When Natalie Suleman (formerly Nayda) fell pregnant with octuplets via IVF, it propelled her to worldwide fame and she became known as the Octomom.
But with that persona came darkness, desperation and drug addiction. Things were so grim Natalie believes she had no choice but to kill off ‘Octomom’ before it killed her.
“The media created the character and I shamefully embraced it in 2009, out of scarcity and desperation to survive,” she told The Daily Mail.
“This is not something I ever wanted, but I think every single mother can understand the challenges we face.”
Still, few have challenges on Natalie’s scale. Fourteen kids to support alone, including eight seven-year-olds, and one child severely disabled with autism.
The 41-year-old says there were no donations, just her own pocket and all those mouths to feed. So she cashed in on her newfound fame with lucrative shoots for men’s magazines and even a stint in pornographic films. All, she claims, just to put food on the table.
“I fully exploited and dehumanised myself with the porn and the stripping. I was so desperate. We were on the verge of homelessness, so rather than put my kids in front of the camera I decided to put myself out there,” she said.
“The consequence of exploiting myself was deep toxic shame and self disgust. To continue I had to numb and that’s when I started with the prescription drugs.”
Suleman has since ended her dependency on Xanax and is leaving a healthy, active, vegan lifestyle. She’s also returned to work as a counsellor, an income she supplements with welfare payments.
“I’ve been helping drug addicts and alcoholics, so I’m doing the hard work not the easy exploitative work,” she said. “I’m back to who I am.”
The turning point in Natalie’s life was when she returned from a high-paying bikini shoot in 2013 to find her then-10-year-old tottering around the house in a pair of her spike heals.
Later, when the kids had long gone to bed, Natalie found the shoe on the stairs.
“All my emotions I’d suppressed started to bubble out into rage and I took the heel and threw it across the house and it stuck in the wall,” she said.
“It was like I’d escaped prison. That character of Octomom was dead.”
She walked away from her manager, and away from the money-making centrefold career.
“I’d rather be homeless with 14 kids living in my van than allow any of my girls, my daughters to go down the path I had gone down,” she said.
“If I had stayed in that life I might be dead right now.”
Of course, while Natalie never intended to have eight more children (she and doctors expected just one of the 12 implanted embryos to survive), she in no way blames them for her struggles.
“I admit that I made many mistakes in my life and that I’m imperfect. I make mistakes constantly,” she told The Daily Mail.
“But my children were not a mistake – they were meant to be here.”
Nor does Natalie accept accusations that her actions and career choices have made her an unfit mother. We’re that the case, Natalie argues, she would have given up on her children years ago, potentially even died of a drug overdose.
“I have stayed strong for them. My kids know what I did as Octomom I tell them the truth. I’ve told them I’ve done some very bad and shameful things and they say, ‘It’s okay mom we love you anyway, and we’ll always love you’,” she said.
“They know I did it for them. We don’t have kid conversations, we have deep and intellectual conversations about all of this. They are so smart and so aware.”
For their sake, Natalie says she hopes the whole experience will help improve the public’s perception of her.
“I want that horrible, despicable character Octomom to be an example of what not to be,” she said.
“No one hates Octomom as much as me.”