Nonuplets For Mother’s Day–Oh, Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby, Baby!

This past Sunday, Mother’s Day, afforded the opportunity to specifically celebrate the moms and the mother figures in our lives. For one mom, the day took on added significance this year. A Malian woman expanded her family five days beforehand. She didn’t add one child to her brood or even two. NINE little ones, nonuplets to be precise, prematurely entered the world to give their mom quite the surprise gift for Mother’s Day.

We’ve all heard of triplets and quadruplets and possibly even quintuplets. But nonuplets? I’d never heard that word before. For word nerds like I am, you may be interested to know the term “nonuplets” comes from the Latin word “nonus” meaning nine. Actually, my thought when learning nonuplets were a thing was that I wanted “non-a” that. Giving birth to NINE babies in one sitting–or lying as the case may be? Nope. Producing one baby at a time was difficult enough for me. Whew!

If you’re thinking nonuplets are pretty rare, you’d be correct. This particular situation is the first time on record a woman has given birth to nine surviving babies at one time. Two previous sets of nonuplets have been documented. One set was born in Australia in 1971, but two of the babies were stillborn. In 1999, a Malaysian woman delivered nonuplets, but none of the babies survived more than six hours.

What’s even more amazing about the Malian nonuplets is there’s no indication their birth mother, 25 year old Halima Cisse, conceived as the result of any fertility treatment. Apparently the nonuplets are Demonstrative Exhibit A for the proposition humans can, on their own, indeed have litters. In contrast, the infamous Octomom, Nadya Suleman, a single American woman without a job, produced octuplets (that’s 8 babies for any prefix-challenged readers) back in 2009. Her babies (litter?) were conceived as the result of fertility treatments, specifically IVF. Her octuplets all survived and are now 12. (Oh, my! Eight children to be in their teens at the same time????)

So why was the birth of nine babies a surprise to this Malian mama? Certainly her pregnancy would be clear if she was carrying that many at one time. Well, doctors only saw seven fetuses on the ultrasound. Numbers eight and nine were an unexpected bonus at the time of delivery. Perhaps the statement, “But wait, there’s more!” was heard in the delivery room.

Although the mother lives in Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries, she gave birth in Morocco. Why was she traveling abroad while experiencing a high risk pregnancy? Her pregnancy, in fact, was the very reason she had to leave Mali to deliver. Her home country was not equipped to provide the special care required, so the Malian government ordered their pregnant citizen to be transferred from a Malian hospital to Morocco for such care. Halima was flown to the North African country in late March and admitted to a private clinic, Ain Borja, in Casablanca.

Halima’s pregnancy was no piece of cake. She spent two weeks in the hospital in Mali before her admission to the Moroccan clinic where she arrived at 25 weeks into the pregnancy. With full gestation set at 40 weeks, that point in the pregnancy was very early. A dangerous premature delivery was feared imminent. Thanks to the nonuplets, their mother had gained between 66 and 88 pounds consisting of babies and amniotic fluid. Who knows how much she would gain if she went full term. Alas, we’ll never know as Halima began having contractions at 30 weeks.

The babies’ delivery was quite the operation–literally. Ten doctors and 25 paramedics were assembled to assist with the C-section. That must have been one BIG delivery room to fit such a crowd inside. Tensions were high as each fetus faced 50% odds of being stillborn. Their mom had a rough time, experiencing heavy bleeding requiring a blood transfusion. Five boys and four girls emerged, all weighing between 1.1 and 2.2 pounds. Five of the babies were immediately hooked up to ventilators after birth, and all were placed in incubators due to their weight. These incubators will be their homes for the next two to three months.

Meanwhile, back in Timbuktu (yes, really), Halima’s husband, Adjudant Kader Arby, keeps the home fires burning. He is caring for the couple’s older daughter and not fretting about the babies’ future. He’s expressly stated that he’s not worried, noting “God gave us these children. He is the one to decide what will happen to them.” While I don’t know the medical prognosis for these numerous little ones, I do envision a future for them involving lots and lots of diaper changing and feedings for their parents to handle. Not sure if a Sam’s Club is located in Timbuktu, but the nonuplets’ parents will definitely need to buy in bulk.

Raising multiples, especially nonuplets, is undoubtedly a daunting task. Thankfully, multiple births in the United States are rare; per 2019 data from the CDC, only 87.7 births out of 100,000 in this country were triplets or more. My own family claims one of these rare events as I had triplet uncles. Although fraternal, they looked identical as kids and would switch identities as it suited them to the great frustration of my dear grandmother.

Because of this family history, my biggest fear with my first pregnancy was having triplets. I’ll never forget the amused response of the medical staff member on base when I asked if I could be carrying triplets. He said, “Ma’am, you be waaay bigger if you were having triplets.” In light of Halima’s weight gain and pregnancy complications, I’m blessed to say I only carried one baby at a time. Nonuplets make for interesting news but for a difficult pregnancy and motherhood.

Just WONDER-ing:

Have you ever heard the term nonuplets before? Have there been any multiple births (triplets or more) in your family? If fertility treatments are utilized, is it responsible to attempt multiple births? How many babies is enough for one pregnancy?

Forty Years Of Parenting Newborns

Florida Panhandle couple Chatt and Carol Johnson are hands on experts on newborn care. They have willingly and lovingly provided a home for 55 newborns over the course of 40 years serving as foster parents.

The Johnsons did not set out to be foster parents. Carol explains it was the Lord and the Air Force who led her to this work. The U.S. Air Force transferred Chatt from Virginia to Florida. Shortly after arriving in Florida, Carol was playing bridge with some squadron wives, one of whom happened to be a foster parent. She was heartbroken to learn from this woman that newborns were being sent out of Okaloosa County over to Pensacola because there were no foster homes available in the area.

Carol knew immediately that she wanted to be a foster parent, but that desire did not turn into a reality for two years. Chatt was initially reluctant to pursue fostering because he did not want his wife’s heart to be broken. But when a neighbor held a garage sale with lots of baby gear, that “flipped the switch” for Chatt. The couple underwent background investigations and health department inspections finally being approved to serve as foster parents for Catholic Social Services in 1979. Eleven years ago Chatt and Carol became foster parents for the State of Florida.

The Johnsons have only fostered newborns, and they only foster one baby at a time. As Carol explains, it is very difficult to find foster parents willing to provide such care. Having to get up for 2:00 a.m. feedings is not appealing to many potential foster parents. But what Carol likes best about fostering newborns is snuggle time with the babies.

When the Johnsons began fostering, they were still raising their own biological children. Their daughters were in 5th and 7th grade when the first newborn came to the Johnson household. The girls enjoyed having a baby in the house and, over the years, were available to babysit.

Even today fostering is a family affair. When Chatt and Carol visit their grown daughters and their five grandchildren, they have baby paraphernalia waiting for their use in their daughters’ homes. The grandchildren especially love having babies come to visit along with their grandparents.

Newborns placed for foster care with the Johnsons remain in their home for varying amounts of time. The longest a baby has been in their care is seventeen months and the shortest has been two months. Letting go of a child she has cared for is the only negative aspect of being a foster parent to Carol. The first time that a baby was removed from foster care was particularly hard on Chatt.

While a baby is in the Johnsons’ home, efforts are made to reunite a birth parent with her child. Typically visitation with the birth mother is held five times a week and with the birth father three times a week. When it is time for the baby to leave foster care, transitioning occurs. A child spends more and more time in the new home, so that it is not a drastic step for the foster parent not to come back to pick them up.

Even though babies may no longer be in the Johnsons’ home, they are never forgotten. Carol estimates that she and Chatt are still in touch with two-thirds of the babies which they have fostered. A framed picture of a heart containing the first names of all 55 babies the Johnsons have fostered hangs in the couple’s home; the artwork was a gift from their granddaughter.

Carol receives positive reactions from people who learn that she is a foster mother. Many admire her ability to do this work remarking, “I could never let them go.” Others relate to Carol that they have themselves been adopted.

The last 15-20 babies Chatt and Carol have fostered were drug-dependent. Carol says that it is not just one drug that the baby’s mother is using, but usually several. These babies are not released from the NICU until drug withdrawal is over. Once in their home, Carol and Chatt love on these babies and make them feel secure. And, of course, Carol prays over all her babies.

Carol expresses concern about the “desperate” need for foster parents in the area. Due to a lack of local foster homes, some children are being sent all the way to Central and South Florida for foster care. Sibling groups may also be broken up due to the unavailability of foster homes. Although Carol recognizes that it is a “rigamarole” to get licensed, she emphasizes what a blessing it has been to her and to the babies she has fostered to serve as a foster parent.

Lack of information and misperceptions may hinder some people from pursuing becoming foster parents according to Carol. She notes that foster parents may be single or gay and that a foster parent can work full-time because the state will pay for daycare. The biggest requirements for a foster parent, in Carol’s opinion, are simply that he or she be able to provide stability and love for a child. She also points out that a foster parent must be prepared to have a broken heart. Babies eventually grow up, and foster parents eventually must retire.

Carol tearfully faces retiring as a foster parent next year. Foster parenting has changed Carol and Chatt’s lives, but they have also had the opportunity to positively change the lives of the newborns placed in their care. The Johnsons are praying that others will step up to the foster parenting plate and be there for kids who need a stable and loving temporary home.

JUST WONDER-ing: Were you aware of the critical need for foster homes? Have you ever considered becoming a foster parent? Why or why not?