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.