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Bobbi Mccaughey

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THEY SAID IT COULD NEVER BE DONE. BOBBI McCaughey, 29, stood a greater chance of being trampled by a reindeer. But on Nov. 19, in six tense minutes at the Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines, McCaughey accomplished what no woman on the planet ever had, giving birth by cesarean section to seven apparently healthy infants: Kenneth Robert, Alexis May, Natalie Sue, Kelsey Ann, Brandon James, Nathan Roy and Joel Steven. At a press conference, McCaughey’s husband, Kenny, a 27-year-old billing clerk, summed up the experience in one expressive word: “Wow!”

Within hours of their birth, the septuplets were being showered with cash, lifetime supplies of Pampers and Gerber baby food, strollers, car seats, even college scholarships. Book and movie offers quickly followed. And local businesses chipped in to build the family a new house in their tiny hometown of Carlisle, Iowa (population now 3,407).

Medical ethicists were also saying “wow!” but not in solidarity with the McCaugheys. Concerned that Bobbi’s success will persuade other women to ignore the risks of fertility drugs (Bobbi was taking the powerful Metrodin, as she was when she conceived their first child, 23-month-old Mikayla), they fear growing numbers of premature, low-birth-weight supertwins. “Women are not meant to have litters,” says Dr. Louis Keith, president of Northwestern University’s Center for Study of Multiple Births. “One case like this does not mean that the next ones will be similar. That is the tragedy.” And some wonder if the estimated tab of more than $1 million it will cost to bring the babies through infancy is the best use for limited health care dollars.

Devout Baptists, the McCaugheys say they leave such questions to a higher power. “I’ve asked Bobbi several times, ‘What are you going to do?’ ” says her sister Michele Hepworth. “She says, ‘We can’t do anything but trust God.’ ” So far, He has come through. All seven infants are now off ventilators, and the last of the brood is expected to be able to leave the hospital by late January. Although doctors remain on the alert for signs of developmental problems, “at this stage, no news is good news,” says Dr. Robert Shaw, one of five neonatologists caring for the infants. “We’re pretty much right on schedule. And they are just as cute as can be.”