BERKELEY — You won't find any "Octomoms" through the in-vitro fertilization program at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center.
Despite the popularity of the reality show "Jon & Kate Plus 8"; the upcoming launch of "Raising Sextuplets"; and the constant media spotlight on Nadya Suleman, the Southern California woman who gave birth to octuplets in January; the Alta Bates in-vitro fertilization program has worked to reduce the number of women having multiple-baby births.
"We were getting a lot of triplets at first," said Dr. Richard Chetkowski, an Alta Bates reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist who founded the program, which will mark its 25th anniversary this weekend. "From a medical and social point of view, (multiple-baby births) are not a good thing."
Babies often are born premature and with health problems, he said. They can develop learning disabilities, and having three or more children at once puts emotional, physical and emotional strain on the parents, Chetkowski said.
From 1996 through 2002, there were three sets of triplets born through the in-vitro center. From 2003 through 2005, there was one set born through the program. No triplets have been born through the program since 2005, the doctor said his records show. With in-vitro fertilization, women have a 1-in-3 chance of having twins, triplets or more babies, statistics show.
"These reality shows are coming out and are glorifying what is a medical complication," he said.
To mark the success of keeping multiple births to a minimum while delivering more than 1,000 healthy babies through in-vitro in the last 25 years, Alta Bates will this weekend have a reunion of former patients, their children and staff at its Berkeley campus.
Two who will attend are Ruth McMillin and her 16-year-old son, Forest, of Pleasant Hill. McMillin, who tried in-vitro for years but ultimately got pregnant by embryo adoption — a procedure in which a donated embryo is transferred into the woman's womb — wants to attend to meet people who have been through what she has. She also wants information about what to expect when a child wants to search out or meet frozen-embryo donors.
"At times, you just know these kids are looking for their connection in the world," the 57-year-old said.
The 1978 birth of Louise Brown, the world's first "test-tube baby," ushered in the era of assisted reproduction. Brown's birth resulted from years of work by Drs. Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe and nurse Jean Purdy in England. The first U.S. birth from in-vitro fertilization came three years later in 1981.
When Alta Bates started its program, in-vitro fertilization was still a relatively new and unknown science in the United States, and there was little support for the industry, Chetkowski said.
"Now there are 400 programs around the country. Back then there were only about 30 or 40 programs," he said. Supplies, such as needles, were not readily available. Ultrasound machines were not very precise and written reference material was limited. The procedure was also viewed differently.
"It's no longer the treatment of last resort but more the main treatment for infertility," Chetkowski said.
At Alta Bates, roughly 42 percent of women younger than 38 get pregnant through the process. The rate is about 20 percent for women ages 38 to 42. When donor eggs are used, the rate rises to about 63 percent.
Nationwide in 2005, the last year for which data was available, the across-the-board live birth rate per in-vitro was 32 percent, statistics from the hospital show.
A lesbian couple who were successful in conceiving through the program are Adrienne DeAngelo and Colleen Blakelock.
DeAngelo and Blakelock had been in a relationship for 10 years when about five years ago Blakelock expressed a strong desire to have a baby. DeAngelo wasn't so sure.
"I didn't think it was in my life plan," said DeAngelo, now 38. The two talked about it at length, and then went to a counselor for advice. They talked about it more. Then DeAngelo's niece was born. "I tried on the idea of having a kid and thought it might be a lot better than I thought it would be," DeAngelo said. "I thought if I love this child this much, then having my own would be all the better."
They used an anonymous sperm donor who was willing to be contacted in the future if the child ever has the desire to learn more about his father. "We didn't want the complications of having another person in the picture. We'd never explored doing this before; and even though we live in the Bay Area, we had heard stories about lesbian couples that were turned down for this."
They met with Chetkowski and chose him right away, DeAngelo said.
It took a full year and about roughly $16,000, but finally Blakelock, now 40, became pregnant with an egg from DeAngelo. Today, their son Enzo is 3, and DeAngelo is halfway finished writing a book about the couple's experience.
Kristin Bender covers Berkeley. Reach her at Kbender@bayareanewsgroup.com.