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But Suleman points out another difference: she suggested to Curry that the hostility reflected the fact that she was unmarried and had chosen this unconventional and overwhelming variety of single motherhood. (A male friend is father to all 14; she's hoping that once he's no longer in shock, he'll want to be involved in their lives in some way. Suleman's mother said he wanted to marry her, but she wanted to have children on her own.) Count it as another measure of recessionary stress, but at a time when everything is constricting and contracting and downsizing, her choices don't match the moment. Who will be left paying for the vast expense associated with caring for eight low-birth-weight babies (estimated at more than $1.3 million for delivery and hospitalization) or raising 14 of them? "The truth is, Nadya's not capable of raising 14 children," her mother says.
Suleman rejects the charge that she is reckless or irresponsible to have so many children without the means to support them. She said she has never gone on welfare; once she finishes her education, she told Curry, she'll be able to support her family. "If I was just sitting down watching TV and not being as determined as I am to succeed and provide a better future for my children, I believe that would be considered, to a certain degree, selfish." But the first to make the charge was her mother, who has had to support her. "Nadya promised to help me with the bills, but she never has," she told RadarOnline. "I lost a house because of it, and now I'm struggling to look after her six. We had to put in bunk beds, feed them in shifts, and there's children's clothing piled all over the house."
At the very least, Nadya can leverage our cultural hypocrisy; even as talk-show hosts flay her and bloggers blast her, she has hired a p.r. firm to weigh the offers: "She's the most sought-after mom in the world right now," said one of her publicists, Joann Killeen. Is she crazy to imagine there's a reality-TV show in her future as well? Or that her extravagant approach to mothering could turn out to be a shrewd career move?
Finally, there's the question of her motives, already a matter of much speculation ever since her mother told the Los Angeles Times that she "is not evil, but she is obsessed with children ... obviously, she overdid herself." Suleman told Curry that it was "always a dream of mine to have a large family, a huge family, and I just longed for certain connections and attachments with another person that I really lacked, I believe, growing up."
What did she lack? "Feeling of self and identity," Suleman said. "I didn't feel as though, when I was a child, I had much control of my environment. I felt powerless ... [My childhood] was pretty dysfunctional, and whose isn't?"
This is the part that makes you sad. People have always had children for all kinds of reasons, natural and noble and selfish and self-deluding, as though our offspring will make us feel better or younger or as if we'll live forever. But if anyone imagines that having children makes you powerful, well, that lasts for a little while maybe, when you're big and they're small and you're the only one with car keys and credit cards. But ultimately, being a parent may be the most humbling thing we ever do. No one ever feels they get it exactly right. And having 14 chances to try is not likely to improve the odds much.
So maybe we can call a truce here and let this woman work out her very challenging circumstances without our vitriol making it any harder. Listening to her and her mother in dueling interviews, working out a lifetime of needs and hopes and hurts, is just another reminder that the decisions we make about parenting are some of the most personal of our lives. These houses are all made of glass, and I'm not sure how many of us could withstand this level of incoming fire.