Patty Dineen

The view from here

Having children by the litter

Humans aren’t designed to safely and successfully bear more than one or two children at a time.  Before the modern advent of medical treatments for infertility, anyone who gave birth to more than two or three children at one time was celebrated as a phenomenon.  Public judgements about the parents’ wothiness or intentions did not enter the picture.  It’s a different story today– a morality story where parents are judged as either good or bad.

Today, twins seem to be everywhere, and higher numbers of multiple births are becoming less rare.  Still, when one pregnancy results in the birth of six, or seven, or eight babies, it becomes the target of public attention…and of moral judgements.  Apparently we, as a society, have come up with a checklist to decide what is acceptable (even laudable) and what is not (even despicable).  Two large families in the public eye today have drawn starkly different judgements from the public.

Nadya Suleman, a 33-year-old single mother of six young children delivered eight babies after receiving infertility treatments.  She and her children live with her parents in a small house.  She is unemployed and receives food stamps.   Jon and Kate Gosselin, a couple in their late twenties, and their eight children (a set of twins and a set of sextuplets, all born after infertility treatments) are the stars of the very popular Jon & Kate Plus 8 show on The Learning Channel.   The judgement is in: the Gosselins are good and Nadya Suleman is bad.  

Both families are the center of attention right now–Suleman gets public assistance because she is officially poor; the Gosselins get public assistance (as in viewers and advertisers of their show) because they are cute and pass the morality tests we have apparently set.  One family has no father/husband present, is poor, had six children to begin with (apparently already having two is under the limit needed for disapproval), and doesn’t so far, seem to have a clever, engaging personality.  The Gosselins are married (although increasingly impatient and bickering with each other- their way of “communicating”); he has a job; they trot out their religious beliefs just often enough to make the point, but not so often as to seem self-righteous; and the kids are adorable.  They have turned their life with their eight young children into a money-making television show, complete with sales of DVDs, t-shirts, and books.  The ethics problems and the trade-offs are worth at least considering. 

Adults can understand and consent to giving up privacy in return for financial gain.  Such young children can’t possibly understand, let alone consent to, the kind of invasion of privacy they are being subjected to.  The show also seems increasingly out of place in today’s economic climate.  How many hardworking families with just one or two children can barely afford to go to the movies, as they watch the Gosselins take fabulous trips and get free services like plastic surgery, hair transplants, and tooth whitening?  It’s probably almost time to give the Gosselin children back their privacy and let them grow up without the whole world watching them do it.  Their loyal fans will miss them, but reality shows should stick with exploiting adults, not children.  And they won’t any longer present a tempting (to some with poor judgment and immature thinking) role model of hyper-infertility-fertility to emulate.

Meanwhile, public contempt is being heaped on Nadya Suleman, who may or may not be seeking to use her children as an ATM.  Her children also deserve to grow up with love and support, amidst caring adults.  And without the rest of the world watching their every move.  I wish them well.


Written by dineenp

February 11, 2009 at 9:58 pm

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