Sanity on the Octuplets

Hysperia loves Patricia J. Williams and has for a long time.  At The Nation, Williams adds some sanity to the discussion of the octuplets birthed by Nadya Suleman .  Here are some bits:

No doubt Suleman has emotional problems. But rather than caring about her mental health, much of the media are content to pillory her as a drain on the public dole–selfish, frivolous, calculating and cruel. No Brangelina-style accolades of “God Bless ‘Em” in People magazine. Just impassioned calls to cut off her remaining sources of income and to criminally prosecute the doctor who fertilized her. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution even ran an op-ed calling for the government to appoint a legal advocate for every child born to an unmarried woman, since the “lack of a father’s guidance” must be “a major cause of [children’s] suffering.” Furthermore, in the case of Suleman’s children, “the legal advocate would file suit against the fertility clinic or a physician who knowingly contributed to their abuse–life in a multiple-child household headed by a single woman.”


This past fall The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story by Alex Kuczynski, fashion writer and self-confessed “cosmetic surgery addict.” Her wish to have a child was framed by fierce determinism, the “natural outgrowth” of marriage to her husband–without whom she “would skip the child.” Kuczynski is married to a man whose “sperm had a track record”–six other children by two prior wives. She, the third bride and twenty years her husband’s junior, described herself as engaged in nothing less than a “battle for my fertility”; having a biological child was “necessary,” a “mad desire,” a “compulsion” and “proof” of the marital bond, without which she faced “wrecked hopes” and an “abyss of grief.” Indeed, to die “without having created a life is to die two deaths: the death of yourself and the death of the immense opportunity that is a child.” When she thinks she’s pregnant, she feels a “shiver of victorious accomplishment…. my own fecundity triumphant.” When she tells people she’s not, she feels “barren, decrepit, desexualized,” “branded with a scarlet ‘I’ for ‘Infertile,'” “the dried-up crone with a uterus full of twigs.”

Just because Kuczynski is married and wealthy does not make her less obsessive or more profound than Suleman. Kuczynski sounds like a sad, silly child mooning over “fertile but fit” stars like Halle Berry, Nicole Kidman, Salma Hayek and “John Edwards’s sometime mistress,” who all had babies in their 40s. Likewise, Suleman takes heart looking at Angelina Jolie. Suleman and Kuczynski represent disturbing emotional extremes. But that should not excuse the rest of us from examining the oppressive competitive natality that seems to have gripped us–the fantasies of “baby bumps” and breeding, always breeding, yet more of “our kind.” Our culture’s antifeminist backlash and its unrealistic aspirations have bewitched Kuczynski and Suleman, these two young women who are so addled and so suggestible, so endowed and yet so impoverished. All these years after the age of “liberation,” perhaps it is time to revisit the myths we still concoct about childless women’s worth.

Perfectly perfect.

Read the whole thing here

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