Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mother of Fourteen, Nadya Suleman

Nadya Suleman, the mother who recently gave birth to Octuplets, has recently launched her own website. The website which says, "We thank you for the love and good wishes sent to us from around the world. The octuplets arrived on 1/26/09. They are all healthy and growing stronger by the day."

Of course, as indicated by the previous post about this issue, there are many issues to debate and discuss in this woman's choice to undergo invitro fertilization as a single parent with a mother who describes her as a little crazy and "not capable" of taking care of fourteen children.

And so the debate continue, I realized yesterday when I ordered a hot chocolate yesterday at a local Panera Bread and couldn't help but hear an outburst at a nearby table, "And how about that women with fourteen kids? What is she thinking?" It's clear the issue of responsible parenting, class, and race aren't going away. The debates are even going into an Angelina Jolie look-alike frenzy. (Suleman denies this.)

As healthy as it is to debate, I've found the comment sections of sites intriguing. Nadya Suleman is (unconfirmed) a woman a color, possibly of Latino background, without a partner or suffucient resources to raise the kids. Is that the reason why people are "hating?" Becuase they don't see her being able to do this?

But when we see entertainment like (old school) Just the Ten of Us, or reality shows like John and Kate Plus Eight, or Cheaper By the Dozen, as Kenny Darter points out, we think it's pretty hilarious when White families, who have the means, have a busload of kids. But if a person without a reality show or partner chooses to, it's deemed everything but good.

It is entirely understandable to oppose this woman's decision. There are clear reasons why and the safety and well-being of the children are priority. However, without sufficient information, except reports from gossip magazines as to how she is going to move forward, I am hesitant to predict that these children are doomed or are going to undergo profound trauma. I certainly hope she gets on her feet to do the best she can and live beyond her own decision to have fourteen children. She has a mountain to climb, fourteen to be exact, but she has legs.

What I find interesting, though, is that throughout history and the world, there are women exactly like Suleman who raise their multitude of children with much less media and attention than Nadya Suleman. There are women who are neither scorned or criticized for the number of children they have. They are ignored. The reaction our country has had to Nadya Suleman confounds me. On one hand, it's portrayed as a medical miracle, but the backlash is calling her crazy and irresponsible. The majority of those reports came out after her financial and marital status were leaked. When we see "single" and "bankrupt," she's selfish. Focusing soley on Suleman and not the children, would we call her crazy, would we criticize her CHOICE if we found out that she had a millionaire's bank account? Or if she had a husband who was a CEO? Probably not, or at least, the criticism wouldn't be so severe.

So what does that say about who gets to have large families? You can and have the freedom, only if you are financially capable? Is and should there be a parallel relationship between resources (house, job, daycare, health care, partner, family support, etc) and number of offspring? Because if there is some sort of invisible rule about class and birthing, then we need to examine it, not just in context to Nadya Suleman, but how that invisible rule extends to all women and families, including those outside our country's lines. Do we have the same reaction to an unmarried Nicaraguan woman who naturally gave birth to seven? How is your reaction different? How is it similar?

The number of children a woman has - either intentional or not - is a layered issue, and often ethnocentric toward western ideals of a two parent unit with resources and health care. It is an opportunity to delve into your own perceptions of the relationship between freedom, choice, resources, and parenting. I just hope that there remains a space to richly discuss the issues that have surfaced without berating another woman or a population of women in the process.

Cross-posted at Bitch Magazine.


  1. I do think that you've hit a truth with questioning why she's being targeted for certain criticisms that others aren't.

    Around here, the Duggars and members of the Quiverfull movement often get the same reaction — maybe not so vitriolic, but still quite negative — so I don't think being married or self-sufficient would be enough for Ms. Suleman, either.

    Anyone who is viewed as not part of mainstream society, because of their socio-economic status, ethnicity, marital status, or religious and lifestyle choices, seems to get hit with it.

  2. I think my last comment came off kind of dismissive and I really didn't mean it to be. I do think Ms. Suleman is facing a lot of criticism due to cultural stereotypes, class stereotypes, and her unwed status that white, middle class, married women would not (and in current examples, like Kate Gosselin, do not) have to deal with. Plus I think her mental health is being questioned in a way that's completely inappropriate.

    I just intended to point out that even if she were not a single, low-income woman of color, people would probably find something to raise a stink over because large families are not seen as "normal" in mainstream U.S. society. It's believed by a lot of people that if someone wants many children, it's because they are culturally, religiously, or otherwise backward or there is something mentally wrong with them.

  3. If nobody buys me beer, you'll all be paying for my litter of 14 too.

    There are better things (beer) than this woman to donate to.

  4. Thank you so much for this post. I have been raging for the past few days over the tone of the media attention that Nadya Suleman has received. I can't stand the COMPLETELY racist, classist, and sexist bullshit she's had to deal with--as you mentioned, when a WHITE, upper-middle-class woman with many children is put on TV and validated, people love it, but when a woman of color who doesn't fit into these binaries chooses to do the same, she becomes a pariah for everyone to spew all their racist vitriol at. I can't stand it.

  5. You know, I never made this connection and when I saw it here, I actually pushed away from the computer and just let it sink in . . .

    I've been interested in the Suleman case precisely b/c of the way it moved so quickly from one of congratulations and hope for the babies health and care for the mother and her children to one of blame and shame. A colleague said "I bet she is a woc" and I said, "I don't think so." My colleague said, "You know how I know she is a woc? b/c they don't blame middle class white families who do this." And low and behold she is a woc . . . a woc who went from being a college student, parenting expert, and a potentially exciting edition to the morning show offerings, to a system gauging unstable woman who should be left to fend for herself . . .

    There is so much to unpack and yet so much that is the same old thing. Thanks for pointing to another really public layer of this story and its interpretations.

    (PS. this makes me all the more excited to let you know I hit you with the meme stick for a book list to give the pres and his cabinet to make the world a better place. I am looking forward to seeing what you pick.)

  6. A cousin of mine was talking about this just a few days ago, and I was sure there was something wrong with all this -- but wasn't sure what it was.

    Thanks for the inroads -- I'm still processing all of this, but there is definitely some under-the-surface crap going on re: coverage of this woman's life.

  7. Anonymous9:02 PM


    I just wanted to point out that the Jon and Kate Plus Eight family isn't a white family. The mother is of Caucasian descent and the father is of Asian descent.

  8. Thanks for exploring this issue and I do think it's important to do so. Just wanted to point out that she is not of latin descent as was speculated here and I'm a little surprised that that wasn't researched before the post. She is of Middle Eastern descent.

    I don't think it's appropriate for any one, regardless of race or class to have so many children. That includes the Duggar family and other Quiverfull adherents. How can two parents have enough time and energy to spend with so many children? They can't. What you then have is the oldest children raising the youngest children. As is the case in families much smaller.

    But does that doesn't change the fact that this woman is being irresponsible as was her doctor. Who has gone against standard professional practices.

    She does not have a job, her house is in foreclosure, her own mother who is the primary caregiver for the first six children is overwhelmed and distraught over her daughter's newest brood. She claimed that her mother did not show her enough love and affection as a child. Why is it okay for her mom to raise her kids then?

    The John and Kate plus Eight mom had two implantations for a total of TWO pregnancies. Suleman had SIX pregnancies! So, after having had five implantations resulting in six kids (three of which have special needs and are on disability payments) she went back again.

    I think it's totally appropriate to question her mental state. Have you seen the interview? She doesn't think money is an important part of raising her children and is not concerned where it may come from. She doesn't even know that she's on welfare? She admitted to maybe caring more about her own desire to have a large family to make up for being an only child than what was best for her children. Yet, she doesn't see that as selfish?

    The kids are here let's take care of them. But, please let's not pretend what she's done is okay.


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