I’ve come to defend Nadya Suleman. Yes, it’s pretty lonely over here. Can’t see anyone for miles. But I’ve been having one of those ‘has-everyone-lost-their-minds’ moments and now I must speak.
Ready? Let’s go.
Facts first. Nadya is the 33-year-old American woman who gave birth to octuplets in January. She already had six kids, all born after IVF treatment using the donor sperm of a male friend. Currently, Nadya is not financially independent. She receives some government assistance and support from her parents. She is single.
Since the octuplets’ birth, Nadya is also the victim of an unprecedented international outpouring of hate, rage and scorn. She has received hundreds of death threats. Oh wait. Maybe it’s not unprecedented. Maybe other people have been the target of similar mass public outrage. People like murderers, serial killers and child abusers. People who have committed unspeakable crimes. People like that. And this is the part I find utterly astonishing; the part that makes me want to shake the world and shout, ‘WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU ALL?”
Because when you drill down, Nadya Suleman’s heinous crime appears to be this: she’s had ‘too many’ children. I’m not sure who decides the correct number. Is it Peter Costello? Centrelink? God?
And how do you define ‘too many’? Is it more children than you can afford to send to private schools? More children than you can feed and clothe? Or more children than you can love? Because by those measures, there are plenty of parents for whom even one child is too many.
Nadya does seem a little bit crackers, I’ll give you that. Any woman in her situation who believes it’s a good idea to keep having babies is naive at best, irresponsible at worst. Let’s call her ‘recklessly optimistic’.
But here is a key point you may have missed (I did, at first): NADYA SULEMAN NEVER SET OUT TO HAVE OCTUPLETS (oh I’m shouty today, aren’t I…).
This detail is crucial so pay attention. In each of her pregnancies, Nadya was implanted with six embryos. Five times, this resulted in one baby and once, in twins. Still, she wanted just one more child. So last year, her six remaining frozen embryos were implanted and she had every reason to believe this might result in a single live birth.
However, this time, all six embryos survived and two split. Hence octuplets. Never her intention. So anyone who suggests she deliberately tried to conceive multiple babies for money or fame clearly doesn’t understand IVF and has probably never been pregnant. There are easier, more reliable ways to make money than with your uterus.
There’s no question her desire to have a large family has obscured her common sense. And she’s had a really bad lip job. But death threats? An international lynch mob? Media harassment? Public name-calling and abuse?
What the hell is wrong with people when the object of their rage is a woman who loves having babies so much, she accidentally had eight at once?
This is not a woman who has ever harmed or neglected her children. This is not a woman who named her kid Adolf Hitler. By all accounts (even from her exasperated parents who have been openly opposed to their daughter’s repeated pregnancies) Nadya Suleman is a good mother who loves her kids. Which is more than you can say about many deadbeat parents.
The obstetrician who supervised the octuplet pregnancy (not the fertility doctor who implanted the embryos – he’s being investigated and rightly so), has insisted Nadya was a model patient, ‘She did everything in her power to ensure those babies had the best chance of being born healthy.’ And they were. At 31 weeks. A miracle. Why aren’t we focussing on that?
Nadya isn’t the first woman to have many children. The Discovery Health channel has turned the phenomenon into a TV genre with a bunch of shows about super-sized families. The most famous are the Duggars, fundamentalist Christians who just welcomed their 18th child and have no plans to stop reproducing.
I’ve never heard anyone suggest Michelle Duggar should have her kids taken away or call her demeaning names like “Crazy Baby Lady”. No one has ever questioned her ability to effectively mother 18 children. So why has Nadya Suleman inspired such venom?
The most common argument is that “the tax payer has to pay for her babies”. Get over it. In a democracy, taxes go towards many things far worse than helping single mothers buy nappies and food. In America, these things include wars, housing murderers in prison and in some states, the implementation of the death penalty.
What Nadya needs from her community – and the world – is compassion and support. Without any of the free baby paraphernalia and services usually donated so readily to parents of multiples, I’ve been lying awake at night wondering how that family will cope. I start to panic when I think about the physical needs of eight newborns and six older children.
Just when I was about to make a donation on her website, along comes Dr Phil. Thank heavens. Motivated by similar concerns (and ratings but let’s not quibble), he’s organised a charity group to provide the Suleman family with 24 hour trained volunteer assistance for the octuplets.
Because you know what? There are eight little babies who have been born – against all odds. And for that at the very least, we should celebrate, not castigate.