Fear gave way to pure joy as he watched the family see their new baby for the very first time. Now, he’s a high-risk obstetrician specializing in caring for women who are expecting “high-order” multiples: three or more babies at once. Elliott’s practice, Southwest Contemporary Women’s Center, draws patients from around the country to deliver at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa.
2015 update: Dr. Elliott is now medical director of the specialized maternal-fetal practice Valley Perinatal, which has five Valley locations.
How did you begin specializing in the delivery of multiples?
The chance to do that really was thrust upon me. I had a phone call from one of the reproductive endocrine physicians in town. He said, “John, I’ve got a set of quadruplets. I need somebody to take care of her, can you do it?” That was 1983. It really is a different kind of pregnancy. There are some things that we learned along the way that we applied to the next mom who came with quadruplets. It’s a learning process.
More than half of your patients come from outside of Arizona because of your successful track record. It must be a weighty decision for couples to uproot and relocate away from family and friends, especially during a high-risk pregnancy.
A lot of them are scared. When somebody says to you that your babies are going to deliver early and there are going to be multiple challenges—if you have five babies to care for and one or two or three are handicapped—that’s very scary for a family. If they’ve made a decision not to reduce the number of embryos that they have, then they are desperate to get a good outcome. So, they come very motivated.
Why are expectant parents of multiples attracted to your practice in particular?
People come because they’re being told in other places that they can’t succeed. We give them a program, a blueprint. We are very aggressive with diet, at watching contractions. We watch the cervix very carefully.
Multiple births are, of course, risky, yet the high-profile nature of the event can seem to romanticize the idea of a large family. Are you concerned?
It’s a complex issue. None of these patients, I can guarantee you, wanted five babies or four babies at one time. They only wanted one child. And due to circumstances of the infertility process, they ended up with more. And then they had to make a decision. It was not that they went into it saying, “Oh, please, God, give me quadruplets.” It was, “Please, after all these years, I just want one child.”
In just a few months, couples have an instant family. Life changes dramatically.
You can’t just go to your neighbor who may have three or four children but didn’t get them all at the same time. How do you feed them? How do you get them on a schedule? How do we do all the things we do for our children when they come one at a time, and you’ve got to do it times five or four or whatever number you’re carrying and deliver.
Do you ever go visit and see the chaos first hand?
Yes. And it’s very interesting that these couples become very organized. And they’ve got it down to a system. Much more than I would expect, they are able to deal with it.
What do you love most about what you do?
In my career I’ve probably delivered and participated in the births of 5,000 or 6,000 babies. And honestly, it never gets old. Each couple is new and so the birth of their baby is a new experience for them, and for me, because I’ve never delivered that baby before. To share in that family’s joy is an incredible blessing.
Multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint writes about health topics for Raising Arizona Kids.
On the podcast:
How did doctors “see” a fetus before ultrasounds? What’s best to eat for packing on the pounds during a multiples pregnancy? Can empowering expectant moms to participate in their care help to extend the gestation period?