Suddenly, Nadya Suleman is everywhere again—promoting a solo sex video, posing topless, and trying to figure out what’s next. Maria Elena Fernandez talks to the single mother of 14.
You would think that singlehandedly taking care of 14 children under the age of 11 might be exhausting. I mean, just the potty training of octuplets is enough to cause a mind to snap. But, no, said Nadya Suleman, what’s even more draining than that ordeal, which, by the way, took 12 months, is the public’s insistence on treating her like an “it.”
Suleman is probably the most famous single mother in the country. You know her as “Octomom,” the nickname the media gave her in 2009 when she gave birth to octuplets—a moniker she said she is ready to shed.
Not so fast, though. First, there’s the Octomom: Home Alone masturbation video to sell, the Dial-a-Star phone service that lets you talk to Octomom for $30 a pop, the payday-loan service Octoloan.com to endorse, and other ventures, such as saveeveryday.com or celebrity pillow fights, that rely on her Octomom notoriety to spark interest.
“People call me that. I don’t like it, but why not use it?” Suleman said recently in a telephone interview with The Daily Beast. “If I had not been catapulted into the public eye, I’d be trying to get my Ph.D. right now. I’m a total nerd, introvert. This is not me. I’ve never wanted to be in the entertainment industry. I’m going with the flow because what other profession could I possibly earn enough money to provide for 14 children? There is no other.”
Suleman is certainly in deep financial distress. This year she attempted to file for bankruptcy protection, claiming she owes up to $1 million to different creditors. But the court dismissed the case in May because she failed to include financial documents and statements that were required to accompany her filing. Now her home in an Orange County, Calif., suburb is in foreclosure, and she’s looking for a suitable and safe place to accommodate 15 people. The bottom line: she is desperate for cash. So she is riding Howard Stern’s Sybian machine, posing topless for a British magazine, and filming herself masturbating, even though she said she’s been celibate for 13 years, won’t engage in premarital sex, and is afraid of intimacy.
Everything she does, she said, services her journey to “find myself” and present her “true self” to the world while supporting her family. What she wants most is to get to a place where the world sees Nadya Suleman—not the creepy Octomom.
“If you think of the word, ‘Octomom,’ and all of the lies that the media has said, basically, I am the exact opposite of that thing they created,” Suleman said. “So it’s taken 3 1/2 years longer for the truth of who I really am to surface. And it is, slowly but surely. Once you slap a label on a person, you instantly dehumanize ‘it.’ ‘It’ no longer is a person. It’s time for people to realize that I am not different than any other struggling mom who wants the best for her children. I am doing the best I can.”
How Suleman got here is now a well-known story about a single woman so bent on having children that she underwent in vitro fertilization to get pregnant. The attention on Suleman only intensified after the octuplets were born and the press discovered that there were already six other children at home and Suleman was unemployed and on public assistance. There are many aspects of those days that Suleman is not willing to discuss anymore.
“I only wanted to have one more,” she said. “I thought I wanted to have a total of seven kids—not seven times two. No human can make an embryo grow. I had the eight because I chose life over abortion. That’s the only reason I have them because I refused to have selective reduction, so people don’t understand any of the truth. They just want to make lies and sensationalize because that sells. I’m so tired of talking about my past. I’m done. I’m sick of looking behind my shoulders and constantly defending myself. I don’t feel I have to anymore because I’m providing for them. I’m happy in my life right now. My children are happy and thriving and healthy and gorgeous. Why do I have to defend myself anymore? We finally get to be successful and moving forward. Why am I gonna give my energy up for the choices of my past? I need my energy and power to take care of my kids, which I have been doing to the best of my ability.”
“People hate what they don’t have. A lot of the haters are men. They’re not able to have children. That’s what it is. Bingo.”
But her parenting was challenged in April when Suleman’s hairdresser called local police and the Orange County Department of Family and Children’s Services to report that Suleman’s children were living in substandard conditions that required them to use portable training toilets in the backyard because the plumbing in the house didn’t work. After 90 minutes investigating the home, officials determined that there were no signs of child abuse or neglect, The Orange County Register reported. Terry Lynn Fisher, the child-welfare agency's public-information officer, told The Daily Beast that the law does not allow for her to disclose the findings but “the goal of the agency is always to allow children to remain in their homes whenever it is safe to do so.”
The incident was another topic Suleman declined to discuss except to say that, driven by greed, her hairdresser had been trying to set her up for a year.
“It makes it very hard to trust people,” she said. “I’ve never done anything illegal. I’ve never touched cigarettes or drugs. What—two glasses of wine a month? You know what I mean? If you really think about it—what have I done? People hate what they don’t have. A lot of the haters are men. They’re not able to have children. That’s what it is. Bingo.”
If that’s true, Suleman has her work cut out for her, since much of her newfound career relies on attracting the opposite sex. In addition to her solo sex video, Suleman has signed up to dance at a South Florida strip club this month (after canceling a similar gig in June because a bartender told a local TV station that she “must be a little crazy” for having so many children).
Although the mother of 10 boys and four girls said she has turned down many offers to star in porn flicks with other actors—and she insists she always will—she and her manager approached Wicked Pictures about Octomom: Home Alone which is on sale now. The movie, in which she appears lying naked on top of a pile of baby clothes, among other scenarios, made Suleman feel more sexually open than she has her entire life, she said.
“This is a very different situation,” said Suleman, a first-generation American born of strict Iraqi and German parents. “I still hold on to my morals and values in my own way. This is probably another thing in history—there’s never been someone doing something like that that is celibate. It was a very empowering and liberating project. It’s the first step in showing people that I am a person—not an ‘it.’ I feel that I’m becoming human to people. As people understand and know me more, that will allow them to understand the truth of who we are. We are not aliens. All of the babies are extraordinarily healthy and that’s never happened before. At this point, there’s a million more times more positive than negative when it comes to my life.”
Suleman’s eight youngest children have surpassed the previous worldwide survival rate for a complete set of octuplets. With the exception of a 7-year-old son who is autistic and requires more care, Suleman said the rest of the children are thriving. But press reports over the years have revealed that several of the children have speech delays, behavioral issues, and one son has a cleft lip. When she is out of town promoting her video or making other public appearances, a family that Suleman is close to takes care of her children.
“I believe God has a plan,” Suleman said. “I go to church on Sundays, but I didn’t really believe that until after I had the babies. They’re here for a reason. What exactly, I’m not so sure yet. I’m raising very productive and beneficial human beings to society, I’m hoping. Two of the other kids who are older are very much interested in medicine. Two of them said they want to be the doctors that make all the boobs.”
She paused and laughed before continuing, “I said, ‘Oh! OK! That’s fine. Be whatever you want to be. I’ll support you. When I’m old, you can help me out and make me look younger.’”
Suleman, who turns 37 this week, considers herself a work in progress as her Twitter handle @becomingnadya indicates. She said she might someday go for her postgraduate degree, but she also wants to start several businesses. Or maybe she’ll try a reality show. And then there’s also a book, which she said she’s been writing but won’t describe in detail. It sounds like a memoir. In it, Suleman said she delves into her attraction to motherhood and why she longed to be surrounded by so many children.
“I just love children,” she said. “My mind is that of a child. At most in my head I’m 18. The safest relationships are with children. They don’t abandon you. They love you and you love them. It’s unconditional. And that’s how it is with us. It’s the safest relationship, I think.”