LOS ANGELES – Where is the unlimited supply of diapers, formula and baby wipes? The free van? The brand-new house?
Women who give birth to six, seven or eight babies are often showered with dazzling gifts from big corporations, local businesses and strangers. But that is not happening with the Southern California mother who delivered octuplets last week.
The news that she is a single mother with six other children — and that all 14 were conceived by having embryos implanted — seems to have turned off many people, and companies are not exactly rushing to get publicity by piling on the freebies.
Nadya Suleman, 33, has been lambasted by talk-show hosts, fertility experts, even her own mother, who has her hands full taking care of Suleman's other children, ages 2 to 7.
A veteran Hollywood publicist said Suleman's handlers have their work cut out for them in trying to win public sympathy for her.
"I think it's a calamity," said publicist David Brokaw, who has handled crises for celebrities. "I don't see, the way this is shaped, how you can say much about it in terms of something favorable."
Makers of diapers, formula and other products would probably want to steer clear of her, Brokaw said. He suggested she lie low for now and concentrate on crafting an image as a responsible parent.
Gerber spokesman David Mortazavi said that if the baby-food maker was planning to do something for the family, it probably would have done it already, and that the octuplets' birth was not on Gerber's radar. He would not elaborate.
Procter & Gamble spokeswoman Tricia Higgins said that the maker of Pampers does not actively seek out parents to sponsor, but that the octuplets' mother can ask for what is typically provided in multiple births: a jumbo pack of diapers for each child, baby wipes, and coupons for discounts. That is unlikely to last Suleman a week.
Conservative radio talk show host Bill Handel in Los Angeles, who has branded the births "freakish," said on the air Tuesday that people are ready to boycott any corporations that help the octuplets or their mother.
Suleman's spokesman Mike Furtney said that he has received some "fairly negative" comments from the public but that offers to help with the babies have come in from nurses, and some baby stores have stepped forward to volunteer their support.
"I don't remember the brand name, but one major disposable diaper company sent some diapers," he said. Furtney said he was confident that once Suleman tells her story, many of her critics will "readjust their thinking a little."
Furtney said Suleman has had offers for TV and other media deals, but he added it was too early to discuss how much money she might receive.
For a single mother, the cost of raising 14 children through age 17 ranges from $1.3 million to $2.7 million through age 17, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Suleman octuplets' medical costs have not been disclosed, but the average cost for just one cesarean birth in 2006 was $22,762 in California. The Suleman babies were born nine weeks premature. In California, a single premature birth in 2006 led to an average hospital stay of 25 days and cost $164,273. That would amount to a $1.3 million bill for eight.
Suleman's income is unclear. She was employed by a mental hospital from 1997 through 2008.
Nasty callers dominated the phone lines in the first few days after the octuplets were born at Kaiser Permanente Bellflower Medical Center.
"We heard a lot of outrage because there was a vacuum of information and people were going on rumor and conjecture," said hospital spokeswoman Socorro Serrano.
But calls of encouragement, particularly from mothers of multiples, have also poured in, along with offers of hand-me-downs and tips, Serrano said.
In 1998, Nkem Chukwu of Houston became the first mother to give birth to octuplets in the U.S. The family lives in a donated, six-bedroom suburban home, and the stay-at-home mom had a small army of volunteers help feed and care for the seven surviving babies for the first few years.
The parents of the McCaughey septuplets — seven babies born in Iowa in 1997 — received a donated 16-room house, a 15-passenger van, baby food from Gerber, and a lifetime supply of Pampers from Procter & Gamble.
The stars of The Learning Channel's reality show "Jon and Kate Plus 8," about a couple with sextuplets and twins, are paid, and have received a slew of freebies through the show, including trips to Hawaii and New York, a tummy tuck for mom and hair plugs for dad.
TLC President Eileen O'Neill said production companies that work with TLC have already made offers to Suleman's family, but the network is waiting to see how TV-friendly the family is.
"We're certainly like the rest of America; we're waiting to see how this develops," O'Neill said. "The number of children or scale of the multiples is intriguing, but it also comes down to what are the family's lives like?"