Crazy 8’s.

When the family planning spending package was jettisoned from the stimulus bill, feminists were varying degrees of upset. I don’t remember who said it where, but at least one person argued that it should be part of the bill because bad economic times are bad times to have children, and therefore good times to encourage family planning. Whether the family planning spending belonged there or not, I remember feeling the ick factor creep up at this person’s argument. Obviously providing for children is expensive. But it seemed so callous and Big Brotherish to frame it that way. “Kids are expensive, and that factory job might not hold out. Why don’t I give you guys some pills!” 

I bring this up because it isn’t the only story about babies that has a solid ick component recently.  I’m referring, of course, to the octuplets in California. A couple of weeks ago, they became only the second set to be born alive in the U.S. and doctors made the announcement about this great miracle and kept everyone anonymous. And then it turned out that it was this woman named Nadya Suleman, who already had six children and was a single, unemployed graduate student. And then the stories started flying.

Among the ickiest are the questions people have about how she’s going to support these children, what kind of burden they might be on society, and when she’ll get a job. Suleman is right to think she’s being singled out because she’s single. People ask the same question of couples that have multiple births, but it’s more sympathetic and spawns lots of giving. Here she’s being chided as irresponsible, but she’s no more so than couples who have multiple births or those weird Quiverfull people. Just because those are couples doesn’t mean there are two incomes or the parental duties are split equally or their choices are any more economically logical. It just fits with our picture of a couple in love struggling to have babies and raising a nuclear family that looks similar to what we imagine our ideal is.

So I have no problem with the unemployed-ness or the single-ness or the six-other-kidness. Fine. We let stars dart around the world picking up kids from as many countries as they want. Who are we to say that this particular mother can’t have kids if she wants them?

It does raise the ethical questions about in vitro fertilization that should have always been there, but tend to get hidden when we see lots of cute smiling faces and a tired-looking mom who’s hard to criticize. Suleman didn’t just want to be a mother.  (If she wanted to have 14 kids, I’m sure there are 14 kids in California who would be happy to have a home with her for lack of one of their own. There are way too many children in foster care or who need adopting.) She didn’t just want to have kids. She wanted to have her kids. And she did it because she said she’d been depressed after a back injury, and she realized having babies would make her happy.

And I’m not going to judge her for that, at least, more than I would anyone else. Everyone wants to have their own biological child, it seems. I guess I understand that, though I must admit I don’t feel the same burning desire. What I do hate is how everyone, including Suleman in her NBC interview, acts as though it’s completely selfless thing to have children. Maybe raising children requires you at times to be selfless. And hopefully good parents put their children before themselves. But having your own biological children is an inherently selfish act. I don’t mean it in a judgemental way. I just mean it in the purest sense of the word: It’s evolutionarily the most selfish thing that we do. We’re passing on the codes that make up ourselves to the next generation. And each of us is the only one invested in our own genes. It’s self-reflective and self-affirming and self-concerned.

It’s hard to think of ourselves as fundamentally selfish beings, though, and I’ve always wondered if that’s why we sometimes  confuse a passive right to have children with an affirmative right to have them. Obviously, it’s a woman’s choice whether to end a pregnancy. But is it completely a woman’s choice to be implanted with six embryoes (Suleman said two became twins, leading to eight) all of which required a high amount of intervention to come into being in the first place? Women have the right to end their pregnancies, but do women have the right to have a pregnancy created for them, no matter how much outside help that requires? Do doctors have an ethical obligation to selectively terminate some of the implanted embryoes should they all succeed? Women’s bodies aren’t meant to carry and give birth to that many children at once, and it’s usually bad for the babies, too. Emotionally, as well, there are other clues that Suleman might be less than stable. Does she have to go through a series of psych exams the way, say, a candidate for plastic surgery would? At what point do we decide that, just because we can do something, it doesn’t mean we should?

Let me know. In the meantime, I think we all know someone who can help Suleman out.


18 thoughts on “Crazy 8’s.

  1. Scott February 9, 2009 at 12:23 pm Reply

    It was Nancy Pelosi who made the statement about birth control being stimulus while a guest on This Week with George Stephanopoulos. If Suleman or others want to have kids I say fine, but I don’t think society should have to subsidize those that want to be fruitful. Unfortunately, that isn’t want ends up happening.

  2. Mrs. Kay February 9, 2009 at 12:35 pm Reply

    Ok, you raise several points here. However, as a mother who was once a candidate for artificial insemination, implanting 6 embryos does not mean that you are guaranteed to have 6 babies. Usually, they have to increase the number of embryos to ensure that a pregnancy happens at all. In this womans’ case, it turned out that her womb was viable and she was able to successfully bring these babies as close to term as possible, which in and of it self is remarkable!

    And for the “selfishness” of opting to becoming a parent, it really is not. Going back to a world when there weren’t 6 billion people on the earth and humans were exposed to the harsh climate more so than we are today, posterity was all about the survival of the human race. To say that because in today’s world there are children that are already born that need parenting and thus it is selfish to choose to have your own is de-valuing the life of the unborn children to biological parents and saying that the lives of those that are here are of more value to our society. This I could not agree with.

    Yes, Nadya Suleman has been unfairly “marked” by her apparent irresponsible choice to have a big family. Yes, she should have as much support as she could get, especially in this economy and considering the state of the public assistance system in California. However, the arguement of the lives of embryos is really the heart of this discussion. How much is a viable embryo worth to our society?

  3. quadmoniker February 9, 2009 at 1:11 pm Reply

    Scott: I’m not referring to Pelosi. Many people made reference to birth control being part of the stimulus. I’m talking about a feminist blogger who said it was good to have birth control as part of the stimulus because a recession is a bad time to have kids. It’s the provenance of the latter, specific comment I don’t remember.

  4. quadmoniker February 9, 2009 at 2:00 pm Reply

    Mrs. Kay: No, the earliest hominids were acting in their own self-interest when they had children, too. Even before overpopulation was a concern. Biologically we’re driven to perpetuate our own line, and if other people had fewer kids that would be better for us, because they would have to compete less. That’s what I mean by selfish. And it in no way undermines the value parents place on the thought of having their own children. It actually acknowledges it. But they’re the only ones to whom it is valuable. And it’s about what the parents want. As any kid having a tantrum can tell you, they didn’t ask to be born.

    Secondly, artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization are not the same things. Suleman had to have dramatic interventions before there was even a viable embryo to worry about. The babies she’s had were not conceived in any way that would have been possible before the last generation. It’s not about embryos. It’s about what we believe about parenthood.

  5. ladyfresshh February 9, 2009 at 4:38 pm Reply


    i’m not okay with this.

    maybe i’d be more ok with it if she actually raised the kids
    but while i suspected she had support from somewhere…her parents
    it seems she took the support and turned it into a crutch
    and then she takes the unstable situation she already put herself in and then multiplied it.

    it’s not necessarily about her being single
    it’s about those poor kids who have a deranged baby making factory on their hands
    and who seems to have more interest in making them than actually raising them

    so yeah i’m gonna judge her for this
    this situation is all sorts of wrong

  6. quadmoniker February 9, 2009 at 6:24 pm Reply

    LF: I don’t know where you get that Suleman isn’t interested in raising the kids. And is she any more of a “deranged baby making factory” than the couples who believe that should have as many children as nature will allow?

  7. shani-o February 9, 2009 at 7:24 pm Reply

    I heard an interview on NPR in which a doctor who performs in vitro suggested that very few doctors would advise a woman to keep all 6 embryos… but that they can’t exactly say ‘no, we’re taking four out.’

    I admit, I thought she was being irresponsible, but I’d say that of any single parent (or even couple) who’s adding more to their brood while still living at home. And there are plenty of irresponsible parents with only one kid to screw up.

    I think rethinking parenthood is going to be one of the last frontiers of progressivism, if it ever comes up. There’s this strange way of masking ‘what’s best for me’ in ‘what’s best for the children’; and that goes both for people who are ‘deranged baby making factories’ and the people who criticize them.

    When we get to a point where anyone past puberty can produce a child (with the help of a partner *or* a doctor), maybe there will be a shift in thinking about what parenthood means? Surely that day is coming.

  8. ladyfresshh February 9, 2009 at 9:06 pm Reply

    if you are pregnant once a year for 8 years and your kids are under the age of…8, odds are pretty good you are not really there to actually raise your kids physically. frankly if she was more involved in the raising of her kids i doubt she would have an exasperated mother saying hr daughter has issues and also saying she will be leaving as soon as possible, this does not sound like a hearty endorsement of someone full involved and completely responsible in raising their children

    as for couples, moving the issue to theory
    in theory i usually have no problem with people having as many children as they please if they are fully responsible for the care of their children and don’t burden anyone else with their wishes

    but frankly watching jon and kate +8 and seeing other families doing the same on these new programs
    i have to admit i found myself perturbed at these people popping out children like candy. it does indicate a problem to me
    i do feel that they are more enamored with the idea of babies and the idea of family than the actual family itself and almost get a high out of the joy surrounding the initial stages of birth and parenthood

    yeah i know cockamamey idea
    but this is all very odd to me

    and i’ll make it odder
    though i am an only child
    both of my parents are the product of alternately 14 and 9 sibling families
    but for some reason i attribute this to ‘a thing of those times’

  9. ladyfresshh February 9, 2009 at 9:24 pm Reply

    you know how they blame rap for every violent thing occurring in society

    can i blame the brady bunch, 8 is enough and jon&kate+8?

    those shows need to be taken off the air for the public welfare…
    get it welfare…
    *drops the mic*

  10. robynj February 10, 2009 at 12:24 pm Reply

    LF: I find your assumptions wholly problematic. We don’t know how active she is in her children’s lives. And frankly, she has a support system in her parents, so no matter how you think her family should like, it’s wholly inappropriate for you to decide that the family unit she’s created (the one that includes the support of her parents) well…wrong. Maybe wrong FOR YOU. But clearly, not for her.

    Further, if people want to have babies for baby-having sake (and really, isn’t that what all parents are ultimately doing?) and they’re well cared for — whether it’s the context of a traditional nuclear family or some other family structure — why do you care?

  11. ladyfresshh February 10, 2009 at 5:41 pm Reply

    Robynj – actually her support system is leaving so
    she actually doesn’t have one for much longer

    so while it’s clearly not ok for me
    it’s also clearly not okay with her mother
    her main means of support

    and they’re well cared for

    this is the key
    i don’t think they are

    and while they maybe assumptions
    her own mother is supporting my assumptions with her comments

    as for the rest again in theory i usually have no problem with people having as many children as they please if they are fully responsible for the care of their children and don’t burden anyone else with their wishes

    but i do wonder if they are actually unduly burdening the children themselves and their immediate families with this need for large families in this day and age

  12. e. February 11, 2009 at 4:20 pm Reply

    i agree, I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to have your own children, but when you know that you are incapable of taking care of them, then I have problems.

    Let’s look at the facts, she’s a single mother, with 6 children (3 of whom are disabled and therefore require a lot of attention), living with her parents and in grad school. How in the world does this sound like the type of environment to bring even one more child?

    We now know she has received disability payments, 3 of her children receive disability payments and the whole family receives $490 in foodstamps a month. Her father is going back to Iraq to make money, the mother has lost two houses (and apparently all of her patience to deal with this) and the sperm donor doesn’t appear to contribute any money at all. Again, how in the world does this sound like the type of environment to bring more children into?

    So yes, her unemployment and her being single are two of my biggest gripes with this whole situation. It’s completely selfish and I am incredibly worried about how these children will grow up.

  13. ding February 11, 2009 at 6:09 pm Reply

    i think i may have been that feminist blogger (or one of them) who said that now is not the best time for unintended pregnancies and it makes sense for contraception to be part of the stimulus bill. (which is a moot point now that it’s been taken out.)

    now really *isn’t* the best time for unintended pregnancies. yes, children are the future, they’re cute, they’re sweet, we all have a right to have ’em, but from a pragmatic pov, unintended pregnancy inflicts an economic cost on a woman who may already be economically vulnerable: the cost of prenatal care (if one chooses to go to term), the cost in lost wages due to unpaid sick days or lost time for medical appts, the cost of delivery/labor, the cost of child care, added losses of time/wages if the baby is sick and there’s no other caregiver, as well as the basic cost of childrearing (in the form of increased living expenses, including food, transportation, housing, utilities.)

    if one chooses not to go to term, there is also the cost of termination (which ain’t cheap), as well as the cost of transportation, lost time at work, etc.

    those costs might never be incurred if contraception would be made more accessible and affordable during this recession.

    as for the ickiness…well, it’s not as icky as saying poor women should be sterilized (which i’m not saying.) i’m just saying it’s rational to make practical family planning decisions in light of this horrific economic crisis. when folks are hovering on the brink of disaster, why not err on the side of responsibility, i.e., contraception?

    but i don’t wanna hijack the thread so carry on!

  14. universeexpanding February 13, 2009 at 9:28 am Reply

    I can’t shake the first reaction I had when I heard this story. Greedy. Just damn well greedy. I know it’s not my place to tell anyone how many children the should have or how many they *need* but something about this whole thing is fishy and I want to know if they do psych evals of people who undergo fertility treatments. She had 6 kids already. I mean these are children not house plants! And now this new stuff about her plastic surgery and being obsessed with Angelina Jolie…maaaaan, I can’t have an intelligent conversation about this.

  15. Jessica February 13, 2009 at 2:24 pm Reply

    Is there any reliable source saying that she’s actually had plastic surgery and/or is trying to imitate Angelina Jolie? I’ve only seen it as speculation on Huffington Post and that insinuation seemed so totally predictable and mean-spirited that I didn’t give it much credence.

  16. unforbiddendances February 13, 2009 at 10:08 pm Reply

    As an adopted child with an adopted brother, I don’t ever understand this burning desire to have a biological child of my own, let alone 8 or 14. However, being a product of adoption, I’m well aware of the hoops that exist for potential parents. In order for my parents to adopt two babies they had to undergo a series of interviews and evaluations and submissions of proof of income and wait on a list for a number of years. Why shouldn’t a similar system be in place for those who wish to be artificially impregnated?

  17. ladyboss09 February 17, 2009 at 5:16 pm Reply

    she’s using children as anti-depressants! does this not speak to larger problems? this is akin to those teenage girls who have babies so they can feel loved.

    i’m on of those ppl who is annoyed at her for having so many children. it *IS* irresponsible and she *IS* single with no job and 6 previous kids. i think it’s unfair to say ppl find it acceptable for two-parent families to do the same. i dont think that’s true. i think ppl are less reluctant to judge when the parents appear to be self- sufficient and because typically ppl using in vitro are people who have had problems conceiving. this is not the case for this woman. in interviews i’ve read she’s talked about supporting her family with the help of her parents and her church. i’m sure tax dollars will go to help her as well and that bothers me. that’s just wrong.

  18. quadmoniker February 17, 2009 at 5:49 pm Reply

    Ladyboss: Since she was injured while working for a state hospital, your tax dollars were going to support her whether she had the children or not. She claims she will be able to support her family just fine once she’s done with school, and for the most part she exists now on student loans she will have to pay back. (I can tell you right now how true that’s NOT, but I believed it when I was a grad student, too). She also did have problems conceiving naturally. Families with multiples are no more able to support that many children at once than anyone else; they heavily rely on donations that dry up after while.

    I’m not disagreeing with you entirely. She’s clearly having children because she thinks it will make her happier than she is otherwise. And yes, 14 is a LOT. But how is that different from anyone else? Everyone has children because they think it will make them happy. We tend to not like to think of it that way, so we assign all this agency to our children that don’t yet exist. I think that’s why Suleman bothers people so much. She’s an unvarnished look at the unseemly undercurrents that drive parenthood.

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