Sunday, February 8, 2009

How many children?

by Christina DiGasbarro

Tomorrow on NBC’s Today Show, the first interview with Nadya Suleman, the woman who gave birth to live octuplets on January 26, will be aired. A few snippets of the interview were aired on Friday’s Today Show to pique public interest. In the five-and-a-half minutes devoted to clips of the interview and some discussion between Matt Lauer and Ann Curry, a veritable host of important issues came up: how important her ability (or lack thereof) to provide for her family is; whether she is receiving so much scrutiny because she’s a single mother instead of in a marriage; what it means to be a good parent; whether her history of using in-vitro fertilization is significant; and, perhaps most saliently, what her motives for having a large family were.

Since it has been revealed that Suleman already had six children before giving birth to eight more, there has been a lot of skepticism about her motives. I’m not sure this skepticism does a whole lot of good, and I’m not sure it’s entirely warranted.

For one, it is very much worth pointing out that Suleman went into this last IVF treatment hoping for only one more child. When, instead, all six embryos (the same number as implanted in her past treatments) took, and two split into twins, she refused to selectively abort any of the children, a courageous decision which I admire and respect. It’s also important to remember that “all [she] wanted was children. [She] wanted to be a mom. That's all [she] ever wanted in [her] life.” While this is certainly not what every woman wants, we cannot deny the legitimacy of this desire any more than we can deny the legitimacy of a woman’s wish not to have any children at all.

She does admit that at least part of her motive for having a large family was to make up for less-than-satisfactory relationships in her childhood. There are, no doubt, unresolved psychological issues for her to deal with, but that does not necessarily besmirch her motives or make her selfish. After all, people have children for a multitude of reasons, most obviously and most often because they want to, whatever the reason for that wanting is. If she wanted all these children just for the sake of having them, or for the sake of the attention she is receiving, and if she then proceeded to neglect the children, that would, without qualification, be selfish; but thus far, that does not seem to be the case.

Ultimately, I don’t think people would be questioning her motives if she had given birth to only one or even two children instead of eight; she certainly would not be in the national spotlight if that had been the case. Questioning her motives, then, comes down to society making judgments about the size of a family—how many children it is appropriate to have in general, how many at one time, etc. Clearly, raising fourteen children is going to be more difficult than raising seven or two; but, since Suleman is more than willing to take on the challenge and has plans to provide for her family, how does it become our place to judge her for what she wants? If the challenge proves too great and she cannot provide even the most basic things to her children, that’s when her family or friends or the child protection services step in, because the welfare and basic survival of a person is more important than what anyone else wants. However, she has not been (and hopefully never will be) proven unfit; and it must be noted that she has already been raising six children, all the while having the same desire for a large family and the same possible psychological baggage that cause observers to cast aspersions on her now. But, unless at some point she proves unable to adequately care for her kids, it’s best to stop questioning her motives and simply wish her well, lest we open the door for public opinion to unduly influence, on principle, the number of children we choose to have.


At February 8, 2009 at 9:31 PM , Anonymous Emily Sullivan said...

Are you really endorsing a woman who is psychologically imbalanced and unemployed raising 14 kids? This is appalling. Having a large family is one thing--having 14 kids (especially as a single mother) guarantees neglect.
How dare you applaud this woman for bringing kids she can't take care of into the world--fourteen more kids born into poverty, fourteen more born without a dad. To applaud the selfish whims of an unstable woman is to undermine the harsh realities her children will face.

At February 9, 2009 at 9:43 PM , Blogger Robert McGibbon said...

>> "how does it become our place to judge her for what she wants?"

I think what Emily is (correctly) pointing out is that the question isn't just about what she wants, it's also about what's best for her children.

I agree with Emily that there's something unethical about condemning children to a probably life of suffering.

-Robert McGibbon '11

At February 10, 2009 at 2:10 PM , Blogger Roscoe said...

It's rather simple to applaud a woman for bringing any kind of human being into the world. Those "harsh realities" will pale in comparison to the beauty of their life. Maybe people should stop judging people's choices and go out and care for one of those 14 kids, go out and make their life a little more worth living. The happiness of these children is, as individualistic as this country is, dependent on the choices we all make. I mean, wasn't it just the other day that a study came out showing that people's happiness is transferred down three degrees of separation?

Though, just so I'm not misread, I must stress that just because I applaud a woman for NOT having an abortion, doesn't mean I applaud her reasons for having the child or the conditions in which she is having them. Of course, she shouldn't have had them in the first place, but it's not clear that refraining from having children is the same as aborting them. One does not include the killing of an already living thing.


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