Jan. 30, 2009 -- Can the California woman who gave birth to octuplets this week afford to care for them? It's a question being raised anew today with the discovery of court documents showing that the woman's mother, with whom she shares a home, filed for bankruptcy last year.
Neighbors told ABC News that the octuplets' mother is single, in her 30s and already has six other children. She lives with her mother, Angela Victoria Suleman, who, according to public records, filed for bankruptcy in March 2008. The family lives in a three-bedroom home in suburban Los Angeles.
As of March, Suleman's husband, apparently the octuplets' grandfather, was working in Iraq, according to the bankruptcy filing. The couple's combined monthly income was listed as roughly $8,740, but the filing indicated that Suleman expected their income would rise from her husband's employment. It said that he would earn $100,000 a year. The document did not specify Suleman's husband's occupation, but Suleman told the Los Angeles Times that her husband was a contractor.
Suleman told the newspaper that her daughter had had fertility treatment but never expected the treatment would result in eight babies.
She said that raising 14 children "was going to be difficult."
No matter what your income, giving birth and caring for octuplets is an expensive proposition. The infants' delivery was performed by a team of 46 doctors, nurses and surgical assistants stationed in four delivery rooms at Kaiser Permanente Bellflower Medical Center in Bellflower, Calif., and it likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"You can think of it as an eightfold increase on a singleton birth," said Steven M. Donn, director of the Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine at the University of Michigan Health System. "By comparison, the mother's care will probably be a bargain."
Costs for the average delivery of a full-term pregnancy range from $9,000 to $25,000, depending on whether the baby is delivered by Caesarean section or vaginally. Eight times $25,000 is a whopping $200,000.
"For reasons we don't completely understand, risks with multifetal deliveries are greater than [normal births]," Donn said.
The medical costs for babies born preterm, like the California octuplets, which were born nine weeks premature, are also above average.
"The real significant costs come on the pediatric side, particularly when it comes to neonatal intensive care," said Dr. Geeta Swamy, a maternal-fetal specialist at Duke University Medical Center.
A full-term pregnancy lasts from 38 to 42 weeks, according to the National Institutes of Health, and Swamy estimated for babies born at 30 weeks the hospital stay could be "anywhere from six weeks to six months."
For an infant stay in a neonatal intensive care unit, costs can add up to "a few thousand a day," she said.
"So we are looking at probably several hundreds of thousands of dollars for the family. If it is $100,000 per baby, for example, then it would be $800,000 for all eight," Swamy said.
Octuplets Birth Raises Ethical Questions
Little remains known about the parents of the California octuplets, as their mother has asked the hospital to keep her identity private. But University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Arthur Caplan said the costs of medical care for multiple-birth babies can put economic pressure on families.
Caplan believes there are ethical concerns surrounding the decision to move forward with multiple-fetus pregnancies. Though the means by which eight fetuses were obtained in this case remain unclear, he said there is little excuse for the outcome.
"Anyone who transfers eight embryos should be arrested for malpractice," Caplan said. "If they superovulated someone and they detected many eggs available and they didn't warn them about having sex, that would be a problem too."
Studies have shown that the tendency toward prematurity and low birth weight in multiple-birth babies puts them at greater risk for a variety of complications, including respiratory problems at birth, cerebral palsy, birth defects, sensory disorders and even death. These risks increase as the number of babies in the multiple birth increases.
Dr. Richard Paulson, chief of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, agreed that multiple births are a problem that should be avoided at all costs.
"Even though this story has a positive spin, it should be seen as a very serious complication of fertility treatment," Paulson said. "Patients who conceive octuplets would routinely be offered -- even advised -- selective reduction. I have to assume that in this case, the patients decided to try and carry to viability, and they were lucky, plus they got some really good doctors."
Octuplets' Tab Will Continue to Climb
When the infants leave the hospital, the bills will keep piling up.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new Cost of Raising a Child Calculator -- a new tool the department has developed to help parents prepare for expenses and life insurance -- a middle-class family living in the western United States can expect to spend at least $9,171 on year's worth of housing, food, transportation, clothing, health, education and other expenses for a single child under the age of 1.
For eight children under the age of 1, that number mushrooms to $73,368.
Projected costs keep climbing as the children get older, according to the USDA calculator. By the time the children are 17, their parents can expect to spend at least $10,133 on each child annually, or $81,064 total for the year.
Overall, from birth through high school, the family will spend a projected $171,926 per child, for a total of $1,375,408.
"The kids are going to grow up in an environment where being frugal is part of life," said Kathy Peel, the author of "The Busy Mom's Guide to a Happy, Organized Home."
Peel, a mother of three from Houston, said she believes the projections devised through the USDA calculator are low.
She said she doubted, for instance, that a family would spend $308 per year on an infant's clothing, as estimated by the USDA. Disposable diapers alone, she said, could cost about $72 a month for a single child. For eight babies, that would total nearly $7,000 a year.
Peel said that while the family can save money by buying goods in bulk, it will lose out on the cost benefits of "hand-me-down" clothing -- with all the children being the same age, she said, there won't be any clothes left to hand down.
And then there are the costs beyond adolescence, like college. By the time the octuplets turn 18 in 2027, the Web site SavingforCollege.com projects that four-year tuition at a public university will cost $87,200 per student.
If all eight octuplets head to a public college, the family could find itself stuck with tuition bills totalling nearly $700,000. That sum rises if any of the children go to a more expensive private college.
"The good news for this family is I'm sure they're going to be given a lot of things that will be very helpful," said Peel.
The Gosselin Family
In years past, families with sextuplets -- six infants born at the same time -- have received everything from free cars to new homes to guaranteed college tuition.
Jon and Kate Gosselin, the parents of twins and sextuplets and the stars of the television show "Jon & Kate Plus Eight" on the TLC network, speak openly about the free vacations they've received in exchange for free publicity on their show. Kate Gosselin also received a free tummy tuck courtesy of a physician who was also featured on the show.
The Chukwu family, who gave birth to the first-known octuplets, one of which died a week after birth, put out a call for donations when the children were born in Texas in 1998. It worked: They received cash contributions, volunteer help with child care, a year's worth of grocery and diaper donations and more.
Nkem Chukwu, the octuplets' mother, said the support the family received after the birth proved critical. She said the California octuplets' family should also ask for help.
"They need help. They need support from their community, from their church," she said.
And, she added, they have to "take it easy, just one day at a time."
With reports from ABC News' Allison Ehrlich, Joanna Schaffhausen and Gina Sunseri.