Following the fierce debate over the selective termination of one twin and the destruction of 3,000 frozen embryos, Mandy Allwood, 31, of Solihull has become the latest celebrity in the life-before-birth debate. Ms Allwood, a businesswoman, is expecting eight children after becoming pregnant in May during fertility treatment.
But for her the opportunity promises more than fleeting fame. She approached public-relations guru Max Clifford and sold her story to a Sunday newspaper, reportedly for pounds 350,000. She aims to make pounds 1m through sponsorship deals and television commercials. "I guess it was a sign of the times that the first person she contacted was her gynaecologist and the second was the PR," Mr Clifford said.
Ms Allwood, 18 weeks pregnant, proclaimed in her exclusive interview with the News of the World that she was happy to keep all eight: "I won't choose which ones should live and which ones should die. I know that some people will call us irresponsible but there are risks either way." But there are fears that the prospect of wealth and media attention may be hampering her judgement.
There was talk of a "sliding-scale" deal - whereby the more healthy children she gives birth to, the more money she receives - which Mr Clifford said was "market forces. That's the reality of the situation".
But her doctor, Professor Kypros Nicolaides, head of foetal medicine at King's College Hospital in south London, has advised her to consider reducing the pregnancy to twins and warned that continuing the full pregnancy could put her own life at risk. A multiple birth places great physical stress on the mother's body and makes it more difficult for each baby to develop and grow normally.
The most recent case of a woman becoming pregnant with octuplets was Maria Ines of Spain in 1989. The birth of nonuplets has been recorded three times but none survived.
Lord Robert Winston, professor of fertility studies at Hammersmith Hospital, in west London, said the risk to the mother's health was "very serious". "She will certainly have to have a Caesarean section. The chances of having high blood pressure, thrombosis, bleeding during pregnancy. Pretty well all the complications of pregnancy are likely to occur."
Of the octuplets, he said: "Starkly, if you do not intervene in this pregnancy the chances of any baby being born alive and well are virtually non-existent.
"Given good medicine", there was no reason why a selective reduction should not leave the remaining foetuses healthy but ultimately it was the parents who must make the decision on their course of action.
It was the couple themselves who took the initiative to go to the press. Ms Allwood's boyfriend, Paul Hudson, 37, put out feelers to Central Television in Birmingham to see if they would be interested. When the couple realised what the story was worth, last Monday they approached Mr Clifford. He arranged the News of the World exclusive and took care to deal with the media for them.
The couple met through work and set up a letting agency together in 1992. They drove matching BMWs - hers silver, his gold. But the company failed last year and left Mr Hudson bankrupt. According to reports, Ms Allwood and Mr Hudson have both experienced financial difficulties, owing money to credit-card companies, banks and building societies.
Ms Allwood's and Mr Hudson's private life seems similarly complicated - they describe themselves as "not the most conventional of couples". She has a son Charlie, five, from her previous marriage to Simon Pugh, a self-employed plasterer.
Mr Hudson has two children from a previous relationship and stays in close contact with the mother, spending alternate nights between the two women's homes. "I've always been my own man and needed my own space," he explained.
After an abortion following a car crash and a miscarriage last year, Ms Allwood went for fertility treatment at a private hospital in the West Midlands without Mr Hudson's knowledge. She was prescribed the hormone Metrodin and the drug Pregnyl. Metrodin prompts the growth of egg follicles, while Pregnyl releases them for fertilisation. According to reports she was advised to abstain from sexual intercourse but ignored the warnings and became pregnant.
Mr Hudson was said to have asked Ms Allwood if she would consider an abortion when he first learnt she was pregnant but is now reconciled to the idea of having eight children. "We're on the edge of science and we are looking for an entry into the Guinness Book of Records," he told the News of the World.
Mr Clifford said a million pounds was a "reasonable" sum to be expected if sponsorship deals went through and added that he had already been approached by companies both in Britain and abroad. "Financially they would be better off if they had no babies at all," he added. "Eight babies is an enormous expense ... But finance is not what this is all about. The important factor is the health of Mandy and her children."
The editor of the NoW, Phil Hall, said yesterday that Ms Allwood did not want to gain financially herself, but just wanted help to bring up the children. But if all eight babies are born, the couple face an estimated cost of pounds 250,000 to bring them up. As Ms Allwood was tracked down to an Oxfordshire hotel by journalists from rival newspapers, she was alarmed that having been discovered might upset the deal. She shared her preoccupation with the NoW journalists guarding her: "Do I still get paid?"
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