Nadya Suleman: Being a mother of 14 isn’t just daunting—it’s deadly

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The scariest part about mothering several small children simultaneously is the overwhelming sensation of not being able to do enough, to ensure each and every child gets the love, time and attention it needs and deserves.

I know this because I turned twenty-one in August 1984, and gave birth to my fourth child eight months later. But shortly before that fourth and final birth, I nearly went crazy from the intense pressure I felt—and the enormous responsibility I knew was mine, to provide for every need of my four children. Having been depressed for years, I nearly took our lives: my three daughters, my own, and my unborn son.

I wasn’t a single mother in the normal sense of the word—but from early 1980, when I conceived my first child, until April 1985, when I gave birth to my last—I certainly felt like one. If my coal miner husband wasn’t working or searching for work, he was volunteering at our local fire department. A self-described “workaholic,” he was always busy doing something that took him away from home.

So the full-time job of rearing our four children fell to me. When my son Zach was born, his sisters were ages four, almost three, and 21-months old. I was still breastfeeding my youngest daughter. I turned twenty-two a few months later, but not before I was sterilized. Just as the decision to have four children in rapid-fire succession had not been mine, neither was giving up my procreative powers. It was one of the most difficult and emotionally devastating things I have ever done—but today I am convinced it was the only thing that saved my life.

More important, it saved the lives of my children.

My memoir, Sister Of Silence, tells about what life was like for me then, as well as why single parenting is so dangerous. I’m hoping to soon be able to provide a copy for the many interested readers who have requested one. Until then, let me say that all the hue and cry over Nadya Suleman’s decision to give birth to 14 children in less than 10 years is missing the mark. Just because Suleman’s mental thought processes may be in question, does not mean her children should suffer.

I feel sorry for Nadya, and she has my sympathy. (Just as I do her mother, Angela Suleman, who is bearing much of the burden of rearing these children.) Even more, both women have my empathy. I know how daunting—deadly even—it can be to try to bathe, feed, clothe, teach and train only four children under the age of five, so my heart goes out to the Suleman family. But this is not about the mother—this is about the babies who had no choice in the matter, who were born, are alive, and must grow to adulthood under less than favorable circumstances.

I used to pray for my children to become happy, healthy adults who also were productive members of society. But because I was so outnumbered, I feared I had too little love to give them, to guarantee that would happen. As it turns out, my four have surpassed my wildest dreams, in the wonderful adults they have become. They are caring and compassionate and a credit to their community. But it was “touch and go” for many years, and the results of being reared by a mother who wasn’t diagnosed with major depression until 1991 made all our lives, at times, a living hell.

That’s my biggest fear for the Suleman brood. They cannot escape who their mother is or the decisions she made that brought them into the world, just as they can’t escape the genetics that determined their sex, their eye color and their bone structure. What they can escape is what my children didn’t: living with a mother who was frazzled beyond belief because she had an inadequate support system, yet who tried her hardest to keep up the pretense that life was good, that she could handle anything—and her children were doing just fine.

How can the Suleman children escape what mine didn’t? Quite easily, you see. Instead of casting blame or calling names, do what’s right by the children. Help them in whatever way they need it: financially, emotionally, psychologically and socially. The first step in doing this is to have her fertility doctor shell out a huge amount of cash for the eight new lives he’s helped bring into this world—and the six other mouths waiting at home, who now have less financially and every other which way, as a result. Then the rest of us can get in line behind him.

But most important is this final piece of advice: Do not leave the children alone with their mother and grandmother. Regardless of the circumstances, but because of the children who had no say in the matter, these two women need a small army and round-the-clock support. They will for several years, until the entire family has gotten beyond the danger zone that comes from the deadly mix that has created the Suleman 14.

* * * *

My next book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, comes out November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!


Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”


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