The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, February 9, 2009. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's blog at The Huffington Post website.
Is the Octuplets' Mother Crazy, Addicted, or Anti-social?
Watching Nadya Suleman, the mother of octuplets, calmly explain herself to NBC's Ann Curry, a number of concerns may rush through our heads. In fact, Suleman reminds me of no one so much as Rod Blagojevich. Both maintain they are are sane - and moreover right - in the face of nearly universal opprobrium.
Suleman claims that people disapprove of her multi-motherhood because she isn't married. This is true, of course, because it undermines her ability to support the children, both financially and emotionally. Indeed, she is also unemployed. And she has a history of depression. Taken together, her appearance raises these concerns:
Suleman is crazy. Suleman's placid demeanor while telling Curry she plans on supporting her 14 children while devoting all of her love and attention to each and every one of them reveals someone who is not realistic about time management. Suleman is self-possessed and articulate -- remarkably more so than Blagojevich, the former two-time governor of a large state.
What lies behind that calmness? Even more than Blagojevich, she seems incapable of comprehending the most obvious shortcomings of her behavior and life plan. Anyone who has watched programs about multiple births (usually thought of as five or more children born at once) and immense families (let's arbitrarily call these ones with a dozen or more kids) knows that they require military like precision, two capable and energetic parents, and someone earning a salary. Even then, these families often seem on the verge of chaos and economic ruin.
Suleman contemplates none of this. Perhaps she is doing some good financial planning around media contracts for her and her children's story -- even though reports are that manufacturers are refusing to donate diapers and other baby products to the family because she and her story are so bizarre. If I were Suleman, I would be nervously examining each child -- which she doesn't have to bother herself with since they are still hospitalized -- and frantically calculating my finances.
Suleman is addicted. Suleman's most notable quote from the interview with Curry was: "All I wanted was children. I wanted to be a mom. That's all I ever wanted in my life." This statement reminds us of teen mothers who feel that a child will justify their lives, as well as provide someone to love them. Suleman seems to have these feelings in spades. Having children as life justification is not unusual, of course -- even for normal people. But to go to such outlandish lengths to provide yourself this gratification, at the cost of any other possible life satisfaction and in a way destructive to you and your loved ones' lives, indicates addiction. "I want what I need, no matter what the consequences."
Suleman is antisocial. When the octuplets' birth on January 26th at a Kaiser Permanente facility was publicized on every media outlet, revealing the participation of 45 trained medical personnel, my first thought was, "Who is paying for this?" No one has yet asked or answered the question. Candidates include the general public, California taxpayers, Kaiser Permanente members. Ms. Suleman is not a self-supporting human being, even before her multiple birthing. Recently disclosed financial documents reveal that she collected more than $168,000 in disability payments between 2002 and 2008 for an on-the-job back injury, which she said left her in near-constant pain (I guess she won't be lifting those babies).
So paying for her children on her own is the last thing on Suleman's mind -- and apparently Ann Curry's and the rest of the media. Americans are just not good at calculating health care and humanitarian costs. While states and municipalities are drastically reducing their law enforcement, medical rescue, and health care resources, we still cheer when 20 firefighters and police officers rescue a puppy who falls through the ice. We spend up to a quarter of our emergency medical care funds on people in the last months of their lives, who rarely are able to appreciate these efforts.
But while doctors, hospital resources, and social services are and will be devoted to the Suleman clan, others will be forced to do without. This is our modern American reality, just as someone like Suleman is capable of playing on American generosity and bigheartedness.