A Tale of Two Families

If Jacqueline and Linden Thompson are perplexed over the massive media attention and public outpouring of support for Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey, the parents of the Iowa septuplets, it is understandable. On May 8, the Washington D.C. couple set the record for the longest sextuplet pregnancy at 29 weeks and six days in the United States. They also were the first African-American couple to give birth to sextuplets. The children were delivered by Cesarean section. One was delivered stillborn. Mrs. Thompson remained hospitalized for a month at the Georgetown University Medical Center.Multiple births are still an extreme rarity. Only 2.6 percent of the total live births in the United States in 1996 were of more than one child. Sextuplets are almost unheard of. Other than the Thompsons, there has been only one other recorded birth of sextuplets in the United States this year. Yet unlike the McCaughey's media-dubbed "miracle birth," the birth of their children stirred no interest in the media. In an extensive search of all major publications, I found no record of any TV news feature, special report, or print feature on them in any major daily. If not for a brief news blurb on the Thompson births in the black weekly, Jet magazine, the event would have gone completely unnoticed.It's not hard to figure out why. Unlike the McCaugheys, the Thompsons are a low-income, working class African-American couple. They do not live in a small, tight-knit Mid-American Iowa community. They did not use a fertility drug. As a result, the Thompsons did not get this treatment:*Free advertising in major newspapers for their family assistance fund.*The donation of a 12 seat Chevrolet van.*A year's supply of groceries from a national supermarket chain.*The offer by Iowa's governor to build a new and larger home.*A year's supply of baby care products.*A phone call from President Clinton congratulating them on their "amazing adventure."*A special invitation to the White House.*A bid of $250,000 from a tabloid weekly to tell their story.*Countless offers from their friends and neighbors to assist with the children.The Thompson's story only became the subject of mild passing interest when the McCaughey's septuplets made news and a caller to a local black Washington D.C. radio station complained about the lack of help the couple had received.This prompted a local community group, Sisters in Touch, to make the Thompson's plight an issue. The Washington Post did a back pages story on them. But even then this was not enough to spark the kind of national offers of help that flooded into the McCaugheys.A Proctor & Gamble spokesperson announced they would consider a six to eight month supply of diapers but added that this was the standard contribution for families with multiple births. A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson suggested that the Thompsons contact the company to determine if there are "things we can do."With the assistance of the D.C. Housing Finance Agency, the Thompsons were able to move out of their cramped one bedroom duplex unit into a three bedroom apartment. Since then they have managed to find a six bedroom house but they have not been able to move in. Even with Linden Thompson's salary from two jobs, they can't afford the $1,500 a month rent.Still, as a result of the appeal letters on their behalf by Sisters in Touch, they are now receiving free day care at a local child care center, and they were notified that they will be eligible to enroll their children in the Head Start Program. The group also reports that due to the slightly increased media attention on the Thompsons a handful of individual and corporate donors have offered to help the family.While the Thompsons have been forced to shoulder the tremendous physical and emotional strain and financial burden of caring for five children alone, they have expressed pleasure at the showering of support for the McCaugheys. Their only regret is, as Mrs. Thompson said, that her community and the nation did not support them the same way. It didn't and still hasn't. And that underscores the general indifference of much of America when the children in need are not media sensationalized products of "miracle births" but children of the minority poor.Donations and information contact:Sisters in Touch P.O. Box 4337 Largo, Maryland 20775 (301) 499-8976 (202) 773-4006PNS commentator Dr. Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Assassination of the Black Male Image. (email: ehutchi344@aol.com)

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