Octuplet birth under investigation

February 6, 2009 11:52:54 AM PST
The Medical Board of California is investigating whether there were any violations by a fertility doctor who helped a woman become pregnant with the octuplets born last month. Board spokeswoman Candis Cohen says the board will determine whether there was a violation of medical standards. The board has not identified who is under investigation or where the fertility treatment was performed.

The probe was first reported by the Whittier Daily News.

In an interview with NBC's "Today Show," the mother of the octuplets, Nadya Suleman, says she once feared she could never give birth. She was depressed after enduring multiple failed pregnancies and the anguish of not having children.

Now she is the mother of 14, including octuplets born last week. The disclosure that the single mother already had six children ranging from 2 to 7 years old prompted a torrent of criticism and questions about the ethics of her fertility treatment.

"That was always a dream of mine, to have a large family, a huge family," she told the Today Show on Thursday in an interview scheduled to air next week. "I just longed for certain connections and attachments with another person that ... I really lacked, I believe, growing up."

The interview, along with public documents obtained by The Associated Press, lifted the veil of secrecy in which Suleman shrouded herself after the Jan. 26 birth of her octuplets.

She told NBC she struggled for seven years before finally giving birth to her first child. According to state documents, Suleman told a doctor she had three miscarriages. Another doctor disputed that number, saying she had two ectopic pregnancies, a dangerous condition in which a fertilized egg implants somewhere other than in the uterus.

Suleman said all 14 of her children were born by in vitro fertilization from sperm donated by a friend.

Suleman's publicist, Mike Furtney, said Thursday that Suleman was "feeling great" and looking forward to being reunited with her octuplets, who were born prematurely and are expected to remain in the hospital for several more weeks.

The state documents describe Suleman, 33, becoming pregnant with her first child after a 1999 injury during a riot at a state mental hospital where she worked.

Suleman feared she would lose the child and sunk into an intense depression, according to a psychological evaluation in her workers' compensation case.

"When you have a history of miscarriages, you think it will take a miracle," she told Dr. Dennis Nehamen. "I just wanted to die. I suspected I was pregnant but I thought, 'That's ridiculous."'

But the 2001 birth of the baby "helped my spirits," Suleman said.

More than 300 pages of documents were disclosed to The Associated Press following a public records request to the state Division of Workers' Compensation.

Among other things, they reveal that Suleman collected more than $165,000 in disability payments between 2002 and 2008 for the work injury, which she said left her in near-constant pain and helped end her marriage.

Details of the documents were reported the same day that NBC released excerpts of Suleman's first interview since giving birth.

In the interview - which was scheduled to air on the "Today" show Monday and again Tuesday on "Dateline" - Suleman calls her childhood as an only child "pretty dysfunctional."

In the state documents, however, doctors quote her as indicating she had a happy childhood. She told them she was an above-average student at Nogales High School in La Puente, where she enjoyed being a cheerleader, had many friends and stayed out of trouble. She said both her parents were loving and supportive.

According to the state documents, Suleman was injured Sept. 18, 1999, when a riot involving nearly two dozen patients broke out in the women's ward of the Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, where she worked as a psychiatric technician. As she was helping other staff members restrain a patient, a desk thrown at her by another patient hit her in the back. It damaged her spine and left her complaining of headaches and intense pain throughout her lower body for years.

Suleman attributed the lingering pain in part to the breakup of her marriage to Marcos Gutierrez, whom she wed in 1996 and divorced in 2008.

She told a psychiatrist the bouts of depression she was suffering as a result of her injury were unfair to her husband.

"I don't want to keep bringing him down," she said. "I want him to move on with his life."

Public records show Suleman was listed on the Metropolitan State Hospital payroll from 1997 until last year, although it appears she did little work after September 1999 because of her injury.

During a hearing on her case in December 2001, Suleman said pregnancy aggravated her back condition. She said she spent most of the day in bed and was unable to care for her first child, according to a report by workers' compensation judge Jerome Bulavsky.

After examining her in August, Dr. Steven Nagelberg attributed 90 percent of her condition to the work incident and 10 percent to her pregnancy.


Associated Press writers Shaya Tayefe Mohajer, Raquel Maria Dillon and Thomas Watkins contributed to this report.