Nadya Suleman became a household name when it was revealed that she gave birth to octuplets. That was news enough, but her notoriety grew even larger after it was revealed she had already borne six other children. Notwithstanding the Duggars, by modern day standards that’s an extremely large family.
But not every child born is considered a blessing, and Suleman’s case emphasizes this. One of the main concerns raised by commentators is her ability to support her multitude without government aid. We may pay lip service to the phrase that it takes a village to raise a child, but if it involves our wallets the village has other priorities. Although children contribute to social progress once they become adults, there is substantial resistance to supporting them economically along the way.
TMZ recently reported that Suleman could face foreclosure on her home if she couldn’t make a balloon payment of $450,000 (UPDATE: A payment plan was worked out.). Predictably, the comments on this report were filled with sexist vitriol regarding her (in)ability to support her family. One commenter had this to spew:
“Dumb Bitch! She should have thought about that before bringing all those children into the world! Hope they take them all away and she ends up homeless! Nasty Ass! She should get money to get that garage door she calls a Vagina! Fixed!”
Not surprisingly, once news of her financial distress hit, the porn industry came calling. Steven Hirsh recently offered to pay off the balance of her mortgage if she agreed to star in a sex tape. Although there are certainly those who actively choose to participate in porn, poor women sometimes don’t have the choice–it may be the only option left open for them to stave off hunger and homelessness.
Despite the time and dedication that motherhood takes, it is still not conceived of as work, because it is labor largely performed by women and doesn’t produce something that can be sold for a profit. At least in Venezuela, which pays mothers 80 percent of the national minimum wage, or Argentina, which pays mothers Social Security retirement pay without a requirement that they contribute to the fund, motherhood is recognized as contributing to the social welfare.
In the article “Middle Class and Broke” from The American Prospect, Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi write ominously:
Motherhood is now the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse. And, contrary to every popular assumption, the parents who find themselves in the bankruptcy courts are not chronically poor.
Instead of being seen as casualties at the interaction of capitalism and sexism, mothers who find themselves on the margins economically are often shamed. Anyone who has ever applied for social services can attest to the rigors and embarrassment required before one is blessed with the scant funding that is available.
And mothers who are poor do not suffer alone. According to the NCCP (National Centre for Children in Poverty), nineteen percent of children in the U.S. live in families considered officially poor (14 million children) and eight percent live in extreme poor families (6.2 million).
Although Nadya Suleman made the decision to have these children, none of the 14 asked to born. Even if we are contemptuous of her reproductive decisions, should her children suffer? When we fail to invest in children in the form of education, shelter, sustenance and healthcare, we create yet another generation who are not prepared to participate in the modern job market.
Motherhood and children are not nearly as valued as the social myth would have us believe. We do not support them economically nor prioritize their needs in our political decisions. Suleman has committed no crime; she simply chose to reproduce above the national average without a substantial private source of income. For that she is demonized.