said there was no answer to a telephone call placed before business hours to the clinic Monday. Kamrava did not immediately return a pager message.
Suleman told Curry that her history with her previous six in vitro procedures led her and her doctor, whom she did not identify by name, to believe that just one and at the most two embryos would implant and grow. Instead, all six proved viable and two of them split into twins.
Babies born in high multiples are at high risk for a laundry list of physical and developmental disabilities, including cerebral palsy, and Suleman said her doctors made sure she was well aware of the dangers to herself and her children of carrying eight fetuses.
‘Do no harm’“We have strict guidelines about the number of embryos to transfer, and this is above the number that we recommend,” Dr. Jamie Grifo, director of the NYU Fertility Center, told Matt Lauer in a segment about the medical and ethical issues surrounding the births. The guidelines, he said, were drawn up by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. “Our guidelines say age 35 and under, two embryos is what we transfer.”
Arthur Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Bioethics, added that some doctors may decide they don’t have the right to determine who can or cannot care for the children they are seeking to have. But, he said, doctors do have a responsibility to both the patient and the children.
“The doctor has to have some judgment to say, ‘This is not the right environment for these kids to flourish. I don’t want to make kids with disabilities,’ ” he told Lauer. “We’ve got to look out for the interests of the kids.”
Lauer asked if the Hippocratic oath that doctors take comes into play.
“Sure it does,” Caplan replied. “Do no harm.”
In Suleman’s case, Caplan had no illusions about the enormity of the task facing a mother of octuplets with six other kids under the age of 8 at home.
“I think you can guarantee that you’re going to have trouble when you have eight kids all at once — added on to six? Boy, you’re going to have trouble raising them,” he said.
Grifo said that guidelines have been in place for in vitro procedures since 1990 and that 100,000 procedures are performed in the United States each year. The fact that there are so few cases like Suleman’s shows that in the great majority of cases, the guidelines work.
“Our goal is to help these patients have a single baby,” Grifo said. “What gets lost in the scuffle [is that] 20 percent of the population is infertile. It is a disease. My patients are as depressed as cancer patients … We’re doing a good job. How do you stop the one crazy case? I don’t know.”
Some have suggested that legislation is needed to regulate the fertility industry. “We lean in that direction in a mild way,” Caplan said, noting that there are regulations governing who can or cannot adopt children.
Although Suleman said she understood the risks of carrying eight fetuses, Grifo and Caplan were blunt in their evaluation of her.
“She obviously isn’t behaving rationally,” Grifo said. “Somebody missed the boat here. She risked her life and those babies’ lives. She didn’t fully understand [the risks], apparently.”
“She may have heard it, then said, ‘I don’t care, I’m going ahead anyway,’ ” added Caplan. “She’s not paying attention to what’s best for the kids here.”
Her prioritiesCurry noted that Suleman’s desire to have a large family was the result of feeling she didn’t get enough love as an only child.
“If you, being an only child, didn't feel like you got enough love, how are all 14 of your children going to get enough love from you? How are you not setting up exactly the experience that you endured yourself?” Curry asked.
“All I can do is do my very best and be there for them; be present in their lives and have them my absolute priority in my life,” Suleman said. “I was not expecting it.”
Watch Dateline at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 10, for more on the octuplets and their six siblings.