A Closer Look at the Hysteria Over the Octuplets

We’ve all heard the story of the Suleman family by this time: Nadya Suleman, a single unemployed woman who lives with her parents Angela and Edward in California, gave birth to octuplets on January 26. She already has six children.

Before details of Nadya’s life came out, the MSM was all gaga over the octuplets. It was a heart-warming international news sensation. But once the world learned more details of her life, we decided Nadya wasn’t a fit recipient of octuplets, the love affair ended, and the judgments started to rain down relentlessly.

Nadya should be sterilized, she should have the children taken away, she is an immigrant and bleeding the country dry, she is doing this for the welfare money, she’s only doing it to become famous and rich, she should be arrested, she is mentally ill, she is pathologically obsessed with children, she should not be single, her docs should lose their licenses, there should be a limit on how many kids you have, it is immoral to have 14 kids, only married couples experiencing infertility should have access to IVF, this is child abuse, 14 children is sickening, if the family isn’t rich, then shame on them.

I find all this judgment incredibly disturbing, let alone annoying. The public has judged her Not Good Enough for the adoration usually allotted to multiple births. Even though we usually spend our time judging women for selfishly deciding to have one or no kids (below replacement fertility!), or for aborting pregnancies, or for using contraceptives, suddenly our outraged senses of decency are causing us to do a moral 180. We don’t even need the facts to do it!

Well, I’d rather have the facts, personally, and hold the judgment than vice versa. So below I respond to some of the common criticism’s of Nadya Suleman’s massive birth using Facts and References. Holy cow!

TOO MANY EMBRYOS?

The Huffington Post reported that Nadya’s mother, Angela, “told reporters Friday that doctors implanted far fewer than eight embryos, but they multiplied,” and that once Nadya learned of how many embryos had implanted, she chose not to selectively reduce the pregnancy, possibly because she believes abortion is wrong. She also felt a moral imperative to implant all of the embryos she had frozen, which apparently she has now done.

From ABC News:

Suleman’s father said recently that his daughter didn’t intend to have eight children. “She did not seek to have more children. She thought she was gonna have one more child…”

Various experts across the interwebs have stated that they believe implanting 1-4 embryos is appropriate when performing IVF. Some countries restrict the number of embryos that can be implanted at one time to 2 or 3.

The reason that multiple embryos are implanted at once is to increase the chances of conceiving, as Canadian data suggests there is only about a one in three chance that IVF will result in conception, and a lower chance that it will result in live birth.

So, though you won’t see it stated anywhere on the web but here, it is possible that Nadya did not have doctors implant more than the recommended number of embryos, and that the reason she had all embryos implanted and chose not to reduce the pregnancy was because of sincerely held religious beliefs.

Free exercise of religion anyone? No?

14 CHILDREN IS IMMORAL

Wait a minute, I thought we were all worried about fertility decline! And saving pre-born patriots from murder! Suddenly having too many children is concerning? Suddenly it’s wrong that she chose to continue with all of her pregnancies? Are embryos suddenly less precious when the mother is single, or poor, or from an immigrant family?

Women just can’t do anything right! They’re either having too few children or too many, too few abortions or too many. When will the government just step in and mandate how many children each woman can have, and enforce sterilization once she has met her quota? It’s working in China!

Many of the comments and coverage judging Nadya for the size of her family have referenced that the family is struggling financially. Some comments spell it out: if you aren’t wealthy, keep your family small. Or better yet, if you’re poor, just don’t reproduce.

What happened to choice? I am pro-choice, and that means I believe women, regardless of income, should have the same set of reproductive options: whether or not to use birth control, whether or not to have sex, and whether or not to give birth. Of course every woman should exercise good judgment when making these important decisions. But it is not up to me, or anyone else except her and her family, to make those judgments for her.

The number of people calling for Nadya’s forcible sterilization is really disturbing. So at what number of children should the government mandate forced sterilization for women? Will restrictions be different for wealthy and poor families? For single parents and couples? I can’t think of a single positive historical example of government-enforced mandatory sterilizations.

WHERE IS THE FATHER?

Nadya was married for a few years to a man whom she later divorced, and she says that he is not the father of any of her children.

It has been reported, but not verified that “all 14 children are from the same donor, a neighbour, who unsuccessfully asked her to stop using his sperm after he got married recently. ” Other news sources have stated the donor was a friend she met while working at a fertility clinic.

The Huffington Post reports that a man named David Solomon is the father of the four eldest children, but was unable to verify whether he was the sperm donor for the others. If it is true that all 14 children have the same father, that means he may be the person.

But it is clear that Nadya made the choice to have children without a partner, and that the donor’s only role was to provide sperm. So, as it stands, there is no father. The questions of who the father is and “Where is the father?” are missing the point. The point is that Nadya has a lot of children to take care of, and the world is standing by in judgment of every choice she makes on her path. The children are already here.  Who is benefiting from this mass judgment and speculation?

IMMIGRATION STATUS

There has been speculation on right-wing and anti-immigrant blogs that Nadya and her parents are illegal immigrants, come to harvest the riches of welfare checks paid for with the money of unaware, well-intentioned, hard-working real Americans.

First off, anyone who thinks that you can live high on the hog from welfare has no idea what they’re talking about.

Secondly, CBS reported that Nadya’s father is a “former Iraqi military man. ” But The Telegraph reported that Edward Suleman was born in Palestine and is a former resident of Jerusalem. What is clear is that he is in the country legally and is actually working in support of the US in Iraq.  There is no reported information about Nadya or her mother’s immigration status, nor reason to believe they aren’t citizens or permanent residents.

The ease with which some people turned this into a story about “illegals” and “anchor babies” is disturbing, because there isn’t a single fact out there that supports that narrative. Actually, there is evidence that works against those assumptions. There is also no conclusive evidence as to whether Nadya is on welfare or not.

Please leave your comments on this story.  Respectful dialogue is the only requirement.

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31 thoughts on “A Closer Look at the Hysteria Over the Octuplets

  1. It is irresponsible to have children that you cannot properly care for. Not our call, you say, to make that choice for someone else. I think it is, because these kinds of poor decisions affect the rest us by possibly putting the burden of their care on the taxpayer, and even affecting medical costs and health insurance premiums.

  2. @Honjii:

    How do you respond to the section of my post about how she didn’t intend to have octuplets, but not believing in abortion, she was compelled to carry her pregnancy to term?

    How do you know she cannot care for the children?

    I disagree with the argument that being poor gives any Schmoe off the street a right to snoop into your family business and judge you for your decisions. My tax dollars pay for roads and traffic signals I don’t use, yet I don’t feel entitled to judge every driver and pontificate that they are a burden on my finances. I have no children, yet I have no problem that my taxes go to schools that other people’s children attend. Your argument is based on Reagan-era stereotypes and misinformation about public aid, nothing more.

    It’s not as though it’s common for women to give birth to octuplets, or to have 14 children total. It’s extremely rare and unusual, so it’s not as though this is a societal problem that needs our immediate attention. It’s one woman in an unusual situation. We don’t even have all the facts. That’s why I’m saying: stop the judgment!

  3. Comparing your tax dollars being used for roads or schools you don’t use to welfare for people who have children they cannot afford is like comparing apples and oranges. Roads, schools, and any infrastructure is for the greater good of society whether or not you use any particular component. One person producing children that the rest of us have to kick in and pay for doesn’t serve society it serves the needs of one who chose to be selfish. There are many people who would like to have more children but understand that they cannot afford to do so and make responsible decisions. Nadya already had six children that is isn’t clear she was able to afford to care for, so even one more child might be considered irresponsible. It doesn’t sound like she gave any thought to how they would be taken care of, she just wanted them.

    Judgment is built into humans and other species, without it we couldn’t survive. It’s very popular to accuse people of being judgmental whenever they express their opinions, but when did using judgment become a bad thing? You too are making a judgment about those who voice their opinions about this woman, so it’s kind of like the pot calling the kettle black.

    Having a large number of children takes a huge emotional and financial commitment. Caring for two or three can be quite a task. Few families have the resources needed to care for such a large amount of children AND give them the quality of attention and individual time needed to nurture each child.

  4. Read the news: she implanted her remaining 8 frozen embryos and at her age (33), it a near-certainty that all transferred embryos would implant successfully. She’d been getting by with education grants but hasn’t attended sachool in nearly a year. Her own mother says she will leave the daughter plus 14 to their own devices.

    There is a lot to weigh in on, not the least of which is how an indigent woman can pssible provide for (let alone care for) 14 children under the age of 7. And while we do know she has one autistic child, we do not know what health consequences, if any, are present in the octuplets. Google septuplets and pctuplets and see the prop[otion of survivng shildren with cerebral palsey and other disorders arising from a higher-order preganacy/birth.

  5. “Of course every woman should exercise good judgment when making these important decisions. But it is not up to me, or anyone else except her and her family, to make those judgments for her.”

    I’m just wondering when you would see it as appropriate for her family to make the judgment for her?

  6. Thanks for the good discussion everyone!

    honjii said: “Roads, schools, and any infrastructure is for the greater good of society…”

    And public aid for poor children isn’t? We’re comparing apples and apples here.

    “You too are making a judgment about those who voice their opinions about this woman, so it’s kind of like the pot calling the kettle black.”

    Yes, I am judging the judgers. Who are all anonymous, whereas Nadya’s entire life is now open season for all of us to criticize, and we don’t even know all the facts. I think the kind of judgment you are glorifying is the healthy kind: to judge for ourselves what is right and wrong when we make decisions. Anonymously participating in the character assassination of a woman we don’t even know is not that kind of judgment.

    “Few families have the resources needed to care for such a large amount of children”

    True- maybe. In the past, large families were quite common, and still are in some parts of the world and in some religious communities in the West. So what has changed that suddenly we think they aren’t viable? I come from a community where families of Nadya’s size were not uncommon. I have friends with more brothers and sisters than they can count on their fingers. Their parents were nobody special… just regular people.

  7. BB said: “Read the news: she implanted her remaining 8 frozen embryos and at her age (33), it a near-certainty that all transferred embryos would implant successfully”

    You are mistaken. Read my post. She did not have 8 embryos implanted. She had a smaller number that then split to create 8. And no, at her age there is only a 33% chance that IVF will result in pregnancy.

    “Google septuplets and pctuplets and see the prop[otion of survivng shildren with cerebral palsey and other disorders arising from a higher-order preganacy/birth.”

    I am aware that multiple births can lead to birth defects or health problems later on. And?

    @ yareach:

    Good question. What I was thinking is that a woman’s partner (when there is one) should be involved in the decision to have more children. Or, in a situation where the woman is living with a combo of other relatives, they should be included in the decision to have more children, as it will significantly affect their lives too.

    I do not think anyone should decide “for” the woman. But the decision should be made with her partner or other relevant family members.

  8. And public aid for poor children isn’t? We’re comparing apples and apples here.

    You have an interesting way of spinning things. I didn’t say anything about public aid for poor children being a bad thing. I do, however, think it is a bad thing to knowingly create poor children. I have no problem helping those in need. But there are those who have children knowing they will have to rely on handouts to care for them. Perhaps you don’t mind having your hard earned, and taxed money used for this purpose but I do.

    I’m tired of the attitude of entitlement that anybody who wants anything should be able to have it just because they want it. There are many things I would like very much to have and cannot afford. I either wait until I can or I do without. I resent that while I’ve chosen to be responsible and forgo instant gratification of my wants I’m forced to kick in and help those who have thumbed their noses at responsibility.

  9. @honjii:

    Remember, we have no evidence that Nadya is going to be on welfare. This is all conjecture.

    So why are discussions of her situation invariably moving towards people complaining about irresponsible mothers gobbling up their hard-earned money?

    I think stereotyping and myths about welfare have a lot to do with it.

    Check out this page on the American Psychologist Association website.

    In part: “Widespread misperception about the extent of welfare exacerbate the problems of poverty. The actual cost of welfare programs-about 1 percent of the federal budget and 2 percent of state budgets.

    …Ironically, middle-class and wealthy Americans also receive “welfare” in the form of tax deductions for home mortgages, corporate and farm subsidies, capital gains tax limits, Social Security, Medicare, and a multitude of other tax benefits. Yet these types of assistance carry no stigma and are rarely considered “welfare”. Anti-welfare sentiment appears to be related to attitudes about class and widely shared and socially sanctioned stereotypes about the poor.”

  10. honjii said… “But there are those who have children knowing they will have to rely on handouts to care for them.”

    Who are these people? Where do you get this information?

    “I’m tired of the attitude of entitlement that anybody who wants anything should be able to have it just because they want it.”

    Who has the attitude? I don’t understand who these people are that you’re talking about who enjoy being poor just so that they can draw their tiny welfare checks to spite you.

  11. Honjii, I couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve said. Clearly, a single woman with source of income (beyond that provided by her parents and her disability income) is going to require some sort of assistance from the social welfare system. To claim otherwise is disingenuous. I think the majority of people share your view, and mine, that it is not responsible to bring eight more children into the world when you already have six at home that you cannot support simply because you “want” them. This woman has figuratively put a gun to the heads of all tax-paying Californians by creating a situation in which we have no choice but to provide for these 14 innocent children and the selfish woman who bore them.

  12. @idyllicmollusk
    What planet are you living on? There is a whole subculture of people in this country who have learned to “work the system” and in fact generations of families doing just that. They would rather not bother working like the rest of us, so they have learned how to get onto every social program they possibly can.

  13. @honjii:

    Can you back that statement up with evidence? Because to me it just sounds like you are repeating stereotypes about poor people without basis in fact. I do not mean an individual case- I do believe that there are individuals out there who commit fraud against the welfare system. To change my mind, I would need to see research that this is a broad trend, a whole subculture, as you seem to indicate.

    Besides, as her father is a contractor in Iraq, it doesn’t sound like Nadya is a member of this supposed subculture of generations. So how this masterful conspiracy perpetrated by the evil poor relates to her large birth is a mystery to me.

  14. No pun intended on the word “hysteria”, I am sure.

    I am going to have to disagree with you on this one. It seems that her reproductive specialist transferred (you don’t implant embryos, you transfer them and hope they implant) way more embryos than is the recommended standard of care. The reason this is the standard of care is that high order multiples are likely the more that are transferred, and extremely high risk. I don’t care about her income, I don’t care about her single status, I don’t care what country she was born in, and I almost don’t care how many children she had at home, except that she had to leave them, including her autistic child, at home when she was inevitably ensconced in a hospital for months to try to keep her incredibly high risk pregnancy from failing.

    It is standard, good medicine to establish whether a patient will selectively reduce before transferring embryos, and use that information, along with their age (she was relatively young), prior reproduction (she is a proven fertile) and the current standard of care recommendations (one or two only for a women her age) to decide the course of treatment.

    I don’t care what she felt about her frozen embryos. Her opinion about frozen embryos should have come into play before they made that many with the sperm sample. Her being uncomfortable with her frozen embryos being destroyed does not trump safe medicine. Medicine is not a menu for patients to order off of, despite of overwhelming risks.

    Women who do not successfully reduce high order multiple pregnancies who watch twenty week old quintuplets die in their arms do not make the news, but that is much, much more likely than a successful pregnancy, especially with eight. She may not have had eight transferred (although that has been reported), but it is highly, highly unlikely she got eight babies from two or three embryos.

    I think women should have reproductive control, but there is a limit to what is safe, humane medicine. There is a reason why medical ethicists and professional organizations of reproductive medicine are uniformly condemning this. It’s because it is a medical ethics car crash.

  15. Pingback: Reply turned post, octuplet style take two « Mom’s Tinfoil Hat

  16. @Mom TFH:
    Hey there! I’m hearing what you’re saying regarding medical ethics. But in what ways do you disagree with my post? Is it just the point where I say we don’t know how many embryos were transferred? Or do you see a larger picture that I’m painting, which you disagree with?

    I always enjoy your visits to The Czech!

  17. A Honjii–

    Until 1996, Aid to Families with Dependent Chilfren (AFDC) provided cash assistance to poor families. It is what most people think of when they hear the word “welfare.”

    In 1996, congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, replacing AFDC with the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. TANF was offered to states in the form of block grants, allowing them a lot of freedom in designing their own welfare programs as long as they adhered to the federal government’s four stated goals:

    1) provide assistance to needy families,
    2) end dependence on government by promoting work, job training, and marriage, 3) prevent and reduce out of wedlock pregnancies, and
    4) encourage the formation and maintenance of two-parent households.

    (For now, I’ll suppress what I have to say about using financial coercion to force people into marriage and focus on the work part).

    A lot of states have imposed job requirements upon welfare recipients as a condition of receiving TANF, so it is just not true that the government is throwing money at people who do not want to work. WORKING IS REQUIRED OF TANF RECIPIENTS. The result of welfare to work programs has been families being pushed off of public assistance and deeper into poverty. Check out what the Center for Budget and Priorities has to say about the matter:

    “…about 60 percent of former welfare recipients are employed, while 40 percent are not. Those who work generally earn low wages and often remain poor. In a review of studies of families who left welfare and are working, the Center for Law and Social Policy found that working former recipients tend to earn between $6 and $8.50 per hour.”

    CBPP go on to say:

    “Many families left welfare not because they found a job, but because they were terminated from the program for failing to comply with requirements, such as work requirements.”

    You can read the entire report here: http://www.cbpp.org/1-22-02tanf2.htm

    How is anyone supposed to support a family on $6/hour? Can we all just admit that the same opportunities do not exist for everyone? It’s taken me four months and literally five hundred cover letters to finally find a job and I have a BA and years of work experience. Can you imagine how difficult it must be for someone with a just a high school diploma or GED or someone who can’t read?

    We don’t know even know if Nadya will be receiving public assistance, yet we’ve decided to demonize her as someone who abuses the system. Research shows that the system is actually pretty difficult to abuse.

    Honjii, I have to echo idyllicmollusk’s request for evidence supporting your claim that generations of families are working the system because they are too lazy to earn anything for themselves.

  18. She is very much selfish. She want to become rich and famous that why she gave birth to octuplets. She is poor, single and belong from an immigrant family. Her financial condition is not good. She did not think on this issue that how will she look after her children.

  19. Scipta,

    back that up with facts instead of conjecture, otherwise you are being judgmental based on nothing more than stereotypes and vague reporting.

  20. In her interview, she said that she had six embryos transferred. This clearly violates the recommended standard of care. For her age, it is recommended that there are no more than two transferred, especially considering her very successful history with IVF, history of multiples, a documented health condition (her back injury) that would be aggravated by a high order multiple pregnancy, and her resistance to selective reduction.

  21. Oh, but I do agree with much of your post, and I should have said that. I don’t think that single mothers should be kept from accessing IVF, I don’t think parents should be income tested, and I don’t know about using fertility treatments on someone with six prior children. That would be a touchy one for me, if I was assuming risk as a provider. But, I can see how it could be a slippery slope to place arbitrary limits on number of children. There is a difference between sterilizing someone and refusing intervention, however. I am upset by the amount of judgment and assumptions made about her.

    Keep up the great writing. I read all the time.

  22. Thanks for responding, MomTFH!

    I hadn’t seen the interview where she revealed there were 6 embryos transferred. If you have a link, please post it, I would like to see what Nadya has to say.

    I would agree that it seems transferring 6 is not medically indicated, and her providers should have guided her to a better decision.

  23. in her interview with ‘good morning america’ or whatever it was, she states that she absolutely refuses welfare.

    seriously, think about it…this woman and her six children live with her parents in a three-bedroom house, that’s ridiculous enough. on top of that she had 6 more embryos transferred…assuming it was only going to result in one more baby? this whole thing is ridiculous. six small children is already enough. people consider all the changes in their lives even before ONE child is born. after the first one, sometime down the road even having a second one takes some real consideration. most of my peers who have already had their second child seem to have only done so because they still live with their parents and have their parents’ help. i moved out of my parents’ house after i found out i was pregnant with my first child because i didn’t want my child and i to seem like a burden to them. and here nadya is on television, saying she’s ‘figuring out what to do’ – MAYBE she’ll have the help and support of her family, friends and church. yeah, this is stuff she should have figured out while she was pregnant – or before she was injected with a half dozen embryos. and yeah, it’s wrong to assume everyone will help you when you dump 8 more statictics into their lives.

  24. The children are already born, and Nadya’s family will never have any effect upon your own, so why don’t you get over it already?

    ..uh actually they will if they require public assistance, then if affects us all

    methinks she (you) doeth protest too much

  25. @stargazer:

    Did you not read my post or any of the discussion before commenting?

    There is no evidence that she will be on welfare. She herself has stated that she will not accept welfare.

    Even if she goes on welfare, it will still not affect you. If you lived in CA, you would probably pay $0.00000000001 towards her family, or less. That can hardly be called an “effect”.

    Even if she were on welfare, that does not make her family anybody’s business. Low income people can have children without everyone snooping into their families to make sure they “deserve” to have kids.

    Next time, please read before commenting.

  26. idyllicmollusk, I agree on what you said in your original post. We judge too much!!! Loved your saying about abortion; suddenly US trashes a woman who chose not to kill her babies?????????

    I am writing however for another issue. I strongly believe that it was immoral to implant so many embrios. In this case even 6 embrios are too many. I am writing this as a medical profesional AND as someone who has had IVFs. Regardless of her religious/moral believes, she should have been refused transfer of so many embrios BECAUSE
    – she is very young and
    – she already has had sucessfull pregnancies carried to term.
    – Her twin pregnancy (or was it twinX2) is another proof that she IS very fertile; another contraindication for so many embrios to be transferred.
    – Not to mention the risks for the children. The infant mortality rate for triplets is about twice the rate for twin births and nearly 10 times the rate for single births. The infant mortality rate for quadruplets is more than five times the rate for twin births and more than 26 times the rate for single births. The doctor who have transfered 6 embrios MUST know that only 50% of sextuplets reach their first birthday (a number which can be debated due to a low number of participants in the study). All of us who have followed the story know the outcome of octuplets.
    – What about the risk for the mother both from the IVF drugs and the multiple pregnancy??? I lost one ovary at 9 weeks of pregnancy due to ovarian hyperstimulation sindrome (OHSS). This lady should really count her blessings to be alive and have all her babies with her.

    I did my IVF in Belguim at age 30 and they did BEND the law for me; women under 35 with or without children cannot have more then 1 embrio transferred! Since I was from another country they agreed to transfer 2- that’s all I produced and I did not want to destroy the remaining one; it resonates the ‘Nadya story’, HOWEVER if you have 6, you can transfer 3 at a time OR donate what’s left to infertile couple (she of all people should understand the wish for children!!!). I am feeling rather critical at her about the irresponsibility she has shown for transferring 6 and am fully supportive to having legislation for this matter; namely number of embrios transferred, BUT ONLY because of the risk it poses both to the mother and to the children.

  27. I actually DID read your post and all the comments. YOU just don’t get it, if it takes money from anyone it affects us all whether it is only a penny out of each of our pockets or more. I watched the interview on tv last night and it was all about HER. She had lots of children to fill her needs and wants. She came across as very selfish and unstable, as do you since you cannot seem to GET IT, that if you cannot afford kids you shouldn’t have them and expect anyone or everyone to kick in their penny or two. She even said she was living on disability and student loans (that are supposed to be used for school..she might find herself in legal trouble for that one).

  28. Ok, so you come on this blog, restate all the arguments I have already refuted, offer no new arguments, and finish off with personal insults.

    Personal insults are not allowed on this blog. Engage in the substance of the post, or don’t comment.

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