LOS ANGELES (AP) - It seems so long ago now, but for just a day
or two last month Nadya Suleman was known as Miracle Mom, the
amazing woman who did what had never been done before: gave birth
to the longest-surviving set of octuplets.
But in short order the public learned that Miracle Mom was also
Single Mom, Unemployed Mom and Welfare Mom. And as fast as you
could Twitter "I hate Nadya Suleman," scores of Web sites were
dedicated to denouncing the so-called Octomom, others to making fun
of her, a rap music video lampooned her ("pops 'em out like a
toaster/needs a pacifier holster") and angry citizens threatened
to kill her publicists.
"In terms of reaction to her, I would say not in my experience
have I ever seen anything like it. And I would add that I was
involved in public relations for Three Mile Island after the
accident," said publicist Mike Furtney, who quit representing
Suleman after receiving death threats. (Lest anyone forget, the
Three Mile Island accident of 1979 involved the partial meltdown of
a nuclear reactor that for a time threatened to prompt the
evacuation of a wide swath of Pennsylvania.)
Not that Suleman is the first person to go radioactive
overnight. Don't forget O.J. Simpson.
But as pop culture historian Leo Braudy points out, Suleman has
never been accused of killing anybody.
"This is not something that is usually considered a crime,"
Braudy, who teaches at University of Southern California, said of
giving birth to children. "It's something that in the past was
celebrated. People would say congratulations."
Of the nearly 50 Suleman discussion groups found on facebook.com
this week, however, not one was headlined "Congratulations,
Instead there were titles like, "Nadya Suleman Should Be
Sterilized," "Nadya Suleman Disgusts Me," and "Stop Idiot Moms
Like Nadya Suleman." (And those were the printable ones.)
To be fair, there were also a handful of pro-Suleman groups,
although the "Leave Nadya Suleman Alone" one had only 61 members
on Monday compared with the 3,478 people who had joined the "What
Nadya Suleman Did Was Totally Wrong" group.
Although never venerated as a candidate for mother of the year,
Suleman was, for about two days after the Jan. 26 birth of her
octuplets, more the subject of curiosity than of ridicule and
That began to change as it became known she was a single mother
with 14 children who was living on a combination of food stamps,
student loans and disability claims while her elderly mother, who
was caring for Suleman's six older children, couldn't make her
It didn't help, either, that Suleman's own parents have publicly
criticized her decision to have so many kids, or that Suleman bears
a striking resemblance (some speculate a plastic-surgery-enhanced
one) to that other famous mother, Angelina Jolie, and that she's
been said to be looking for book, TV and movie deals.
That prompted Los Angeles Times blogger Elizabeth Snead to joke
that Suleman, like Jolie, might someday become a U.N. goodwill
"Probably not," Snead quickly concluded. "I don't think
there's a paycheck involved."
Elsewhere on the Web, Jodie Rivera, a popular YouTube parody
singer known as VenetianPrincess, put up a video of herself looking
eerily like Suleman. As she sang, a doctor in scrubs (also Rivera)
used a baseball glove to catch flying newborns.
"It was all in good fun, to bring a laugh to a situation people
are taking very seriously," said Rivera who herself acknowledges
she doubts Suleman is capable of caring for 14 children and perhaps
should give some up for adoption.
The site momlogic.com, which provides both lighthearted and
serious reports on motherhood, also got into the act, offering
eight suggestions for reality shows Suleman might do. One example:
"Fear Factor: Octuplets Edition," in which contestants are
lowered by harness into the Suleman home.
"Whoever can demonstrate the guts and determination to endure
one round of octuplet diaper changes wins the grand prize - a
lifetime supply of birth control."
Some people have offered to help Suleman, including a church
pastor, a nonprofit and even the man who says he was a sperm donor
for her when they were dating in the 1990s. Although Suleman has
denied that Denis Beaudoin is the sperm donor who fathered her
children, he told ABC he still stands ready to help.
The majority of reactions have been less than charitable,
however. A USA Today-Gallup poll last week found that 70 percent of
those surveyed weren't sympathetic.
USC sociologist Julie Albright says Suleman was caught in a
perfect storm of events guaranteed to outrage the public, some of
her own making, some not.
"First, we're in particularly sensitive economic times, people
are losing their jobs," Albright said. "Second is that physical
resemblance to Angelina Jolie."
Whether it's coincidental or not, Albright said, the resemblance
has led many to think Suleman is a "copycat" trying to elicit the
goodwill much of the public feels for actress Jolie, who with
partner Brad Pitt has adopted three of their six children from
People might normally overlook that as just silly if they
weren't already worried about losing their jobs and their homes and
if California wasn't broke and facing the prospect of paying more
than $1 million in medical bills for Suleman's babies while the
state issues IOUs instead of tax refunds.
"If someone isn't stressed and something happens like their car
breaks down, that's just annoying," Albright said. "But if their
parent has just died and they lost their job and their kid's in
jail and then their car breaks down, that risks a nervous
breakdown. ... That's what's triggering this angry, emotional
response in so many people."