Extraordinary eight

Ask most parents of a newborn how they'd feel about having the blessing multiplied by eight, and you would get a bleary-eyed stare in return. Eight times the number of nightly wake-ups. Eight times the number of breastfeeding sessions . . . or maybe only four times. Eight car seats to be buckled for every excursion. Eight simultaneous cases of adolescent rebellion. And you'd need your own personal landfill for the disposable diapers. But we're sure the parents of the octuplets born Monday in Bellflower have planned for all this -- or for nearly all this, as even the doctors were surprised to deliver eight rather than the expected seven. There also will be for them a houseful of playing, laughter, learning and, in a month or so, eight first smiles.

Doctors look on such high-number multiple births as a medical failure rather than as cause for celebration. They are more dangerous for the babies as well as the mother. Despite the eight infants' apparently stable health, they are tiny and might be at higher risk for various developmental problems. People might cluck, but then people are always ready to cluck at the parenting decisions of others. We're more inclined, as a society, to define and foresee problems in eccentricity than to think that perhaps it will turn out to be simply extraordinary.

Virtually no information about the parents has been released. Did they undergo fertility treatments? Do they have money? Baby goods -- and no baby appears to be complete these days without a supply of equipment so extensive that it takes over the living room and the dog's favorite napping area -- probably won't be a problem, at least at first. The gifts will pour in from well-wishers; the diaper companies will try to beat each other to the P.R. punch (if she chooses cloth, the mom could become an environmentalist icon); there might even be a college ready to offer four years of tuition in exchange for a little publicity. We only wish such generosity were showered on singleton newborns whose parents might have equal or greater needs.

It will take some sort of long-term mini-village to raise these children. Two people can't take that many babies out in a stroller, let alone take them all out for driving practice 16 years hence. It will be a different, perhaps more diffuse kind of family dynamic, one that seems alien in an era of hovering "helicopter parenting," but not necessarily a worse one. There will be days when the mother and father, their energy and finances tapped, wonder in frustration whether they made a mistake. But this is one of the many days when they won't.

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