Slice of History: 1st Octuplets: Dec. 20, 1998
On a Sunday morning, a team of doctors at a Houston, Texas hospital remove seven babies by Caesarean section from the womb of a 27-year-old woman. None weighs more than two pounds. Two weeks earlier, doctors had delivered another of her infants vaginally, making Nkem Chukwu, a Nigerian-American, the first person to give birth to eight babies who survived.
Sadly, the smallest of the babies, a girl who weighed less than 11 ounces, died a week later. But Chukwu remains in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first mother of octuplets. Another woman had given birth to nine babies in Australia in 1971, but only six survived the birth. Three other octuplet births had occurred before Chukwu had her babies, but in one case, only six of the children survived, and in the other two cases, all of the babies died.
Chukwu had taken fertility drugs. While doctors hadn’t been sure how many children she was carrying, they had, as a precaution, hospitalized her two and a half months before the first baby was born. For the last six weeks, she had to stay in bed, and for the last two weeks, she had had to lie with her head down to take pressure off her cervix.
The first baby, a girl born on December 8, had been 15 weeks premature; the other seven—five girls and two boys–were 13 weeks early. All had to stay in the hospital for several months.
Chukwu and her husband, Iyke Louis Udobi , had another daughter, without the help of fertility medication, in 2002. They named her Divine Favor.
Over the years, the parents, with the help of Chukwu’s mother Janet, followed a system of having the children wear matching shirts, based on the day of the week. On Monday, for instance, they wear red shirts, Tuesday, maroon, Wednesday, and Thursday, either pink or light blue.
In an interview a few years ago, Chukwu said her children get along amazingly well. “Sometimes they have disagreements, but we don’t allow them to fight,” she told reporters. “They came from one womb, so we don’t want that.”
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