Patricia Frustaci and her husband, Samuel, had planned on having a large family, but when they found out she was pregnant with septuplets--that's seven babies--they were shocked.
"We never expected this," said Patti Frustaci, who is almost five months pregnant and confined to bed in St. Joseph Hospital, Orange.
"We thought, possibly, of there being twins, or maybe even triplets, but one baby would have been just fine. We weren't trying for a record," she said Thursday by telephone.
In fact, Frustaci, 30, who lives in Riverside and teaches high school English, said she realizes that she and her unborn babies face serious risks and knows there is a strong chance that not all seven will survive.
Right now, Frustaci said that her goal is to prolong her pregnancy as long as possible, since the presence of multiple fetuses increases the chance of premature labor She explained that the sooner the babies are born, the smaller they--and their chance of surviving--will be. She said her doctor hopes to extend the pregnancy for eight more weeks. Had this been an uncomplicated pregnancy, her due date would have been Aug. 13, she said. On Monday, she checked into St. Joseph, where she and her unborn children are being monitored, and she will stay there until delivery.
"We're praying and hoping they all make it," she said. "But we're going in with our eyes open. We're not expecting the world." She and her husband will be happy to take home even one healthy baby to join their year-old son, she said.
Frustaci had been receiving shots of Pergonal, a fertility drug, at a Los Angeles infertility clinic for three months before the septuplets were conceived. But she had hardly expected complications. She had taken the same drug before she became pregnant with her son, Joseph Samuel, who weighed in at a strapping 9 pounds, 6 ounces at birth.
When she first visited her obstetrician, Dr. Martin Feldman of Orange, in January, she was nine weeks pregnant. An ultrasound examination was immediately ordered.
"It was obvious there was something wrong," Feldman said in a telephone interview. "She was much, much larger than her dates would indicate."
The latest ultrasound reading, performed Monday, showed seven fetuses, he said.
Rare in Medical Records
Unfortunately, Feldman said, there is little literature on how to handle such a large multiple pregnancy.
"There is very, very little that anybody knows. No one has great experience in taking care of these women" because their cases are so rare, he said.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest multiple birth was nine babies born in Sydney, Australia, in 1971. Six of those children survived. Nonuplets (nine) also were born in Philadelphia in 1972, and in Bagerhat, Bangladesh, in 1977, but in neither of those cases did any of the babies live.
Sextuplets (six babies) were born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1974; in Florence, Italy, in 1980 and in Liverpool, England, in 1983. All of them survived.
In Southern California, quintuplets (five) were born in San Diego two years ago.
Orange County's largest multiple births have been quadruplets. The most recent quadruplets were born in St. Joseph Hospital in November, 1983, and all survived. Feldman said he assisted Dr. Bernard Feldman in those deliveries.
Premature Labor Feared
"But there's a tremendous difference between four and seven," Martin Feldman said. The quadruplets were delivered after a 29 1/2-week pregnancy.
"I would be thrilled if she (Patti Frustaci) reached 28 weeks," he said.
"It's a mind-boggling thing," he said. "My concern is to take each day at a time and do what is necessary to prolong the pregnancy, and try not to get too carried away with it (the excitement)."
Frustaci has ultrasound pictures of all seven babies--identified so far as A, B, C, D, E, F and G. They are all fraternal, the results of seven fertilized eggs.
"They think 'A' is a girl, and 'G' looks like a boy," she said. They are positioned in the uterus "like bowling pins," she said, with one baby on the bottom, two in the middle and four on top.
She said and her husband had known that multiple birth was a risk of fertility drugs, but they were caught off guard by the news of septuplets.
After the initial ultrasound examination in the doctor's office indicated triplets, Feldman sent her to the hospital that same day for a second ultrasound, she said. Her husband joined her for the second procedure, and the hospital technician told them there were six babies.
May Expand House
"My husband went out to the lobby to sit down," Patti Frustaci said. By the time he came back into the room, they had found a seventh fetus, she said.
The news put them "in shock," she said.
The Frustacis live in a four-bedroom house, and if all seven babies survive, they will have to build an addition, she said.