HOUSTON -- Weak but radiant with pride, the mother of the Houston octuplets went home from the hospital Wednesday, saying the pain and fear of her pregnancy gave way to wonder and gratitude the moment she gazed upon her eight babies.
"When I saw them for the first time, I was so amazed at what God blessed me with," Nkem Chukwu, speaking publicly for the first time since the births, said before leaving St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital. "They are unique."
The 27-year-old Nigerian-born woman was wheeled out after visiting her seven surviving children, who remained hospitalized in critical but stable condition. If all goes well, they could join their mother at home in two to three months.
"I told them they're all looking great," she said. "I touched them and I prayed for them, and I told them that I'll be coming to see them." Ms. Chukwu said she plans to visit them every day because "I'm not complete now without them."
There was no welcome-home gathering of the couple's neighbors. Some said they would do what they could to help, but many admitted they didn't even know the couple and were first introduced to the new parents along with the rest of the world.
Wearing street clothes and makeup, Ms. Chukwu spoke with reporters accompanied by her husband, Iyke Louis Udobi, and her mother. She sat in a wheelchair, a bouquet of pink roses in her lap. The flowers were a gift from her nurses, who also bestowed on the new mom eight silver spoons and eight baby bibs.
Asked how she felt, Ms. Chukwu smiled and said, "Great!"
After first urging the crowd of reporters to join her in prayer, Ms. Chukwu said her faith in God and the love she felt for her unborn children were what carried her through the pregnancy.
She spent three grueling months in the hospital, confined to bed and fed intravenously much of the time to make more room for the babies. In the final 2´ weeks, she lay almost upside-down to relieve pressure on her abdomen, and suffered nosebleeds because of it.
"It wasn't easy, but I did it for the love I have for them," said Ms. Chukwu, who delivered the first of the babies Dec. 8 and the remaining seven by Caesarean section on Dec. 20. "I knew one day it would be over. I would be able to cuddle and love them."
Even when the tiniest baby, Odera, died Sunday, Ms. Chukwu said her faith never wavered. God, she said, "brought her and he took her."
Ms. Chukwu, who had been given fertility drugs, declined to address the debate over whether doctors should try to prevent such multiple births. However, she said she never considered aborting some of the fetuses to give the others a better chance at survival.
"I wasn't even going to give it a second thought," she said.
Four were breathing on their own Wednesday, while three needed help from ventilators. Two of the babies had been given their mother's breast milk for the first time Tuesday. The others were being fed intravenously.
"We're feeling better and better about the babies as each day goes on," said Dr. Patti Savrick, their pediatrician. "We're taking it a day at a time, just as we have so far."
Ms. Chukwu's doctor, Brian Kirshon, said she must return for a checkup next week. "She's going to have to slowly walk longer distances, obviously no heavy lifting," he said. "Each day she's going to be able to do a little more."
Plenty of aid already is pouring in. As with the septuplets of Carlisle, Iowa, born last year, companies have donated baby products, food and other goods and services.
Ms. Chukwu and her husband, a respiratory therapist, admitted it's going to be difficult to raise seven children but said they would cope with the future just as they did with the past: with love and faith. Said Ms. Chukwu: "I'm blessed."