The woman who gave birth to octuplets this week already has six young children and never expected that the fertility treatment she received would result in eight more babies, her mother said Thursday.
The woman, who has not been publicly identified, had embryos implanted last year, and "they all happened to take," Angela Suleman said, leading to the eight births Monday. "I looked at those babies. They are so tiny and so beautiful."
She acknowledged that raising 14 children is a daunting prospect.
"It's going to be difficult," Suleman added, noting that her daughter's father is going back to Iraq, where neighbors said he worked as a contractor, to help support the expanded family.
The mother of the octuplets lives on a well-kept cul-de-sac in Whittier, where more than a dozen reporters and camera crews descended Thursday.
Neighbors said she and her six children -- ages 7, 6, 5, 3 and 2-year-old twins -- live there with her mother. Her marital status is unknown. Family members did not answer the door, but when a reporter called the home asking for Suleman, she spoke briefly.
According to her account, when her daughter discovered that she was expecting multiple babies, doctors gave her the option of selectively reducing the number of embryos, but she declined.
"What do you suggest she should have done? She refused to have them killed," Suleman said as the sound of children could be heard in the background. "That is a very painful thing."
The information about the family came amid growing questions about the medical ethics of the case and how the woman came to carry eight babies to term.
Although the successful births at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Bellflower have received worldwide attention, they also have prompted disapproval from some medical ethicists and fertility specialists, who argue that high-number multiple births endanger the mother and also frequently lead to long-term health and developmental problems for the children.
Under the guidelines of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, U.S. doctors normally would not implant more than two embryos at a time in a woman under the age of 35. After that age it is more difficult to become pregnant. The mother of the octuplets is believed to be 33, based on available public records.
The doctors who delivered the babies held a news conference Thursday in which they were peppered with questions about how the hospital handled the woman's pregnancy.
Hospital officials said the woman came to Kaiser already in her 12th week of pregnancy. They did not say where she received the fertility treatment.
Dr. Harold Henry, a member of the delivery team, said doctors counseled her regarding the options and risks -- among them aborting some of the fetuses.
"Our goal is to provide the best possible care, no matter what the situation or circumstances are," Henry said. "What I do is just explain the facts. I always talk about the risks. The mother weighs those options, and she chooses the option based on spiritual or personal makeup."
Henry said the eight children would "require quite a bit of resources. You need many diapers, bottles, car seats, food -- quite a bit."
Doctors, nurses and other medical personnel had planned for the births for months. They were expecting to deliver seven babies but discovered the eighth during delivery. It took only five minutes to deliver all eight by Caesarean section.
The births marked only the second time that octuplets had been successfully delivered in the United States.
At the news conference, Dr. Karen Maples read a statement from the mother in which she thanked the Kaiser staff for its help and support.
"We understand that you are all curious about the arrival of the octuplets, and we appreciate your respect for our family's privacy. Please know in our own time, we will share additional details about this miraculous experience," the statement said.
"The babies continue to grow strong every day and make good progress. My family and I are ecstatic about their arrival. Needless to say, the eighth was a surprise to us all, but a blessing as well."
"We thank all of you for the positive thoughts, prayers and generosity."
Already, Kaiser officials said, the mother is receiving gift baskets, sealed envelopes and flowers.
Times staff writers Esmeralda Bermudez, Janet Lundblad, Sam Quinones, Richard Winton and Alan Zarembo contributed to this report.