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.