Multiple Births Bring Attention That Quickly Fades

The Wilkinson family

Forgive the casual observers who, after putting down a supermarket tabloid, come away with the impression that every parent of multiple-birth children in America has a television show, a publicist, a marketing deal and a plastic surgeon.

The circus of attention surrounding John and Kate Gosselin and "Octomom" Nadya Suleman might be seen, understandably, as the natural conclusion of America's obsession with multiple births, but the vast majority of parents have a very different experience.

Parents of multiples who expected to raise just one child have to change the basics of their lifestyles and find themselves facing unanticipated financial hurdles, not just paying for hundreds of diapers and dozens of gallons of milk a week, but also buying bigger cars, larger homes and finding the money for clothes, school and activities.

In some communities, news of quadruplets, quintuplets or more babies is enough to spur locals to pitch in, generating donated diapers, food and other freebies, including volunteer labor.

But when the excitement fades, the local television trucks pack up and the novelty of five children crying in unison becomes the monotony of five children crying in unison, many families are left on their own, without any outside support.

It didn't take long for the excitement to fade around Jayson and Rachelle Wilkinson's quintuplets.

When the five babies were born in July 2007, the couple received free diapers from a local supermarket, baby-food vouchers from Gerber and more than 100 volunteers from their Austin, Texas, church lining up in their living room to help with feeding and changing the babies.

"We got a lot of help in the beginning," Rachelle Wilkinson, 32, said. "Randall's supermarket gave us $250 worth of diapers, which we went through really fast. We got lots of gifts, people would give us their kids' old baby clothes or just randomly drop packages of diapers on our doorstep.

"For a year," she said, "every time the local news needed a story, they would show up. They did a piece on Halloween and the anchors worked a shift helping to take care of the babies. But we don't get those calls anymore."

Multiples Often Come Up Short

Raising multiples creates a challenge distinct from raising a large family of different aged children, Wilkinson said.

"When you have them one at a time, you can buy one of everything, one stroller, one high-chair, one crib and use them over and over again. I can't get by with one high-chair, I need five."

Wilkinson said she spends $50 a week on diapers and $60 a week on milk, the family, which includes two older children, goes through a gallon a day.

The 120 volunteers working three at a time in three-hour shifts have been reduced to one helper, an "adoptive grandmother" who the family knows from church.

Wilkinson returned last semester to teaching nights at a local community college to help make ends meet. Her husband, a manager at technology company National Instruments, had to take a 5 percent cut in pay recently.

"It is getting more expensive as the kids gets older," she said. "They're eating more. For a while, we had baby food and formula donated, but they've outgrown that. They're eating real food. We used to get baby clothes. But now I have to buy everything. I'm buying clothes all the time."

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