Nadya Suleman shocked the world when she gave birth to eight babies at once.
Suleman had been married, but she and her husband were separated. Later, her ex-husband admitted their relationship failed because of the couple’s inability to have children—he didn’t want to try in vitro fertilization (IVF).
After their separation, Suleman proceeded with IVF treatments, which resulted in six children before 2008. That’s when she became pregnant with eight more children.
Such an incredible pregnancy and birth made headlines around the world. People were absolutely fascinated by the fact that one woman could carry so many children at once.
IVF, or in vitro fertilization, is a form of “assisted reproductive technology,” which is a medical procedure that helps a couple who can’t get pregnant via natural means of conception. As with artificial insemination, the sperm and egg are brought together with the assistance of a physician, but IVF takes place outside of the woman’s body to begin with.
When a woman undergoes IVF, her eggs are removed, and the healthiest or most viable ones are inseminated in a laboratory dish. Once an egg is fertilized and the cells are dividing properly, the embryo is transferred to the woman’s uterus and the pregnancy proceeds naturally from there.
It is common for IVF to result in multiple babies.
IVF doesn’t always take the first time, and it’s an extremely expensive, time-consuming, and exhausting procedure involving a lot of medical tests, hormone injections, and other challenges.
To help avoid jumping through all those hoops more than once, multiple fertilized eggs are often placed in the uterus with the hope that at least one will survive. Sometimes several of them survive, though.
Because of this, one of the common side effects of IVF is the development of twins or triplets. Or, in Suleman’s case, octuplets.
The fact that Suleman’s octuplets were all born healthy was an even bigger miracle. These octuplets actually broke a record when they all lived one week. Tragically, no previous octuplets had all survived longer than a week because it’s a very risky pregnancy.
But Suleman’s babies were all born healthy and remained so in the weeks after they were born. Doctors were actually shocked that she had such a healthy group of children. This further reinforced the idea that the Octomom’s amazing birth was a miracle of epic proportions.
The state of California, however, was not impressed.
The octuplets were conceived via IVF, and the doctor who performed the treatment, Michael Kamrava, implanted Suleman with a dozen embryos. While he did so at her request, the state of California revoked his medical license, charging him with “gross negligence” and “repeated negligent acts, for an excessive number of embryo transfers.”
The state called this an “extreme” departure from the standard of care. Of course, the case highlights the role of physicians and medical care providers, and spurs questions about whether their allegiance should be to their individual patients or the greater good—whatever that may be.
Right after her children were born, Suleman hired the Killeen Furtney Group to handle her public relations. The firm quit representing her when they began receiving death threats almost immediately.
Suleman herself received death threats, and there was a protest outside her home where she lived with her mother. The day she brought the seventh baby home from the hospital, someone threw a baby seat through her car window.
Much of the outrage stemmed from the fact that Suleman had six children already.
Many people who undergo risky IVF treatments have no children and are desperate for at least one child, but not Suleman. She already had a large family and suddenly had eight more as the result of a single pregnancy. People were up in arms about this decision. But it was a decision both she and her physician decided was hers to make.
“I don’t get much sleep, about two or three hours a night,” she told People magazine. “But I’m continuing to move forward with my life and trying to be the best mother I can be.”
But many people saw it as a publicity stunt on Suleman’s part. The fact that she immediately hired a PR firm and started giving interviews to magazines like People right after the children were born contributed to the perception that she had the children only to become famous.
Suleman adamantly denied those accusations, saying she just loved children. She also stated that the embryos used in the pregnancy were left over from previous treatments and she didn’t want them to be destroyed. However, statements from her doctor have contradicted that.
People were also upset because she was a single mother with 14 children.
Having 14 children is a monumental task for even the wealthiest parents, but Suleman was a single mother who was still in school. This only added fuel to the fire and contributed to suspicions that she had selfish reasons for conceiving the children.
Many people suspected that she would eventually come to rely on public assistance, although she vehemently denied the possibility. She went through several publicity handlers in the midst of these rumors, but that didn’t stop her from basking in the media attention.
She had an interview with Ann Curry in February 2009, approximately one month after her children were born. She later sat down for an interview with Dr. Phil. There, attorney Gloria Allred read a list of complaints regarding Suleman’s ability to care for that many children.
Suleman even reportedly struck a deal for a TV show in the UK, but it was also reported that U.S. stations were hesitant to pick up the show due to the public’s reaction to the pregnancy.
In 2012, she made headlines again when it was reported that she was on welfare
As many had predicted, Suleman had difficulty supporting all her children on her own. She was receiving public assistance from the state of California to help with her 14 kids. She declared personal bankruptcy and reported a debt of more than $1 million.
There were reports of her neglecting the children while spending money on herself, but when child protective services investigated, they found the children happy and healthy, although the environment they lived in was not as clean as one would hope.
While accusations of neglect were unfounded, the children were found using training toilets outside because of the house’s faulty plumbing.
In 2013, Suleman was accused of breaking the terms of her lease and was forced to vacate her rental home. After she moved out, the landlord claimed that the home smelled of urine and that there was a lot of trash left behind.
These tough times led to her next career.
That year, she starred in an adult film titled Octomom Home Alone. It was a movie starring just her and no other actors—male or female. She also released some music that year and appeared in another musician’s music video, but the adult video generated much more income.
She began dancing at gentlemen’s clubs, bartended, and eventually had to check herself into a treatment center in Los Angeles for anxiety and stress. But the problems didn’t end there…
These jobs actually led to criminal charges regarding welfare fraud. The state of California alleged that Suleman had failed to disclose $30,000 in income generated from her movies and dancing. She pleaded no contest to the charges and received 200 hours of community service, two years of probation, and a fine.
Her lawyer announced that with support from friends, she’d already paid back the welfare system. And how she makes her living now is anyone’s guess. Perhaps she’ll surprise everyone and publish The Octomom’s Guide to Budgeting someday.
Today, she raises her children largely out of the public spotlight.
Suleman hasn’t really been heard from since the allegations of welfare fraud. There were reports that she would star in an edition of Celebrity Big Brother, but it never happened. Instead, she’s retreated from the spotlight to live a quiet life. But who knows what the future might hold for her? We wouldn’t be surprised if we saw her on TV in the future. But, for now, it looks like she’s settled down to raise her children.
Suleman addmitted to possibly having been a “baby addict” at the time she demanded IVF during an interview with Oprah Winfrey, and some have gone so far as to label her a baby hoarder. Both of these seem like reasonable explanations for her compulsive desire to surround herself with so many children. As an editorial piece in the Los Angeles Times points out, hoarders have trouble making decisions and experience anxiety when presented with the possibility of discarding things they perceive as valuable.
In Suleman’s case, it would make sense that she considered the embryos she and her husband had created during their first IVF experience to be too valuable to get rid of—thus insisting they must be “used.”
As her offspring grow up and become more aware of the circumstances that surrounded their birth, we imagine they’ll struggle with questions surrounding their fame as well. Ultimately, none of it matters, as long as they remain healthy and happy and grow up into well-adjusted, responsible adults. Only time will tell on that score.