THE MIDDLE AGES : Public Anger Doesn’t Help Octuplet Babies

By Susan Reimer
The Baltimore Sun

If I am Nadya Suleman right now, I’m thinking 14 kids younger than 7 is the easy part.

Dealing with all the anger raining down on her is what’s tough.

The wonder that greeted the news that Suleman had given birth to eight reasonably healthy babies quickly gave way to intrusion, ridicule, resentment and violent threats.

And there has been a new and disturbing headline just about every day since the octuplets came into the world Jan. 26.

The mother is divorced, and her 14 children all were conceived with sperm donated by a “friend,” she says.

She is unemployed and used a huge disability check to pay more than US$100,000 in in vitro fertilization bills. She is on food stamps, and three of her children are disabled and receive checks from the government.

She lives with her mother, who is spending all her retirement income on her grandchildren and is quite willing to give television interviews venting her resentment and criticizing her daughter.

Did she or didn’t she have plastic surgery to give her the lips and nose of celebrity super-mom Angelina Jolie? Is she sending the actress mash notes?

Last week, some eager reporter discovered that Nadya’s mother, Angela Suleman, is 10 months behind in mortgage payments on a home she purchased in 2006 for $450,000 and has filed for bankruptcy, listing $1 million in debts.

During an economic crisis triggered by over-ambitious home buying, Angela Suleman faces foreclosure and the loss of her home to auction in May.

The fact that the public may end up paying more than $1 million for the medical care of the octuplets – and the fact that their mother has received government support – apparently makes all this horrible scrutiny OK.

She is picking our pockets – at a time when they contain not much more than lint – to fulfill her dream of having a huge family, and we are so furious that of course we can be excused for holding her up for public ridicule.

Jon and Kate and their eight get a fourth season on reality TV. An Arkansas couple that has 18 kids – produced in more orderly fashion – get a TV show, too.

The McGaughey septuplets brought their parents a new house, a van and round-the-clock support from fellow parishioners. But those were squeaky-clean kids from Iowa, and Suleman has a vaguely Arab-sounding name and she chose to be a single mother.

Likewise, almost nothing in the way of support came through for Adwai Malual, the Sudanese mother of quintuplets who delivered in Annapolis in December.

The economy is in a ditch, and we are all holding onto our pennies, but, frankly, we only like real Americans and wholesome family stories.

And we might not be as angry at Nadya Suleman for having more kids than she can handle if we weren’t worried that we might not be able to take care of our own.

When the rest of us are cutting back in every area of our lives, the expansion of her family to 14 children seems shockingly greedy.

Of course we are furious with her. Doesn’t she get it?

I don’t get it, either. I don’t get the anger. And I don’t get the judgment.

At a time when teenage girls are eyeing hot guys across the schoolyard and snagging the boys’ genes for a baby to call their own; at a time when high-school girlfriends can make a secret pact to get pregnant together; at a time when celebrities pick up babies in foreign countries like souvenirs; and at a time when sex is transactional and babies are the unremarkable result, Nadya Suleman seems more like the Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe than someone worthy of such ridicule and hatred.

Fourteen is probably too many kids, but for some women, two is too many. It seems to me that unless we want to license parenthood and administer qualifying tests, we are going to have the occasional Nadya Suleman.

And if you feel moved to give a couple bucks to the homeless guy at the stoplight – even though his life is probably also marked by decisions that you would never make – you ought to feel moved to give a couple bucks to Nadya Suleman – or to Adwai Malual. Suleman has a website. She makes it easy. Although that probably offends us, too.

But after all, didn’t we stop blaming the babies for the decisions of their parents a long time ago?

Filed under: Perspective

Comments are closed.