Octomom Nadya Suleman Tells Oprah She Had Babies to Fill a Void

8 years ago

Yes, if you were watching, that was Nadya Suleman aka Octomom you saw on the American Idol Gives Back benefit show Wednesday night. She appeared in the phone bank, answering lines with a few of her older children. On Tuesday, the day before, you also may have caught her on the Oprah Winfrey Show, where she said she does not regret having her children, but she does feel guilty because no one person can meet all the needs of even one child, let alone 14. She said now she understands that her desire for more children was about filling a void in herself.

Octomom Nadya Suleman and her entourage of nannies caravan the octuplets and the twins to a park in Los Angeles

In February, BlogHer CE Melissa Ford wrote a good piece on the Octomom saga: "One Year After Octomom: From Magazine Covers to IVF Regulations," and here we are two months later still hearing about this mother's life with octuplets. She will probably not leave the public eye completely until those eight babies, born to her while she was raising six other children, are grown and out of her house completely. For financial reasons, holding the public eye may be a good thing for the family; however, such scrutiny has drawbacks.

Though she likened her family to a carnival attraction that the media exploits in the ugliest ways, she acknowledged on Oprah that the money from media appearances may be one of the few ways she can earn enough money to support her colossal brood. She does not want to be on government welfare.

The Winfrey show, however, did not pay Suleman. Oprah stressed that she never pays for interviews. She decided to do an "Octomom" show after getting a letter from Suleman asking Oprah to please help her set the record straight about who she is and what she feels.

Speaking during a video shoot for the show while she was at home with the children, Suleman said the following:

I'm not a celebrity. I'm a pseudo-celebrity catapulted into this big media mess. Did I want it? No. Was I in denial thinking that it wouldn't happen? Yeah. I had no idea like helicopters would start swarming over the hospital.

Octomom is a fictional character. I thought it was hilarious in the beginning. And (then) people took it to an extreme, and I think it's the media that perpetuated this because it's just a cycle, a money-making cycle. For example, in the beginning, I'm all bad. I'm all crazy. I've never had plastic surgery in my life and all of sudden they say I want to be like this (Angelina) Jolie actor. I've heard of her name, never even knew who she was. (Suleman on Oprah)

After that segment, Oprah showed clips of Suleman taking her children to a park while in voice-over Oprah said, "Nadya walks a fine line between keeping the public interested in her so she can sell her Octomom image and feeling like she has zero privacy."

Frustrated by the paparazzi following them, Suleman huffs, "This is ridiculous. We -- I feel like a carnival attraction." She then says that's why they don't go to the park anymore.

It's "invasive" and "exploitative," she continues in the clip. Later in a one-on-one interview with Oprah in which Suleman still speaks from her remote location, she thanked the talk show host for giving her a platform to speak. She said her voice has been "distorted (to the public) if not completely denied."

Oprah asked her whether Suleman herself has contributed to the carnival attraction image. Again the bikini cover from Star flashed on the screen.

Suleman said it's her job to provide for her children. She said she was "ashamed" of the cover, that it's not her character, and that she tends to shy away from the camera. That's when the talk turned to offers for her to do porn.

She said she's turned down an offer from a porn studio to make a movie, that they came to her only three weeks after the babies were born and have approached her three times about making a porn movie, but she refuses to sink so low. The offer was disrespectful and unfathomable to her, she said, and if she ever did such a thing she would need a ton of money to move her family "far far from civilization."

"If they offered $100 million, I would never never never resort to something like that. It stems now (comes down?) to boundaries. I'm teaching my children to have healthy boundaries and I would not ... there are ways, there are other ways, that are much more, obviously, respectable." (Suleman on Oprah)

Then the conversation moved toward Suleman's decision to have all those embryos implanted. Oprah said having such a large number of children is a lot for a parent. Even one child is a huge responsibility and a challenge to parent effectively.

"You didn't think six was enough?" Oprah asked.

I believe going back, reflecting back, I feel as though I was so caught up with my own childish desires to compensate ... There's an amalgamation of factors contributing to why. ... I didn't chose one thing for one particular reason. There were so many reasons, perhaps selfishness, perhaps trying to compensate for being an only child, trying to fill some missing piece inside, and I, maybe wrongfully, looked outside of myself when I should have been filling that from within." (Suleman's answer)

Oprah rephrased this statement as Suleman looked at having more children as a way to fill a void, that she looked for children to replace what should have through adult relationships.

Suleman accepted this statement. "I was hungry for the security." She said that she was always looking for someone to love her, and now, with 14 children, she has no room for an adult relationship. She says she owns what she's done, takes responsibility for her poor choices.

However, at another place in the interview, Suleman clarifies that she by no means wanted to bear eight children at once. She said she told the doctor to put all the embryos in thinking only one might develop into a baby.

But still, why have even a seventh child? Was she addicted to children, to the connection? She considered that perhaps she was, "Kids won't leave you. (Having children) you can create a predictable society," she said.

These kinds of self-revelations sounded highly insightful. So, insightful one would wonder, with so many children and responsibilities, how did Suleman find enough quiet time to grasp this part of nature? I suspect, due to her training as a psychiatric technician and information that indicates she's had some graduate level courses in counseling, Suleman's heard that sometimes women do have children for unhealthy reasons and in that knowledge sees herself.

Filed under "Octomom Syndrome" at Women's Health Magazine last summer, Can You Be Addicted to Pregnancy?

Some women may like that pregnancy feeling a little too much, often driven to rapidly reproduce out of insecurity, a craving for attention, or feelings of abandonment by their own parents.

Infants are dependent creatures. They can give their mothers a clear identity; they can also become handy social buffers. At a party or on the playground, a woman struggling with feelings of social anxiety or self-consciousness can hide behind the adorable infant in her arms. Any pressure to be cute or charming or funny disappears— your baby has that covered. "Bumpaholics breed to blot out their feelings of insecurity," Weil says.

Motherhood is not a woman's sole purpose.

Those may be fighting words to some women who believe they've been "called" to be mothers through religious beliefs or a personal belief that motherhood is the most important role a woman can have in her lifetime. To me, however, it's possible for a woman to be overly-invested in raising children.

I left college to get married and didn't finish my degree until 16 years later, and while I have children whom I love and for whom I would do almost anything, I recall a period in my life when it occurred to me I was too enmeshed in my daughter's academic achievement. I was living vicariously through her school life.

When my daughter was in the fourth grade, she had an awful teacher who did not challenge students' skill levels. I still say, "Yes, an awful teacher." While I kept my anger in check in public, I developed a seething rage toward this teacher and questioned that emotion. I realized something must be missing in my personal life separate from whatever fulfillment I found in being a wife and mother, and I needed to address that hole. I decided the root of my rage was regret that I had not completed college. So, I went back to school, finishing my degree at age 36.

Yes, we should be good mothers, but motherhood does not annihilate self. Mother is a role with heavy responsibility and duties that should be executed with love. It's not a sole purpose for a woman's living, however, in my opinion. I know there are plenty of women who disagree, but I can't say motherhood is a woman's sole purpose for living because that would mean I was saying women who aren't mothers have no purpose. That would be a lie.

Oprah helped Suleman by having her on, and women like the blogger at Mind Tornado appreciated the interview.

This interview and look into Nadya's life I believe was genuine. I think that the reason why Nadya made the decision to implant the embryos was really discovered during this interview. Nadya spoke of filling a void in herself for companionship and love with children, and that the relationship with a child felt safer for her than a relationship with an adult. My personal opinion on Nadya and her situation is that sometimes you make the right choices, and sometimes you have to make the choices right. I believe she is doing the best she can to make the choices she has made right, and she is doing everything in her power to provide for her children and take responsibility for them. I think that under the pressure she is under with her kids, any mother could say they would do better. Behind closed doors we all know how we fail our children, and which one of us would be willing to open our lives up and let everyone see that. What kind of mom would you be to 14 children? I know what my short comings are with my 4 and the guilt I experience on a daily basis for the sacrifices they have to make because of our large family. Nadya talked about the guilt she feels in a very real way, and I truly believe that she gets it now, and also that she has owned her mistake, so lets give this lady a break. (Mind Tornado-Mom 24/7)

Nevertheless, there are women who still love to hate Suleman, who dissected the Oprah appearance and said terrible things.

Near the end of the interview, Suleman thanked all the people in her life who help her with her children. In addition, she appeared to say that we are not defined by what we've done in the past. Oprah, who often reiterates she thinks motherhood is one of the most important jobs in the world, wouldn't agree with that statement. Having that many children does define you to some extent, she suggested.

I think Suleman was talking more about how we judge and define ourselves because she clearly resented having others define her flatly as "Octomom." She repeatedly stressed moving forward, growing.

Quick questions and answers:

  • Has she considered putting the children up for adoption or in foster care? Suleman said "no." It hurt her when someone suggested she put Aiden, her five-year-old who has autism, in a hospital when he gets older.
  • Will she name the father? She answered that it's not her place to name the father.
  • Has she dated since she had the octuplets? An emphatic "No!"
  • Is it true her house is going into foreclosure? "No," she's reached a deal to avoid foreclosure.
  • Would never do a reality series? "No."

More on Suleman elsewhere

  • "Nadya Suleman: I feel guilty every day of my life" at CNN.

    At this point, with eight 14-month old babies and six other children between the ages of 3 and 8, one of whom has autism, Suleman doesn't appear to have the time to take up a full-time job.

    She does have three nannies who help her during the day in shifts. But even so, Suleman says she is constantly counting heads, making bottles or keeping a child from hurting another, as was revealed when Winfrey's camera crew spent 24 hours in her home.

    "You're so busy trying to keep up, you don't have time to think, reflect or feel anything," she told Winfrey. "You can't regret children, but [my] choices were childish, immature and selfish. I wasn't thinking at that time."

    "Nadya Suleman Tells Oprah That She’s Not the Octo-Mom" at Zelda Daily

    Video at Oprah, "What Nadya's learned about herself."

    If she knew then what she knew now, she would have transferred in fewer eggs. She never wanted more than six or seven children total, not double that, she said. She said she was receiving bills for storing the embryos and had misgivings about possibly destroying them. She feels that when mothers or anyone else faces overwhelming stressors, they have to look within and face parts of themselves they may have not wanted to face. She's learned that one human being can't give enough to even one child and that she has a lot more to learn and more growing to do. Oprah suspects that Nadya didn't get what she needed even though she was an only child.

    Sadie, writing at Jezebel:

    The story, actually, is kind of like the story we've heard before when Suleman has gone before the cameras, be it for the New York Times Magazine or the ladies of The View. As is the footage. We see much chaos, many children, a lot of nannies, some paparazzi, and Suleman running around like a dervish. And as we've seen before, she's obviously a devoted mom — albeit one who tells her 8-year-old son that he needs to go to school because otherwise "social services" and "the police" will take him away (a great argument for education).

    An older piece at People.com, Suleman was injured during a riot while she was working as a psychiatric technician. She collected $168,000 in workman's compensation

    A post not about Octomom, Having Children to Fill a Void WRONG

    Nordette Adams is a BlogHer CE & you can find her other stuff through Her 411.

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