Last month when the story broke about a California mother who’d given birth to eight babies, all of whom survived, the world seemed just a little happier for the news. But, as with so many seemingly upbeat stories these days, the news quickly turned from charming to alarming.
This was, we learned, no miracle birth. Nadya Doud Suleman’s octuplets were conceived via in vitro fertility treatments (IVF), a procedure during which doctors implant numerous embryos with the knowledge that they are not all likely to survive. Upon implantation, the medical providers and parents typically work together to “selectively terminate” (read: abort) one or more embryos to increase the viability of the rest.
Suleman had six embryos implanted and chose not to terminate any. One of those embryos divided into twins in utero, so her delivery room staff of 46 was not surprised to find themselves delivering seven babies. The extra baby — another twin — did, however, come as a shock to everyone involved including Suleman.
Soon we found out these eight newborn babies weren’t even Suleman’s first kids — not by a long shot. Although IVF is typically used to treat infertility, Suleman already had six kids and her doctor knew that. (The doctor — who also handled Suleman’s IVF for her previous children — is currently being investigated by the California Medical Board.) To add to that common thread, Suleman’s 14 children were all conceived using sperm from the same donor, whom Suleman says is a friend.
In the span of one news cycle, Nadya Suleman’s public image went from that of a brave young mother to a symbol of self-indulgent parenting who had intentionally given birth to all 14 children as a single parent. Although previously married, Suleman’s husband had filed for divorce in May 2006. His petition, which cites “irreconcilable differences” as grounds, claims the couple did not have any children together, yet Suleman’s previous IVF treatments led to the birth of six children prior to their divorce. He also asked not to pay spousal support and, after Suleman did not respond, his request was granted by default.
This disclosure only raised more questions. All of Suleman’s first six children were born before her divorce was final. Why didn’t she seek child support for them? Was she so financially independent that she did not need even spousal support to continue raising so many kids?
The answers led to the discovery of even more disturbing facts. For instance, at the time of the octuplets’ birth, Suleman was unemployed and living in her parents’ basement with her six other children. But at one point she did have money — $168,000 of it received between 2000 and 2008, as a matter of fact. The source of those funds? Two worker’s compensation claims filed after she was hurt during a riot at the psychiatric facility where she worked as an aide in 1999. Yet her claimed disabling back injury did not prevent her from conceiving via IVF and having five separate pregnancies.
There has to be some question,” says CBS News Legal Analyst Trent Copeland, “about whether or not a woman who’s disabled and collecting over $150,000 worth of disability payments is really authorized to receive those payments if she’s too disabled to work, but not too disabled to have at least a half-dozen children.
While some pointed to Suleman as the stereotypical welfare mother, churning out babies to stay on the dole, others began questioning her mental stability. Indeed, there’s plenty of evidence to believe Nadya Suleman is in serious need of long-term, intense psychiatric help.
Angie Suleman, speaking of her 30-something daughter’s numerous children, says that Nadya has always been obsessed with having children, starting as early as her teens.