Giving birth to seven babies in under five minutes was quite something, so imagine the mother's surprise when an unexpected eighth came along. The eight babies were born in Los Angeles, California, early on Monday morning, becoming only the second live-born set of octuplets ever recorded in the USA.
"We were counting [umbilical] cords, and lo and behold, there was another one," said Dr Harold Henry, director of maternal and fetal medicine at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Centre. "It is quite easy to miss a baby when you're anticipating seven. Ultrasound doesn't show you everything."
Dr Henry recalled that after the first seven had been born, his colleague Alejandro Vasquez, suddenly interjected: "Wait a minute, I think I feel a hand."
The six boys and two girls all began crying spontaneously, which is a good sign that they are in a healthy condition.
"The babies are doing actually very, very well," Dr Mandhir Gupta, a neonatologist at the hospital, told the Good Morning America television show yesterday. "Their blood pressure is very good, their heartbeat is very good... They face many obstacles, weight is a concern, and [the smaller one] has a long way to go. The mother is really excited that she got all of these babies, and they're doing good so far."
The octuplets were delivered by a team of some 50 doctors working across four separate rooms, who had carried out drills and dry runs for weeks on end to make sure they were fully prepared.
Dr Gupta said he expected the babies, who were born nine weeks prematurely, to remain in incubators in the intensive care unit for up to two months.
The next 48 hours are crucial, he said, but the hospital is hopeful about their prospects of becoming the first-ever octuplets to survive into infancy.
"Only three babies need some sort of oxygen through the nose right now but they are breathing on their own," Dr Gupta said.
Earlier, the hospital revealed how the children, who are identified with the initials A to H depending on the order in which they arrived, were born by caesarean section within five minutes of each other. They weighed between 1lb 8oz and 3lb 4oz.
Despite an increase in multiple births due to fertility treatment, octuplets are extraordinarily rare, and photographs of the children and their mother are likely to command a fee of millions of dollars. The woman, who is understood to be local, is thought to have conceived as a result of fertility treatment.
The world's first live-born octuplets were born in March 1967 in Mexico City, but all died within 14 hours. In 1996, a British woman, Mandy Allwood, became pregnant with eight children, sparking a media bidding war for interview rights, but she later lost all of the babies prematurely.
Two years later, doctors in Houston, Texas announced that a local woman, Nkem Chukwu, had given birth to octuplets three months prematurely. Although the smallest died a week after the birth, its surviving siblings celebrated their 10th birthdays in December. Ms Chukwu told reporters yesterday that she was delighted to hear that another mother had managed the same feat as she had, calling it "truly a blessing". Ms Chukwu added: "We'll keep praying for them."
The original octuplets
Of the eight children born to Nkem Chukwu, a Nigerian woman in Houston, Texas, and her husband, Iyke Louis Udobi, one was born two weeks after the others. The first babies were 15 weeks premature, and weighed between 11oz and 17oz. The smallest died of lung and heart failure but the other five girls and two boys are healthy and celebrated their 10th birthdays last year.
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