The day after the leak of the US Supreme Court’s draft of a repudiation of Roe v. Wade, Mohammed VI Arby, Oumar Arby, Elhadji Arby, Bah Arby, Kadidia Arby, Fatouma Arby, Hawa Arby, Adama Arby and Oumou Arby celebrated their first birthday in a hospital in Morocco. (Mohammed VI was named after the King of Morocco.)
The world’s first set of nonuplets are in “perfect health”, their father, Abdelkader Arby, an officer in the army of Mali, told BBC Afrique. “They’re all crawling now. Some are sitting up and can even walk if they hold on to something.”
No doubt if they had the misfortune to have been conceived in the United States, doctors would have conducted a “foetal reduction” to ensure the health of the mother. However, their mother, 26-year-old Halima Cissé is healthy and happy. “It’s not easy but it’s great,” said Mr Arby. “Even if it’s tiring at times, when you look at all the babies in perfect health, [in a line] from right to left we’re relieved. We forget everything. “
The couple already had a three-year-old daughter, Souda.
Mrs Cissé was flown from Timbuktu, in Mali, to the Ain Borja clinic in Casablanca, ahead of the birth. Ultrasounds had indicated that there were seven babies, but, to their astonishment, there were nine, four boys and five girls. They were born at 30 weeks by caesarean section.
“They all have different characters,” said Mr Arby. “Some are quiet, while other make more noise and cry a lot. Some want to be picked up all the time. They are all very different, which is entirely normal.”
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Mrs Cissé’s nonuplets are the most children to survive a single pregnancy. There have been two other nonuplet births, but all of the children died.
The previous record holder was Nadya Suleman, an unmarried American woman who already had six children and then gave birth to octuplets in California in 2009. All of her offspring were conceived with IVF. (Her doctor was expelled from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine afterwards.) Public reaction was hostile – why is taxpayers’ money being thrown away on “Octomom”, people asked. Miss Suleman received death threats.
The contrast between the two events is a kind of parable of our times. The American woman had her children as a grotesque kind of self-indulgence, supported by medical technology and unsupported by a husband. She is a Saturday Night Live parody of how Western culture looks upon fertility which is open to life – weird, wanton, and wasteful. It’s what you’d expect in a society where the birth rate is 1.7 and abortion is more or less available on demand.
The joy of Halima Cissé, on the other hand, and her husband is a natural response to the near miraculous birth of their children. And it wasn’t through IVF; they were conceived naturally. In Mali their family has become a national celebrity.
Of course, the birth of nonuplets is absolutely exceptional – even in Mali, which has the third highest fertility rate in the world, 5.8 children per woman. And the pregnancy, birth, and months of post-partum care required enormous government support. But the exceptional circumstances can’t obscure the joy with which Malians greet new life.
As Mr Arby told the BBC: “I hope God blesses everyone who doesn’t yet have children — that they can have what we, the parents of nonuplets currently have. It’s beautiful, a real treasure.”