When we first heard about the birth of eight infants in Bellflower last January, there was no sign that the story of Nadya Suleman, now better known as OctoMom, would become a modern fable about fame and public disgust. Today pundits and late-night TV comics attribute our hunger for OctoMom news to a need for escapism during economic hard times. In reality though, Suleman embodies the very fears from which Americans are supposedly escaping. A potent narrative speedball that combines elements of Jane Roe, Terri Schiavo and Eraserhead, the tale of the artificially fertile OctoMom has turned upside down our traditional definitions of birth, family and motherhood.
The OctoDrama is an unscripted, constantly evolving melodrama that capriciously pulls in and spits out individuals and social beliefs as Suleman continues her Tasmanian Devil-whirl through the headlines. (Suleman's Wikipedia entry is outdated the moment it is updated.) Here is a brief outline of where OctoMom is and how she got there.
Although, at first, news of the multiple births immediately generated
the kind of feelgood media buzz that big-family stories will, dark
mutterings in the blogosphere and in comments posted online to
newspaper Web sites suggested a shift in the zeitgeist. Because the
births were reported at a Kaiser hospital in Bellflower and not at
Cedars Sinai, many assumed the then-unidentified mother was either an illegal alien or welfare mom
— or both. And, with that many births involved, suspicions of the use
of fertility drugs or some sort of in vitro insemination raised the
unsettling specter of an army of test-tube babies being bred in
Bellflower — this, following a few years of ill-received reports about
grandmothers giving birth to children following artificial
But this growing unease within the electronic
republic was a mere preamble to the Media Terror unleased once Nadya
Suleman's identity became known. In short order Suleman's past life
became an open book and each day brought new revelations that shocked
and offended talk-radio listeners and the American Living Room. Suleman
was a single mother who already had six children; she had no job, was
living with her parents and, contrary to what she told her sympathetic
interrogator on the Today show, she was on welfare; the
recording of a 911 call in which Suleman discussed suicide was
released. A tidal wave of resentment burst forth and Suleman has since
been described as a whore or Octopussy, while her children are
dismissed as a “litter” and are often Photoshopped to appear as shrimp
— or are they grubs?
that included death threats; she engaged and was dumped by a Christian
talent agency — probably for the same reasons that made her publicists
tried to sic child services on her — possibly to take Suleman's kids
away from her; she embraced Dr. Phil; she embraced and then spurned the
help of publicity-magnet attorney Gloria Allred and the Angels in
Waiting nursing charity; she's given her octuplets millennialist-sounding names.
has now moved from a cul de sac in Whittier to a bigger house on a
nicer cul de sac in La Habra with 14 of her 16 children (two remain at
Kaiser); her March 17 homecoming with the first two of the octuplets to
be released turned into a Day of the Locust frenzy and near riot.
pundit bill of indictment against OctoMom is long and varied: She lied
to paparazzi; she talked back to her mother during a RadarOnline
interview; she's trying to make money by selling her story or by
getting product endorsements;
she uses sperm donors and doesn't seem interested in having a
heterosexual relationship with a man; the in vitro fertilization
process she underwent with the guidance of a Beverly Hills doctor now
being investigated, is dangerous to the point of recklessness for
someone her age (33); she goes shopping (every item she buys is mooned
over by TMZ.com with the insinuation that taxpayers are footing the
bill) while her kids remain at home; her car once got booted; she was
rumored to have had plastic surgery.
While there's plenty of
outrage to go around, there also seems to be a double standard hard at
work. We only wonder how much of that outrage would never have appeared
had Suleman been named Sullivan, had she been married to a man with a
job or if she had had all 14 of her kids the old-fashioned way. Where
are the right-to-lifers standing up for her and her children today?
Where are the feminists to defend her right to have kids without a
husband? This story, which might be heading to some kind of apocalypse, is
not over by a long shot.