The mother of octuplets born Monday in California already had six children under the age of seven, but declined to abort some of the eight foetuses, her mother said in a Los Angeles Times interview Friday.
The mother has not been officially named. But grandmother Angela Suleman said the woman's refusal to undergo a so-called reduction was taken on moral grounds. "What do you suggest she should have done? She refused to have them killed," Suleman said. "That is a very painful thing."
Suleman acknowledged that raising 14 children would be difficult, especially since the father is due to return to Iraq shortly where he serves as a military contractor.
The mother, aged 33, was offered a selective abortion, Harold Henry at Kaiser Permanente Bellflower Medical Centre said. The woman had consulted the doctors in her 12th week of pregnancy.
News that the mother already had six young children before giving birth to the octuplets is likely to increase the controversy surrounding the use of fertility treatments, especially the implanting of multiple embryos which can lead to high risk pregnancies and health problems for the babies, who are usually born prematurely.
"When we see something like this in the general fertility world, it gives us the heebie-jeebies," Michael Tucker, a clinical embryologist in Atlanta and a leading researcher in infertility treatment, told the newspaper. Tucker added that in his opinion, "if a medical practitioner had anything to do with it, there's some degree of inappropriate medical therapy there."
The six boys and two girls were delivered within five minutes of each other by Caesarean section Monday morning. The delivery surprised doctors who had been expecting "only" seven babies.
Two of the newborns who had initially been put on ventilators, were now breathing on their own.
The mother is the second person ever to have delivered a set of living octuplets. The last octuplets known to have survived birth were born in Houston in 1998. One of the babies died one week later.
Wednesday, the mother could see her babies for the first time in their incubators at the intensive care ward. According to People magazine, she was not allowed to hold her babies yet, but watched them sleeping.
The babies weighed in at between 880 gm and 1.47 kg each. All eight will spend about two months in an incubator, the hospital said, but the mother, who plans to breastfeed all her children, will be able to leave hospital in one week.