Echoes of Nadya Suleman

I still believe that women should have the right to have children alone, as long as they have a sustained ‘village’ of friends and family backing them up, and have a job or profession that allows them to be economically stable to handle what can be a lifelong commitment even after the children turn 18 or 21.  However, few women have even one or the other for this journey, and they not only produce one, but several children, and I am always asking why. Reading about Nadya’s particular story, something really struck me as nearly identical to the story of one young woman I met while working as a temporary employee.

I’m going to call her Nia. Nia had two children, one by a previous boyfriend and another by the boyfriend with whom she was cohabiting.  She was twenty-one, biracial, short and tubby with baby fat that she hadn’t yet shed. And Nia had a lot of problems.  Nia’s current boyfriend, a young brother I’ll call James, wasn’t working; he had had too many bad habits and as a result, he was let go from his job. He was averse to watching the children while she was working.   James would rather go out with his friends up to no good at all hours, while expecting her to be ready to have sex with him late at night when she was trying to get some sleep for the next day.   In other words, he was like her third child rather than an adult. They fought often, with James sometimes striking and pushing her. They lived on the Northside of Madison, in an apartment building, she said, that was notorious for drugs; dope smoke lingered in the hallways, and she wanted to move.

She worried about the children constantly; one appeared undersized for her age and was picky about her food; the infant was ill all the time. This meant that she was repeatedly absent or late during her assignment. Her goal was to stay as long as possible on the job and eventually, to leave James and to get out of that apartment. Drama, drama, drama.

Naturally, after days of this, I was concerned with and wanted an out from all the drama, drama, drama. I looked into whether she could enter the YWCA, but she had two children, not the one that they required. I told her about Nichiren Buddhism, gave her a copy of the SGI-USA newspaper, World Tribune, that talked about kids and women overcoming their problems. Once, I found that I had listened to Nia for half an hour more than the fifteen minutes allotted to us for  break time.

I asked Nia what she wanted to do, and she said that she really wanted to go to school and get training to be a nursing assistant. The children and their needs came first, though, and dealing with her current situation. She had few friends. Interestingly, her mother worked two jobs and was adamant about not helping her.

Suddenly, James reformed. A friend of his had died young, either from gang violence or from an overdose.  After a few heart-to-heart talks after the funeral, she joyously reported that he was helping out with the children, becoming more active in getting a job, and was planning to take them all to Chicago to be with his mother for the holidays.

First, I told her that I was glad for her. Then I warned her that it probably wouldn’t last, and that he could easily turn back into the same sullen James when he got over his fear.

“What’s he afraid of?” she said, with her eyes getting bigger.

“Death. His friend died. He could be just like his friend. He doesn’t want lightning to strike again. Be careful. Just be careful. Keep going after what you need.”

It was just like letting air out of a balloon. “What, you mean that he can’t change?”

“No,” I said. “It’s just too quick. If he had changed bit by bit, then I could see it. But he’s just afraid.”  Then I added, “Just don’t get pregnant again.” That was my secret fear for Nia.  A third child would make it even harder for her to get that nurse’s assistant training.  I wanted to ground the girl in reality.   I’m sure she called me a dried-up old prune behind my back (her boyfriend, she once reported, cautioned her that I might be a lesbian), because I ended up making her defensive and angry.

“What do you mean, don’t get pregnant,” she pouted. “If I get pregnant, I get pregnant. If a baby’s going to come, it’s going to come.”

She didn’t believe in being careful; that is, using contraception. “When you have a baby, it’s something special, it’s a part of him and you…,” she said as breathily as an activist repeating some tract by heart for the umpteenth time.

“No,” I said, firmly. “If he’s not there to raise the baby with you, to be with you and support you with his family and your family, and your friends and his friends, then it is not as special as you think.”

I have no children, not that I didn’t think about having one. I just wanted to have love and children with a man who wanted to be a father and a husband.   He didn’t show up in time.  I had seen in high school where a few girls—Latino, white, and black—dropped out of school but returned proudly pushing baby carriages showing off to friends during lunch, then leaving after the bell rang for fourth period. In college, the black women dropped out to have babies for the revolution that decreed that the birth control pill and any kind of contraception was tantamount to genocide. They never returned before I graduated.  (Of course, I knew that college was also a place where a woman could get an ‘MRS degree.’) I had missed both father and stepfather growing up. I didn’t want to inflict that on any child that I might have.

One wayward cousin finally had child after child by different men in the Sixties, to our family’s disbelief.  My grandmother, before her death, intervened several times to give my cousin a home and a time out and talking to.  My cousin, however, refused to marry the father(s) of her children when they offered.  There was something strange about her choices because the benefits of the New Deal offered something up-and-coming New Orleans blacks took advantage of: legal marriage and passing property and money down to children from those marriages.  I will say, if a black woman had made the kinds of choices Nadya has made, the amount of vilification, race baiting and media coverage would have been far worse.

Furthermore, there was to be no enjoyment or self-discovery in sex. If you had sex without precautions, you were sure to eventually become a mother, and that was that. I knew this long before I left grade school. I had my dream of going to college, and I knew that the moment I went to the back seat of a car or accepted an invitation to enter some house where the parents were gone would spell the end of that dream.  It took only one encounter.  And there were just enough young women who were ignorant about themselves and their bodies, and who bought into what their culture and community said about sex who became pregnant.

One of my former co-workers had her daughter in this manner.  Her mother and grandmother had withheld vital information about sex, she said, as she grew closer to her boyfriend, although my co-worker was about to enter college. Weeks before registration day, she found that she was pregnant.  The mother and grandmother, formerly silent and unsupportive about her attending college, were jubilant.  They did not offer her any alternatives, such as access to abortion or even adoption, and she was forced to have the baby and to give up her dream.  She did not marry her boyfriend, but he contributed support now and then.  Years later, she was still angry at her mother and grandmother, who were clearly afraid and jealous of the young woman who was about to break a generational chain of dependence and hardship.

Nia had deliberately planned to get pregnant at 16, after hearing from her doctor that she had developed a gynecological malady (from being molested by a relative) that gave her a much smaller possibility of having children later.  When I asked her whether she had received a second opinion or why she hadn’t waited until she had moved into her twenties (and received that needed education), she said she hadn’t and that it didn’t matter because she liked children and that caring for them gave her something to do with her life. Being productive is one thing, but raising a child is another.  Nia had given herself few informed choices in having children with two young men who were as ill-equipped for fatherhood as she was for motherhood. As a result, they existed, fucked and fought on the edge. As I understood, even marriage wasn’t about this much drama.

What strikes me about Nia’s story and that of Nadya Suleman is that both women claimed that their doctors told them that it would be difficult for them to have children later for various reasons. This set them off to find any partner willing to say that they loved them who would give them children—or in Nadya’s case, sperm donors.  Both mothers were unhappy over their daughters’ choices, to the point where Nia’s mother refused to help her further in any way. Both women did not believe in abortion. Though they were not steady churchgoers, someone or something had gotten to them. Nadya believed her fertilized frozen eggs were human beings and refused to even sell them or give them up to other couples or for research. Of course, these were sentiments that would probably endear them to the anti-abortion crowd, but I have yet to see their advocates openly pump their fists in the air for Nadya, much less offer any assistance to her.

Nadya had tried marriage, but for one reason or another, she and her husband parted without having children. And it wasn’t that Nadya did not have suitors after her divorce who wanted to marry her. She just wanted to be a mother. Nadya became a mother without planning, in the long run, how she was going to care and provide for them independent of her parents. Just saying that you will care for and love these children is not enough.  These days, you need the equivalent of two incomes to take care of even one child from cradle to high school graduation, and single mothers—divorced or not—continue to raise children at or below the poverty level. Negative coverage continues to mount against Nadya as the time nears for some of the octuplets to go home with her. Thanks to and other entertainment blogs, it seems that Nadyas experiencing nothing but drama, drama, drama with her other children, though in an interview with Dr. Phil, she asked why was she with her 14 children were being scapegoated when other parents have as many or more children. I’m expecting any day that the State of California is going to intervene and take the octuplets, and possibly the other six Suleman children into protective custody because Nadya has few resources at her disposal. She—and her already overtaxed and aging mother and father—will become overwhelmed.

And this is what concerns me with the thousands of other Nias who don’t want to see their mirror image in Nadya Suleman. At first, I thought it had a lot to do with the state of being pregnant with all of those endorphins and hormones pumping and pounding through her body, but I thought otherwise. What makes motherhood so alluring that it is such a better ‘career’ choice in the minds of these young women and girls rather than finding out who they are, and what else they have to offer? Where is the gratification? Where is the payoff, compared with anything else life has to offer? It doesn’t keep the men. Especially in Nia’s and my cousin’s cases, couldn’t they have found a better way to recover from childhood sexual abuse and the death of a parent? I’m not one of these people that fault the welfare system entirely, because I have seen that it is a necessary but temporary refuge until the mother is able to preschool the child and get skills or work. Nor does the blame sit with parents who do teach their children right from wrong, and how to act with common sense, or with Mia Farrow and Angelina Jolie, the two celebrity moms who have adopted several children with or without boyfriends or husbands.

There was a friend of mine who said recently that it took her until she was 30 to step out cleanly out of the drama that she had made for herself. She hadn’t thought about what it truly meant, like an adolescent whose brain hadn’t matured enough to understand the ramifications of her actions. She had three children before she found that she could not go on in the same ways. I think Nia is like that; there may have been no one there to tell her otherwise and to steer her right. Or, she was unable or unwilling as yet to hear and to see that message. There are not a few adults who still have child minds, and replay that dream with a happy ending. Nadya, I believe, is one of those people. There was a lot of secrecy and deception involved when Nia conceived her first baby. There was a lot of secrecy and deception involved when Nadya conceived all of her children, even keeping the news that she had thousands of dollars from a settlement from her mother.   Deception, not privacy.  The money, no doubt, she used for the IVF treatments. And now the children are here. The children Nadya dreamed about. I know we haven’t yet seen the end to this.

~ by blksista on March 7, 2009.

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