In which I make myself unpopular.

The woman in the grocery store smiled at my two shrieking monsters. “Two is perfect!” She lowered her voice to a confidential whisper. “Eight is too many.”

We’ve been getting so much of this sort of offhand remark, I’ve started to call them “octuplet-bys”. And I get it, I do: eight is a lot of babies. Fourteen, with the six already at home, is REALLY a lot of babies. Since the news broke, though, I’ve found myself awkwardly defensive of Nadya Suleman and her prodigious reproduction. Not because I think having eight children at once is a good or even neutral idea. I think it’s a terrible idea. But some of the criticism leveled at Suleman in this case seems to me to be misplaced and unfair.

It is totally valid to point out that having octuplets (or even the septuplets everyone thought she was carrying) is incredibly dangerous for the mother and all the babies. Any doctor who agreed to put eight embryos in the uterus of a woman – any woman, much less one with a proven history of successful pregnancy – should have his license taken away and maybe be hung up by his toes, or some other small, roundish, dangly bit. If, as has been widely speculated by Those Who Know About Such Things (meaning infertility bloggers and commenters), the woman obtained fertility drugs in some shady manner and got herself very knocked up and then refused to reduce the pregnancy, then it was incredibly stupid and irresponsible of her to do so, because of the above-mentioned risks to everyone’s health.

Much of the criticism I’m reading, though, has less to do with the health risks and more to do with moral outrage over the financial aspect. How dare this woman, who appears to be unmarried and not wealthy, proceed with a reproductive process and end result she can’t pay for? The internet is initially aghast at the prospect of the state footing the bill for these children. THEN word emerges that Suleman has obtained a publicist and is in negotiations to give interviews, and suddenly the focus of the fury shifts. A “famewhore,” some call her; there is rampant speculation that she had all fourteen kids for the money she would one day reap in reality show residuals.

We’re in the midst of some scary, scary economic times, and frankly I think this woman is catching backlash from a generalized anxiety about money right now. No matter how she ended up mama to a bajillion babies, she now has to support them and I do not blame her one tiny bit for doing whatever media gigs come her way in order to pay for those children.

It’s unfortunate, no, worse than unfortunate – it sucks that cases like this become the face of infertility. It makes it harder to persuade insurance companies to cover fertility treatment and increases the general public bafflement and hostility infertile people already encounter (we’re selfish, why don’t we just adopt?). And that’s another valid reason to criticize Nadya Suleman. But the Welfare Mom/Famewhore catch-22? I think we can ditch that little bit of nastiness.


15 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    kathy a. said,

    it never occurred to me that she would become the face of infertility. because — really, this is pretty unique. this one situation is not an example of anything else likely to happen again.

  2. 2

    Nora said,

    Criticizing other people’s families is tacky. The end.

  3. 3

    KS said,

    I agree with Kathy…there are SO many people using all sorts of infertility treatments these days that most people know people who have done it, and this is a crazy anomaly. I don’t this this will be the face of infertility at all.

    I also think that you reference to the “general public bafflement and hostility infertile people already encounter” is interesting. Bafflement is one thing, if people don’t understand a situation (and infertility is a pretty unique situation) I’m not sure it’s fair to fault them for asking questions…how can they get un-baffled otherwise? But do you really thing most infertile people encounter routine hostility? I suspect that many people who are experiencing infertility are already feeling incredible vulnerable and sensitive to criticism and may hear hostility where there is just questioning. Or take a truly hostile/critical opinion as “what everyone is thinking” instead of an isolated dumbass.

    One last thing…I really want the doctor who helped this woman in whatever manner she was helped to come forward. That doctor is not doing the industry any good by hiding and making it look like s/he thinks s/he did something unethical, you know?

  4. 4

    kathy a. said,

    i do think that women — all women, fertile or infertile — find that some people in the world believe a woman’s reproduction [or decision not to reproduce] is everyone’s business. it was easy to laugh off the “when are you having babies?” kinds of questions before my first pregnancy — and astonishing that friends, family, and total strangers thought nothing of asking intimate details during pregnancy, opining that my second pregnancy was too soon, predicting the sex of the babies based on close inspection of how high my belly was, instructing me on what to eat and that i should quit working and on and on. i was, no joke, asked in open court — in front of the 150 people who happened to be there that day — about the outcome of an obstetrical procedure!

    so, i think that is part of the problem with this story being headline news.

    the money part is really nobody’s business, either. i do think it is hard for any parent who has struggled along trying to raise one or two babies to even imagine spreading oneself to manage the needs of 8, much less 14. it just seems physically impossible, and i feel bad for the babies for that reason.

  5. 5

    MonkeyGurrl said,

    I’m gonna honor what my mama taught me and not weigh in on the issue. 🙂

  6. 6

    Celeste said,

    I don’t buy her as the face of infertility…but I’d leave the door open to blaming the matriarchy. I think this lady has seized on the idea of a woman’s role as reproducer and gone nutz with it. I think she used her uterus as a weapon against her whole family. I read something about how her man “begged” her not to do the transfer that resulted in the octuplets.

    I’m with everyone who has feelings of indignation over this, though. I think it stems less from what she is receiving without paying, and more from sorrow over the fact that some kids don’t land in life situations that are good for them. I’ve always said it must be crushing to work in L&D and see that some kids are going home with people who aren’t set up to give them the right care. I think this mom has mental issues, and to me that puts the kids at a big disadvantage.

  7. 7

    Life in Eden said,

    While the educated few may think this case will not become the “face of infertility,” I think you are right, it will. In the minds of many who know little about infertility (which is a substantial portion of the population) and its treatment — this will be what they think about. A woman possibly obsessed with procreation and using all means to do it, regardless of the cost to others.

    There are so many things wrong with this whole situation. Both the possibly true issues surrounding the case, and the inaccuracies and poor reporting. Sadly, the strange and absurd are what get the media’s attention today. Not the nice couple with limited means who can’t get financial help to just have one child for whom they will provide a wonderful life.

  8. 8

    Sara R. said,

    Working in the PR office of a medical school, I’ve heard a lot about this “event.” It is such a dicey situation. I get my feminist hackles up when I hear people making judgments about a woman’s reproductive choices, and yet, here I am, making my own judgments about this particular woman’s state of mind! Is she unhinged? Is it fair to her family (her other children, her parents, etc.)?

    I’m choosing to direct my disbelief at the doctor who implanted an inordinately large number of embryos. From what I understand, it seems unethical to promote such a risky pregnancy.

  9. 9

    Carolyn J. said,

    Yours are the first words I’ve read on the subject that are not full of disgust, which is interesting.

    I just think about the world population when I hear about this story. There’s already too many people around.

  10. 10

    KS said,


    Not to derail into a conversation about overpopulation, but do you think about that issue specifically with a story like this, or when people have babies in general? I’m just curious because it’s a common theme to come up.

  11. 11

    Will said,

    I’m w/ Kathy A. on this. I’ve always been kind of horrified at the (presumably) well-meaning sort of “Oh, and when are YOU going to reproduce/raise a family?” curiosity.

    I think far too many people have the phrase “It Takes a Village” drummed into their heads, but they all act on the letter rather than on the actual philosophy. They think it’s their business to criticize, offer unsolicited advice, assume sans confirmation that we share beliefs and generally act as if they want to be stabbed in their necks. Strangely, they are always shocked and horrified when I offer to stab them in their necks.

  12. 12

    kathy a. said,

    oh, the buttinskys were there long before reproductive choices were widely available, i’m sure. that might be why they are so enduring.

    i wish that “it takes a village” had such broad appeal here and now, in terms of practical, non-judgmental help. trading babysitting with trustworthy families, for example — which we could do sometimes when the kids were young. old-fashioned casseroles or dinner-drops when a family could use that. caring for another family when their kid runs into trouble of one sort or another, just as you would appreciate that care if it happened to you. it is hit and miss, finding that sort of support for one’s own family. mostly all we can do is offer, and hope something good happens. it is harder to ask.

  13. 13

    geckogrrl said,

    It does suck that this woman has become the face of fertility treatments recently. There’s so little in the news about why women and men are having increasing problems with fertility and the problems and risks of infertility. Instead the focus is on a woman who has had 14 kids.

    I do think that this woman and her doctor were completely irresponsible. It really does bother me that someone who has no means of support can bring 14 kids into this world… I can’t imagine it’s a great situation for the kids either which just means that not only will we have 14 kids with little financial support out there but also 14 kids who may not get the attention they need and who will draw on other (not just financial) social resources.

  14. 14

    As someone who has gone through IVF (and is pregnant with twins) I am hearing a lot of octomom comments too. I basically think this woman is crazy for a number of reasons. (Not least of which because she has suggested she could support her many kids on a social worker’s salary.)

    The whole thing makes me uncomfortable – it makes IVF look like a crazy, selfish thing to do.

  15. 15

    dp said,

    given the way that all of this has shaken down over the past month, do you still feel the same?

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