The TLC Cable Television Network is unfortunately at it again. Now that the Jon & Kate Plus Eight debacle is mercifully behind us, TLC has chosen to pump up the promotion of yet another one of their reality TV shows. This particular show, "Table for 12" glorifies the lifestyle of yet another large family created through infertility treatment. TLC would like you to spend some time bonding with the Hayes family this season. Parents Betty and Eric (stay at home mom and policeman dad) worked with an infertility doctor to conceive three sets of multiples. While the details of the youthful Ms. Hayes' treatment are not as yet clearly known, it is safe to assume that her physician was aggressive in the course of her treatment.
The Hayes family consists of twelve year old twins, ten year old twins, and four year old sextuplets. Altogether that is ten children being raised in the American spotlight on prime time television.
Clearly the creation of this reality TV show is geared towards financial gain for the network, which is a reasonable goal for a TV station to have. However, while it makes sense for television networks to produce shows that will bring in large audiences, in this case, there is a more relevant moral imperative at stake.
The glorification of multiple birth gives women and men who are undergoing infertility treatment the misconception that this outcome is safe, acceptable, appropriate, and frankly, cute. It is none of the above. According to Brooklyn based reproductive endocrinologist Bradley Trivax, M.D. of Reproductive Specialists of New York, "The negative health repercussions of high order multiple gestation are many, affecting mom, babies, and our health care system in general. The most common complication is premature delivery. Early delivery results in low birth weight and contributes to the morbidity and mortality of the babies being born. Multiples often require a high rate of admission to neonatal intensive care units and are at risk for a number of complications including cerebral palsy".
One of the Hayes sextuplets, four year old Rebecca, does in fact have cerebral palsy.
According to William Petok, Ph.D., a member of The American Fertility Association's Mental Health Advisory Council, "The major problem with twin pregnancies is prematurity which can result in breathing and digestive problems, underdeveloped organs, learning disabilities and developmental delays. Of course, this will increase the costs for the delivery and subsequent hospital stay for the babies. Some estimates for the hospital costs of premature multiples range between $1.5 million and $3 million". The incubators alone that will house these babies cost approx $4,000 each per day, and then there are the additional costs for specialist's visits and medical tests.
As reported in Science Daily, a better alternative that Ms. Hayes' physician might have considered is single embryo transfer, or SET. Single embryo transfer refers to the implantation of one embryo per IVF cycle. The embryo can be either fresh or frozen. SET has been shown to literally halve the rates of multiple pregnancy.
According to Dr. Trivax, "Perhaps no issue in assisted reproductive technologies is as controversial as the selection of the optimal number of embryos for transfer. Progress towards SET has been slow because of concerns that it may result in lower pregnancy and live birth rates. However, data shows that transferring two or three embryos rather than one improves pregnancy rates only slightly, while dramatically increasing multiple birth rates. All women under the age of 35 should be considered for single embryo transfer. Once technology reaches the point where we can accurately distinguish between good and bad embryos with certainty, single embryo transfer will finally be welcomed with open arms."
The Hayes wanted a large family and they got it. But when you are planning your own family, try to remember that reality is not the same thing as reality TV. The sensible goal for anyone who is trying to conceive should be one healthy baby per pregnancy. Be a proactive patient and let your physician know that one baby at a time is what you want.. If you do however choose to be aggressive in your treatment, work with your doctor to make sure that you know the risks and can prepare for the outcome.