Not all multiple births have happy ending McCaughey story prompts other parents to speak out

January 03, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MARANA, Ariz. -- Like so many other parents, they sent out a birth notice: "Mario and Jane Simeone proudly announce the birth of their new arrivals!" It listed the names of their triplets, the birth weights, lengths and birth date: June 21, 1997.

There were also color photographs, which conveyed what the words could not: Amber Raquel in the yellow light of a neonatal incubator, the word "caution" visible on its side; Cheyenne Barbara with tubes sprouting from chest, legs, arms and hands; Mario Victor with a ventilator tube taped to his mouth.

Next to Amber's photograph was another vital statistic: "deceased June 24, 1997." Next to Cheyenne's, "deceased July 6, 1997." By the time the birth announcements were mailed, only Mario Jr. was still alive.

The story of the Simeones is a melancholy counterpoint to the story of the McCaugheys, the Iowa couple who captivated a nation when they gave birth to the first living septuplets in November.

Yet in some ways, doctors and parents say, the risks and heartaches of the Simeones are as real with multiple births as the McCaugheys' medical triumph.

Faced with continued cheerful publicity about the McCaugheys -- doctors recently announced that the septuplets were progressing well and set to go home at the end of this month -- some parents feel compelled to balance the picture by disclosing their own painful experiences.

The Simeones, both 27, had tried for six years to become pregnant, eventually resorting to fertility drugs purchased over the border in Mexico, where they were significantly cheaper.

But despite careful medical care and Jane Simeone's dutiful efforts to help the pregnancy go smoothly, problems forced her to deliver 15 weeks early. Ultimately, she could only sing to the girls as they died in her arms. Her son was hospitalized all summer, needing oxygen at home for weeks.

As more couples try ever-evolving infertility treatments, births of triplets, quadruplets and even quintuplets are becoming more common. Still, while medical advancements have clearly helped some of these pregnancies produce healthy children, others continue to be fraught with problems.

"Our bodies are not made to carry that many bodies," said Dr. Barbara Luke, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Michigan Medical School. "Inducing a three- or four-fetal pregnancy in a woman that was infertile -- it's a bad situation on top of a bad situation. You can't fool Mother Nature."

Between 1980 and 1994, the latest year for which statistics are available, nearly one of every 10 of the 37,514 triplets, quadruplets and other "higher-order multiples" died in their first year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Multiple pregnancies are also more likely to fail. A woman carrying multiples for at least 20 weeks -- about half the duration of a normal pregnancy -- is five times more likely to lose the babies before they are born.

Of those that survive, about 92 percent of triplets and other multiples are born prematurely and below normal birth weight, which can lead to health and developmental problems. One study found triplets were twice as likely as single babies to develop cerebral palsy, blindness, mental retardation or seizure disorders.

When the Simeones placed their daughters' ashes in a wooden urn, they left space on the engraving plate for Mario Jr., so afraid that he, too, would die.

"After he came home all the emotions started hitting me with the girls," Jane Simeone said recently in this cactus-dotted satellite of Tucson. "Having him around was a constant reminder of them. I would hold him and then I would hold the girls' urn 'cause I wanted to hold them all together.

"People keep saying I should be thankful for the one. I am thankful for the one. But I can't forget about the two."

For parents involved in these pregnancies, the intensity of emotions is almost beyond description. Many have spent anguished years trying to conceive children, only to be catapulted onto another kind of roller coaster once their babies are born.

"This is not the kind of thing that people picture when they go into this," said Jean Kollantai, director of the Center for Loss in Multiple Births, a support network.

"I wish that everyone involved with multiples would be required to sit on my phone for a day."

Pub Date: 1/03/98

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