The Suleman Syndrome


By: Kristia Cavere

When America learned of the reality television show awarded to Nadya Suleman, the reaction was similar to the news of the octuplets born to her: the miracle of eight healthy babies was overshadowed by their mother being unattached, unemployed, and already having six children at home. Although an extreme example of a selfish instinct for motherhood regardless of one’s condition, this is an indication of an infection in society at large. The symptoms of the Suleman Syndrome began over forty years ago, beginning with a disregard for life, then a dismissal of marriage and men, and finally a glorification of single motherhood.

In June 2008, national headlines told of seventeen pregnant girls from Gloucester High School in Massachusetts who made a “pact” to become mothers simultaneously. In an interview with Time magazine, their school superintendent attempted an explanation by stating, “Families are broken. Many of our young people are growing up directionless.” One of their classmates, who herself gave birth her freshman year, further explained, “They’re so excited to finally have someone to love them unconditionally.” The ramifications of these insightful remarks were lost on a community and a country that remains bewildered over such increasingly common occurrences. What should have been illuminated was that these girls lacked a coherent family and were therefore attempting to create their own to compensate for this emotional need.

As the above examples show, the basic urge of wanting to be loved is manifesting itself in many inappropriate ways. To many young women babies have become a commodity for the love they will give the mother.

As with the pregnancy pact girls before her, Ms. Suleman rationalizes her behavior by invoking her own unfulfilling family. In an interview she stated that she “longed for certain connections and attachments” that were lacking during her childhood, and that “feelings of self and identity” were missing. Ms. Suleman was not content to find such a connection through her first husband, as she said, “I wasn’t in love at all with him. I was in love with having children.” This desire to have children to repair some previous life damage demonstrates the inadequacy of schools and their psychologists to compensate for shortcomings in families, which religion once used to help heal by providing philosophical and moral direction.

It was not too long ago when the decision to have a child was because of what the parents could bring to the new life. Now, more women are having a baby to make up for the mother and/or father that was lacking. Rather than a natural life progression and cycle of parents providing a loving and safe home for their child and then the child maturing and forming their own family, having a baby has become a regression to childhood. The new focus is on being a perpetual child instead of having a child.

There are 1.5 million babies born to single mothers every year in America, and their probability of poverty, crime, promiscuity, drug use, suicide, and failing out of school are exponentially higher than their two-parent peers. Since the 1960’s our culture has been brainwashed into believing the moral neutrality of all families being equivalent. But evidence has overwhelmingly proven that not all family structures are equal regarding the raising and outcome for children. In 1991, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead wrote in The Atlantic, “Family diversity in the form of increasing numbers of single-parent and stepparent families does not strengthen the social fabric. It dramatically weakens and undermines society, placing new burdens on schools, courts, prisons, and the welfare system. These new families are not an improvement on the nuclear family, nor are they even just as good, whether you look at outcomes for children or outcomes for society as a whole. In short, far from representing social progress, family change represents a stunning example of social regress.” Contrary to the popular portrayal, broken homes make broken kids.

Beginning in the 1970’s, the majority of Americans did not think it was morally wrong for a woman to have a child out-of-wedlock. Gradually the emphasis left the child and shifted to the mother’s happiness and well-being. The cycle is no longer correctly unfolding of children being the focus of their parents and then growing up and making their own children their primary focus. When children don’t become the center of their parents’ priorities they inevitably seek to become someone else’s focus to compensate, ironically remaining a child and attention junkie.

Although society is being told that love of self should be above all, we have seen the fantasy of individualistic freedom refuted. Octo-mom and the Gloucester High girls are concrete examples that, rather than just “me,” true human longing is for being part of an integral family unit where one feels safe to grow. The women and girls who feel this emptiness and desire fulfillment by having a baby love them should instead focus on finding a person they can love, and with this love to create a family and offer a feeling of belonging to a spouse and then children. The goal of a mature parent should be to love your children, rather than being loved by them.

In spite of these situations, perhaps the prognosis for society is beginning to look up. The one glimmer of responsible humanity from Ms. Suleman is her respect for life. Rather than see her remaining embryos discarded, she was implanted with all of them because, as she stated, “to dispose of a life is incomprehensible to me.” Selfish and foolish Nadya Suleman may be, but at least this woman values life, possibly the first step in the treatment needed to reverse the syndrome that now bears her name.

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