Just in time for the Big Recession comes Nadya Suleman, the unemployed single mom with six kids under the age of seven plus a complete set of octuplets and no more sense than a goldfish. Must there always be an woman whose out-of-control female body gives us something to gawk at? Step aside, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Sarah Palin (remember all that ridiculous conspiracy theorizing about her baby really being Bristol's?), Jessica Simpson's weight and the endless procession of celebrity baby bumps. Photos of Suleman's naked grotesquely distended pregnant belly rule the internet, along with much speculation about her resemblance to Angelina Jolie (plastic surgery?), her finances (unclear), the father (mysterious) and the fertility doctor who violated professional guidelines by implanting so many embryos in her (time to regulate!).
Suleman, who says she's only trying to make up for her lonely childhood, seems completely insane to me. Indeed, she's been treated for a variety of psychiatric conditions. But she's obviously not too crazy to try to seize the day. She hired a pair of publicists who gave new meaning to the word "chutzpah." In response to a horrified editorial in USA Today,they wrote that she would raise her children in a "caring, Christian home" with the help of that child-raising village Hillary Clinton likes to talk about. They've even set up a website where said villagers can send good wishes, cash and presents. A caring, Christian home! Take that Phyllis Chesler, who, mistakenly identifying Suleman's father as Palestinian (he's Iraqi), wonders if she'll "become a poster child/mother for....free baby formula and diapers? Or for Jihad?" Here in the US, it's Christian fundamentalists like those in the Quiverfull movement who think God put women on earth to breed armies of the faithful.
I've received a number of e mails urging me to defend Suleman on feminist grounds. But really, there is nothing feminist about borrowing all this trouble. We're supposed to be reasonable creatures, remember? Talk about giving single mothers by choice a bad name! Suleman seems to have combined an extraordinary degree of planning for conception with no realistic planning for childraising. If the Suleman house was a daycare center it would be illegal. Even if all the octuplets are healthy, a big assumption, the fact that three of her six older kids are receiving disability payments from the state of California -- one is autistic, the others have undisclosed problems -- underscores how hard it will be to give all these kids the attention they need. Just helping an autistic child to thrive is a huge amount of work all by itself.
The vitriol heaped upon Suleman as her story dribbled out revolves around the money the octuplets will cost society, beginning with an estimated 1.3 million dollars for their premature birth and extended hospital stay. If she was a millionaire (or a married christian) people would call it a medical miracle,wish her well and move on. The vituperation on comment threads -- "spay the stupid bitch!" and "they need to cut out this woman's uterus" are typical -- shows that welfare reform did nothing to put a damper on the all-American resentment of "welfare queens." Her case, though, is not much like that of real mothers on TANF, who have only 2.3. children on average, and would probably have fewer if they had better access to sex education, birth control and abortion, and better prospects in life to begin with-- prospects like Suleman's, who comes from a middle-class family (school teacher mother, translator father) and has a college degree. Basically she's a one-off, a mentally disturbed individual with excellent manipulation skills. She's the maternal equivalent of a cat collector.
Well, America loves big families-- the Christian fundamentalist Duggars (18 kids and counting) are currently sharing the small screen with Jon and Kate Plus 8 ( a blended family that includes artificially conceived sextuplets). True, we prefer them married, with a traditional division of labor. But we love freak shows, too, and celebrity wannabes who combine blithe narcissism with a staggering lack of self-awareness, so maybe Suleman will reap big money for interviews, photos, a reality show ,a book deal and she won't be a burden on the taxpayer after all. Won't that be frustrating to the people who want to feed her freeloading self to the woodchipper now? Or maybe she'll be nudged aside by some other reproductive train wreck-- as I write, "13 year old Dad spends first Night at Home with Baby, Plays Playstation" has 213 comments on Huffpost.
The latest development is that the publicists have resigned, citing death threats, and have been replaced by an agent, Wes Yoder, whose Ambassador Agency claims to be the oldest Christian-based talent agency in the United States. His best known client? Rick Warren.
Octomom Told Doc: Don't kill my babies!
Christmas at Nadya's: It's All About the LOVE!
Jesus to the Rescue. And not a moment too soon.