Octomom and Child Protection.

One of the scariest transformations of early motherhood is the sudden, stark understanding of how vulnerable babies and young children are. Not just my kids. All kids. As I wrote this, waiting for my flight at 9 pm at the Los Angeles airport, a baby too young to lift his head cried on the dirty gate-area floor. His young father slouched in a plastic chair nearby, looking bored, as the baby burrowed his head into the stained carpet. Should I have done something? Like what, exactly? Fortunately Slacker Dad shook himself out of his daze and picked up the baby gently, cooed softly, changed his diaper and made the baby giggle, suddenly transforming into Father of the Year.

 

Which bring us to Nadya Suleman. One reason the Octomom story has captured national media is that we feel for her babies, all 14 of them. They did not ask to be born to a fertility-crazed, emotionally troubled, impoverished single mother. Almost all of us who have followed the story feel some maternal tenderness for the children and the lives ahead of them. The latest media tidbit are several 9-1-1 calls from the Suleman home to the police. In one recording Suleman repeatedly threatens to kill herself, and you can hear her children in the background. It is painfully obvious that even with only six children at home, the family exists in a state of chaos and hysteria.

 

But what do we do? Donate money to the Suleman family? ABC News reports 90% of Americans polled said no thank you. Do we offer to adopt the children? (I personally have reached my limit with three of my own; I’m not sure how much more stability I could offer vs. Suleman.) Do we call Child Protective Services? Disparage Suleman and her choices? Expect the hospital to care for the eight new babies indefinitely, supported by California taxpayers? Do we look away from the glossy magazines and TMZ reports, and return to our lives?

 

One of the truly great American cultural values is our deification of motherhood. Along with baseball and apple pie, mothers are worshipped – and burdened – with high expectations. Seeing another mom berate her toddler at the supermarket brings me to tears of fury; my reaction to Suleman runs to disgust. But I have to admit – sometimes I have been that apparently unbalanced mom others stare at as well.

 

If we are going to judge other moms’ abilities to care for their children, we have to confront two unpleasant realities. First: we have an obligation to help the moms do better. At the very least we need to protect their babies. We cannot just look away if we think abuse or neglect is occurring.

 

mrsncook
03.11.09

I know that I didn't have the resources or support that I needed when I had my first child. Breastfeeding attempts were squashed when people made some very rude and inappropriate comments. People always had something to say about how I was trying to raise my child, even though you could see that I was a loving mother who was trying very hard. I was told repeatedly that because I was raised in a dysfunctional home with no role model for how to be a good mother, I would become a bad mother as well. What they didn't seem to understand was that my strength and determination would carry us through, and all I needed was to learn a better way. Instead of slapping my hand when I reached out of help, they should have embraced it. Instead of harassing me when I opened my home, they should have shown me a better way. I received very little support and an enormous amount of negativity. I had the cards stacked against me, and frankly it's surprising I've turned out to be a good mother.

I didn't plan on having 3 children in a row. When I was told the birth control didn't work, I was shocked. By the third child, I was worn out. I had no support, and I was overwhelmed. People were working against me, making it harder to become the good mom that my children deserved. Then one day I snapped. I had enough. I absolutely flipped out on the people who were hindering me and invading my life. I let them know if they didn't have something positive to bring into my life, I didn't want to hear one single word of it. Slowly we transformed.

I was able to take everything I learned from parenting classes, tv (parenting shows), etc and begin to make it work. I began to get confidence and to trust my instincts. I made a lot of mistakes, but slowly I was able to find the inner mama whom my children deserved. I began to shut my house to outsiders who would challenge me. I began to stare people down and fight for our rights. I began to learn how to sync with my kids and do what was best for them without people buzzing in my ears about how everything I did, said, thought, etc was wrong. And it worked. We found our rhythm. In spite of "the experts".

Now my girls are 12, 11, 9.5, and we have a great family. I homeschool my girls, and we really enjoy being around each other most of the time. When we don't, we're able to respectfully talk to each other. I've come such a long way from 13 years ago that you wouldn't recognize me today, and I am proud of my accomplishments. My girls are well balanced, independent, beautiful people. Just recently they told me that they didn't like it when someone was always talking rudely to me, because that person doesn't treat anyone else so rudely, and my girls told me they didn't want to be around that person any more. They recognize the dysfunction and have chosen not to be around it. We've broken the cycle, and I couldn't be more proud.

Sure I would have loved to have had more children, but physically I can't. And mentally I probably would be a bit overstretched having more kids in the house with such strong personalities. We're a great unit, and I've accepted that this is what we can handle together. Maybe some day we might be able to be a foster family, but we'll see in a few years if that would be right for us.

I think the problem with the Suluman family is that she doesn't have the balance to make sure all of her children are strong and confident. I think we're outraged that a doctor would willingly add to this family of 9 when she is in no way able to handle 8 more. I think we're outraged that she's getting welfare when she chose to have all of these children even though she was overstretched. Her plate was full to breaking, and yet she heaped on the food. Now she's asking for another plate without any intention of stopping heaping on the food? This is ridiculous, and that doctor (is he the father) should have known better even if Nadya is too sick to.

And now you have children in a home who are unhappy who are going to welcome yet more children. She has created this mess, and her children are suffering. First, we have to be able to say "This woman's plate is overloaded, and we can't willingly add to it by helping her have more children." I think the doctor should help pay for him since he helped add to this situation each and every time. Second, I think we should each see if there is something we can do to help this woman get a job and support her children. She needs to be able to support her children independently without welfare, because she chose this path. If she wants to have 14 children, she needs to figure out what she's going to do...FAST. I think we also need to see how in the world she's going to live. Habitat For Humanity should help them build a larger home so they can help themselves fix this mess she made. If this woman cannot take care of her children, then maybe some of them should go to other families who are close to the Sulumans so they can be raised along side of them.

Most of all, I think this should be a wake up call in the medical community that we have to more responsible than to add to a problem like this. It should be a wake up call to neighborhoods that we have to talk to people bringing innocent children into a mess so we say, "This might not be the best option, but I'm here to help." And in extreme cases like this where this is so far beyond the normal, loving and supportive families should be able to step in and get the person the help they need if they are obviously sick.
But of course I realize this is idealistic thinking, and the world doesn't work that way. In the meantime, I hope the Suluman family is getting their toilet fixed and getting ready to crowd 8 more kids in to that home.

squeakere
03.06.09

I would second this but go a step further. There has been a widespread calls to limit access to IVF and other high-level fertility treatments to women who can prove they are financially capable of supporting the children, or women who are not (in goodness-knows-who's estimation) mentally unstable. Not only would this add significant costs to the already-ridiculous cost of an IVF procedure (which is frequently not covered by insurance), but it places in the hands of some unknown person or body the right and authority to judge whether the potential patient is mentally fit to be a parent (yikes). It is indeed hard to stomach - Nadya is certainly an extreme case no matter which way you slice it - but this is one area where sensitivity and and objectivity is of the utmost importance.