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Nadya Suleman and the choice we never respect

When life begins is a question that has continuously been up for debate in our social discourse. If life begins at conception, do women have the right to terminate a pregnancy even though the foetus is incapable of living outside of the womb? Pro Life and Pro Choice groups continue to argue over who has the right to decide the aforementioned question with little actual conversation about what to do with the children already living.

We recognize that children need the protection of adults to survive and yet there is much social rejection of responsiblity for the most vulnerable members of our society. Children often get caught between our understanding that we as humans are communal creatures and are therefore interdependent, and the social discourse that we have created to support our capitalist economy that privileges individualism.

Nadya Suleman and her octuplets are the living manifestation of our social conflict. On January the 26th of this year Ms. Suleman added 8 new babies to a family that already included 6 children. She is a single mother that currently resides with her parents.

Much of the media coverage regarding this event surrounds the debate as to whether or not it was medically ethical to implant eight embryos in a woman of her age, who already had six children. Though Ms. Suleman was offered the opportunity to terminate a number of the pregnancies, when it was discovered how many were viable, she refused.

No one pauses to consider that Ms. Sulemans approval of what occurred indeed legitimized the events:

She was not forced to carry these babies to term; it was an active decision on her part. If, as feminists, we can argue that women have the right to choose to have an abortion, then the right to choose motherhood should be equally validated; furthermore the right to privacy extends to Ms. Suleman’s decision as well.

Choice does not only involve abortion, it also extends to actively seeking to reproduce. While we may feel dismay at the number of children Ms.Suleman has conceived, the moment we begin to question whether she had the right to make this decision, we invalidate the argument that reproduction is a private issue and that a womans body should at all times be under her control.

We do not have the right to place a limit on when female agency ends. There are many men that are fathers to multiple children by various women and their virility is praised, yet when a woman gives birth to a large number of children her sanity is questioned. In this we can see the historical link between the uterus and the hysterical woman.

Much criticism has been levelled at Ms. Suleman. She has been referred to as a bitch, compared to a dog, had her sanity questioned and even called selfish. Yet if we claim to love children and support motherhood, why is one womans fertility such an issue?

In truth, motherhood is not supported and neither are the children that we claim to love so much. One of the most hated groups in society is the single mother, otherwise known as the welfare queen, as labelled by Reagan.

There is the idea that because pregnancy and giving birth is a natural function of womanhood, that parenting a child is not work. Socially, single mothers are deemed the equivalent of parasites, despite the fact that raising a child is difficult and tedious work. Parenting does not produce a product that can be sold and it is largely done by women, which means that it is continually devalued.

While we need children to ensure that our species continues to be perpetuated, we do little to act in their best interest. Our society is driven my capitalism and commerce, therefore common communal needs often get over looked or suppressed.

The conflation of reproduction and motherhood means that certain children will be valued based on the race and class position of the mother. The degree to which the mother ascribes to patriarchal norms will also play a role in the acceptance of the child into the larger society. Jon and Kate and the Duggar family both consist of what today we would deem inordinately large families. Both of the mothers in these situations have fulfilled what patriarchy would deem their social contract in that they are married and do not work outside of the home.

Kate Gosselin and Michelle Duggar have chosen to dedicate their lives to their families and receive countless praise from the media and religious organizations. Michelle Duggar in particular makes it a point to stress that it is the woman’s job to submit to the desires of men. For her the male is the head of the family and this manifests itself through their continual reproduction. Her children do not represent her maternity; they stand as a testament to her husband’s virility.

The resentment of Ms. Suleman is partly due to the fact that she lacks an active male figure in her life. Her desire to reproduce without being in a heterosexual committed relationship flies in the face of patriarchal norms. We consistently claim that children do better in two parent families, but neglect to mention that even in this situation women continue to have the bulk of the responsibility. A male presence provides an extra income and therefore a child is less likely to grow up in poverty, but a father in the household does not necessarily lead to more engagement for the child or less work for the women involved. Knowing that this is the pattern of the majority of heterosexual couplings it is quite possible to surmise that, partly, the issue is that Ms. Suleman has chosen to not align herself with a male in a long term relationship.

The idea that a woman can exist and be fulfilled without entering into marriage has been discouraged with anything from ostracism to labelling these women old maids. A man who is resistant to attach himself to a woman in a long term commitment is somehow seen as more valuable, or else he’s just being wild and adventurous in the sowing of his wild oats. Ms.Suleman is under attack because her life flies in the face of the idea that families must necessarily involve male headship.

Many have also voiced distress about financial responsibility for these children. Even though we do not live in a true capitalist state, the idea of communal responsibility for all children still exists as an affront to our sensibilities. I find this form of social malaise particularly offensive when we consider the various things that our tax dollars support. We do not balk in this manner when we are forced through taxation to pay for arms and weapons of mass destruction, yet supporting a child is somehow a waste of money or an extravagance.

Ms.Suleman has been offered a book deal and various opportunities to earn an income and this is has been referred to as “pimping” her children. How can this woman possibly win? If she depends on the state for support, which is her right, she is a blood sucking leech. If she explores opportunities made available through the money market economy, she is exploiting her children.

The point is to ensure that Ms. Suleman is held up to the world as a pariah for her decisions regarding reproduction. Unless women have children within the patriarchal family they are stigmatized, and purposefully impoverished. This young mother of 14 stands as a testimony to how little regard we give to motherhood and children unless they lead heterosexist lives that uplift patriarchal norms.

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Renee Martin

Renee Martin lives in Canada and writes the famous Womanist Musings blog. She is as interested in socio-political issues as she is in television.

70 thoughts on “Nadya Suleman and the choice we never respect

  1. Nadya is a strong, compassionate mother. She seemed very modest on her TV interview.
    I see no reason why she should not be supported. She has a family who helps her, which is more than I can say for myself.
    I think she will make it, and I appreciate hearing a viewpoint that supports her.

    Let he without sin cast the first stone.

    I am poor, and I have 3 boys and I want more
    not because of any ‘sickness’
    but because my children deserve me. I teach them everything I know.

    They give me a reason to live everyday thru the eyes of a child. They keep me young. 🙂 Good luck Nadya,
    Your sister in spirit,
    Rachel

  2. While i agree it was lil selfish to go for IVF again after she already had 4 kids, i respect choices she made after twins were born – there were frozen embryos left from the batch which produced twins and she didn’t wanted them to be destroyed.. I would do the same except that i would be stoped after first 4 if i have financial difficulties and she didn’t – probably coz she believed she’ll be smart enought to provide for 5…

  3. “Nadya is a strong, compassionate mother. She seemed very modest on her TV interview.”
    Uhhh…. funny. She came across to the rest of the world as being pretty narcisstic.
    I’m glad that people are supportive of nady’s rights to choose. Really. There’s one problem though….(actually, 14 problems)

    Those kids didn’t “CHOOSE” to be born, and because of her actions, there is a small (VERY small) chance that they will be born without social, physical, emotional or mental disorders. Children ABOVE ANYONE have the right to be in a home where they will not ONLY be loved, but properly cared for. (unfortunately, it’s a mathmatical probabality that they won’t get the nuturing they need)

    “HORRAY!!” for nadya excersizing her rights to choose! Lets praise her!!! It’s a good thing that the children she decided to have don’t have rights, because they certaintly didn’t have a choice.

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  5. Very well written article. Finally someone who is unbiased and recognizes that if we limit Nadya’s choices then we limit ALL womens choices.

    The only thing that was not correct was about the Duggers, the reason why they have so many children is that she had a miscarriage while on birth control and decided to stop taking it. She uses no birth control, she has sex, she gets pregnant…I think that some people fail to realize that not everyone wants to use birth control and along with having sex there is the possibility that you may become pregnant. There are some who may have more sex than the other but who are not fertile. Some people are really fertile, oh well. It’s their choice.

    Also, Nadya had 6 embryos implanted, not 8. One split into 2.

    To jjsurly, you don’t know her, so how do you know that they will not be properly cared for? There are many families that have more that 14 children that live in the world. She is not the first and will not be the last woman to have a large family.

    What I believe is that everyone is targeting her but not the doctor. Here is another instance where the male doctor treats the female patient and the woman carries all of the blame if something out of the ordinary occurs. Just another example of our society and how women are treated.

    This article needs to be sent to Dr. Phil, Oprah, Inside Edition, Entertainment tonight, Children Services and every news station out there.

    This woman is being persecuted because she is a woman, plain and simple.

    If it weren’t for Kaiser violating her rights and holding that news conference without her permission, we would not even know about her.

    Now, Kaiser has told her that her babies will not be released to her because her home is not big enough! It was reported on the news that Nadya called Dr. Phil crying about what Kaiser had told her.

    I am calling for everyone to call Kaiser to protest what they are doing. It is not legal for a hospital to state that if a child is healthy enough to leave the hospital, that the can not because of the size of a person’s house.

    Here are the numbers;
    (562)461-3000
    1-800-823-4040

  6. I wrote this in response to an email joke that was sent to me about Nadya Suleman called new Breakfast at denny’s which consisted of 8 eggs, no sausage and your neighbor pays.. clever but very crass when you’re thinking about a family . I don’t believe its narcistic to give your life for others.
    Now. Here’s a mother of 14 kids who actually wants kids, values them. Ow she wasn’t expecting 8 kids at once, however she has them and is going to love them.The kids will have the added value of multiple siblings. I would much rather see my tax dollars going to support a lady like this then paying for a crucifin in a jar of urine and calling art. People want to have unprotected sex and then think they have a right to abortions or aids medication to the tune of billions of dollars. If this little trooper starts a trend of more people being born in america and less immigration, I’m all for it. Come on, your the one that complained about immigrants taking over the country and not enough being born here. So give the little lady a break, have a joke about her and then stand behind her and her kids for support. When you weigh in all the alternatives that we’ve been paying for, this is change we can believe in. Brian Hildebrand palinite on twitter

  7. Most comments here are out to protect the octumom and, in the least, worry for the welfare of the 14 children now and to the future. Now, I see how far the feminist movement has dragged us into.

    I have nothing to against the women but I do very much disguised for the fact that she using her children as the money makers or, even worst, as a hostage against the taxpayers. Surely, feminists here in the United States always demand they’d have the equal rights, but does any of them ever consider to let innocent children to be ahead?

  8. Pingback: Even More Thoughts On Nadya Suleman | Trula Kids
  9. I am mad as hell !!! Are you kidding me, what were you thinking and better yet what was your doctor thinking. I am a single mom of 3 and in 1996 I became disabled. My kids were 5,10 and 15 and it was very hard for me. I had 9 surgery’s within a 10 year period and I didn’t start a web site to ask for help. My disability was not of my own doing, you on the other hand had a choice. How dare you start a web site and ask for help !!!! But I see you still go and get your nails done! You are on welfare and the state is paying for your 6 children and now you have 8 more but still find time to get your nails taken care of…. Something is not right here. I also hear that you are looking at million dollar homes. Are you kidding me. Me and my kids lived in dumps that were cheap and dirty but I would always clean them and try and fix them up as much as I could and when the landlords would come over and see all the work I had done so that my kids would not be embarrassed to have friends over they would raise my rent, every time. So we moved 15 times in 14 years. That was hard on all of us but it was not because I didn’t want to work, I couldn’t. But we got through it and we are better people because of it, what about you? You think because you made a BAD choice to have 14 children we should all chip in and pay for that AND have you look at million dollar homes? Sorry but no way and I will do whatever I can to see that you don’t get your million dollar home and have your nails done when you should be home with your kids. I truly feel sorry for your parents whom by the way seem to be the ones with the burden of taking care of the children. You should truly be ashamed of yourself and the audacity to think that it is up to us to take care of you and your children much less to buy you a home. Maybe every time someone needs help we should go around the neighborhood and ask for money so that we can start a web site and ask for donations and supplies. Raising 3 children was extremely hard and I am sure everyone struggles because we always want what is best for our children. We manage to find ways to get them what they need not always what they want. But to do what you did knowing that you did not have the means to support them, since you already couldn’t support the 6 children you already had I just find it extremely hard to swallow. Have you no shame or guilt for what you are doing to those 6 poor children and what you are about to do now that you have 14. I always try and find the good in people, granted I am not a saint by any means but for the life of me the only thing I can make of all of this is MONEY. You want to be in the spot light and have everyone pay you and your children’s way and I for one will not be a part of it and certainly hope that others will feel the same. I do however feel terrible for your children, they did not ask for this and now you are going to go on every tv show that you can and cry for help, start a web site, oh wait you already have done that. How do you think your children will feel when they get older? Did you ever think of them and their feelings and how this is all going to effect their lives. It makes me ill when I see you on the television acting as if you are the wonderful mother when we all know that you leave your kids at home with your mother who by the way should be enjoying her life not watching after your 6 children. So I guess now she will be watching 14 and where will you be. Well, I don’t know what else to say except you should be ashamed of yourself and maybe you should start thinking of your children rather then your fame and the money you want to get from all of this.

  10. Well, Rhonda may not be the most fluent writer among us but she does possess the most common sense. It is beyond ridiculous to state that Ms. Suleman is being persecuted for being a woman; if that were true, all females would be victims of persecution all the time. Are we not women? I think Renee Martin has wasted her lovely rhetoric and persuasive skills on an unworthy subject who strains everyone’s senses of proportion and propriety. While I understand the impulse to be upset that “She has been referred to as a bitch, compared to a dog” it’s really not hard to understand the metaphor. The woman has treated herself that way by producing a litter of babies. In fact, never have I heard of a woman who could more accurately be called a bitch.
    The idea that the truth of an argument can only be tested by straining it to its utter extremes doesn’t cut the mustard. Things that are fine and even good in moderation,like babies, may be just downright bad in the extreme,like 8 premature, likely devel. disabled, infants with an imbalanced mother who, even were she the most able person on the earth,could not handle this. She is looking at 40 diapers a day minimum, for goodness sake!

  11. Thank you for your well written article. I am taking a friend to lunch on Friday who lives in a group home and struggles with mental illness and financial worries. My colleagues and I work less hours because of the economy. At a local store, I saw an ad requesting donations of candy to be used in Easter baskets. My friend’s Mother died in his arms on Wednesday while they were out walking. I know people are suffering and in pain for many reasons. I also know that life is not fair. However, I won’t stand by and let Nadya be called a “bitch” and ridiculed. I won’t jump aboard that particular band wagon. It serves no useful purpose. Perhaps all the energy for ridicule, debasement and name calling directed at Nadya could be harnessed and used to help needy folks in our own communities.

  12. How come they keep reporting that she she *WORKED* FROM 1999 TO 2006 – when she clearly was on DISABILITY FOR ALL THOSE YEARS??? The woman hasn’t worked in 10 years, collected disability, food stamps, student loans, welfare for her childrens “disabilities” all the while she decided to have plastic surgery, invitro fertilizations and helped her mother lose her home – the selfish woman that she is!!! A few weeks ago there were pics of her BEFORE all the plastic surgery in a magazine at the checkout stand – I haven’t seen those “same” pics on the net but it is clear she has had a nose, lip, eyelid and cheek enhancement -compared to what her features were 10 years ago. I have a medical background and know that good cosmetic procedures can produce slight changes that really enhance a persons features, the lips are a given but she’s had a lot more done by a good surgeon. Now, she’s gunning for a boob and tummy lift. All her childcare is PAID FOR ROUND THE CLOCK. She’s got a free new home despite what they say – She IS NOT PAYING FOR THAT HOUSE – her father arranged it through a non profit gifting donation, the original seller has agreed to. Her mother meanwhile has lost everything caring for her and her children etc. Soon to come – a brandnew large passenger size van -FREEEEEE!!!!I can’t believe while hard working single parents, couples and out of work people all across America just trying to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table – this ingrate produces fatherless children on taxpayers money and donations! Dr. Phil, the ratings maniac that he is, has taken up her plight and no doubt has helped along in some of these backdoor deals. To help her “legitimize” her cause, Allred and McGraw probably warned Nadya not to go through with some of the offers she was considering but to stay open to other ones that will likely come her way in the next year or so. IE. TV shows. I’m so disgusted with Dr. Phil being the bastian of goodwill for this irresponsible mental case because he plans on having dibbs and cashing in on all those innocent babies and the freak show that this woman has created. Those poor neighbors – imagine what it will be like to have 14 kids screaming about their yards and the neighborhood with cameras and staff loitering about. This woman has frauded the system and now taxpayers are paying her way. And sick people like Phil McGraw and others will exploit it under the guise of being helpful, making it likely that more people like this troutfaced clown of a woman will go out and do the same KNOWING – ALL THEY HAVE TO DO IS CRANK OUT BABIES AND THEIR LIVES WILL BE TRANSFORMED FROM NOTHING TO HAVING IT ALL. Bail the banks out, bail the de-frauding individuals like Nadya Sulemon out. If we totaled up all the costs of her plastic surgery, the cost of her invitro fertilizations, the cost of her welfare, foodstamps and disability payments for her older children, the costs of her the free student “loans” most of which she got grants, the cost of the babies care during and after the hospital, including future medical, free childcare, supplements, diapers, the cost of her new van, the cost of the new house and other miscellaneous and hidden costs – how much would you say this woman has cost society???? Contrast that to HOW MUCH she will gain in money as income for herself and her children in the coming years through interviews, donations, TV shows and other free opportunities afforded to her. YOU DO THE MATH!!! And I’ll go back to her Mother. The woman looks like she hasn’t aged well and no doubt in part to her daughters shenanigans. Will Nadya, give back to her Mother in compensation all the money she’s lost having to care for the first 6 grandchildren, keeping a roof over their head and making sure they were OK, while Nadya did her cosmetic procedures & invitro’d herself? About the only good thing she’s done is gone to school so I’ll give her credit for that but she used that system to her advantage as well. She’s gotten free childcare through her welfare status at the school as well. She’s a fortunate person to have the ability to go to school FREE, have her children taken care of and have a good enough academic aptitude to pass her classes. How many people with this many children could have made it this far without all the free help she’s gotten?

  13. Wow. The best article on the web written so far. THANK YOU, Renee Martin, for reminding us of these important truths and the purpose of Feminism.

  14. There are too many people on this earth. Ruining it at a faster rate than borer beetle eats a wooden house.
    How stupid do you have to be to have even ONE child under these environmentally stressed conditions?

    Well, multiply that by 14x. NS is therefore 14 times stupider than the average non-breeder and 14 times less considerate than the average non-breeder is – of this beautiful world we are exploiting at an enormous rate of knots…

    Humans are the worst, most destructive plague the earth has ever encountered – and they KEEP BREEDING. Duh!

    And they call themselves intelligent. It is too funny to even laugh.

  15. this is an old article. it is very sad that in the time since most articles – if they can be termed such remain full of hate and that most are written by women expressing anger, jealousy and spite. it is surprising to me that women hate themselves so much they are at the forefront of tearing apart a family of children and a fellow woman at any level when millions of men father many children without caring for them in any way. this woman is taking responsibility in any way she can. even welfare is responsibilty. many parents dont even do that they literally bin their kids or leave them to the other parent or give them away. n.suleman is having it all for the first time ever in our history she has broken the boundaries as never before and women who should support her are ripping into a woman just after giving birth and into her 14 kids. she is a good mother and a woman who has everything going for her despite the spite of others. i think there are a lot of very competitive, jealous ladies out there. and a lot of men with inferiority complexes. the hate expressed by such people is more indicative of their mental health not hers. it is an absolue scandal what has happened to her because of cruel, disturbed people. shes a great girl. her kids dont need to explain their existence or apologise for it for one second. they are a credit to their family and that family is a credit to our society where motherhood as a choice for woman may be entirely celebrated – not hated.

    anyone who questions that choice needs to question their own mothers in having them – im almost tempted to.

    there are a lot of double standards and hypocrisy around. and its not in the n suleman’s household.

  16. If the woman in question was financially capable of raising her children, that’s one thing – but instead she’s having ME pay for it and you.

    I’m all for independence of women, but she’s not independent.

    The social contract is that if you need help, society will give it to you – it’s not if you want to make obligations that you KNOW you cannot keep.

    She’s a beggar using a mafia government to get money.

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