A Tunisian woman who said she was pregnant with twelve babies appears to have been lying, perhaps to gain media attention. Have Nadya Suleman and the Gosselins established extreme fertility as a new and somewhat creepy route to stardom?
The Tunisian woman, a 34-year-old known only as AF, claimed to be nine months pregnant with six boys and six girls (if true, would this make her a Duodecamom?). Tunisia's Health Ministry, however, says she has "psychological problems and is unlikely even to be pregnant." A spokesman added "The woman has refused point blank to undergo a medical examination. Now we can't even contact her. She's gone into hiding." British doctor Peter Bowen-Simpkins had previously questioned her claim, asking somewhat amusingly, "How could you get 12 babies into the womb at the same time?" Well, they start out reeeeeall small ... but in this case, especially with AF and her husband now missing, the prolific pregnancy appears to be a hoax.
A doctor at AF's local hospital in Gafsa, Tunisia said,
It may be that she's trying to make money from television. These kind of people can make thousands from appearing on programmes. Perhaps that's what motivated her.
And indeed, AF has been compared to Nadya Suleman, who does hope to make money by "appearing on programmes." Along with her nemesis and possible inspiration Kate Gosselin, she offers a cautionary tale to those who wish to put their families in the spotlight — at least according to Mary McNamara at the LA Times. McNamara blames the intrusion of fame and TV cameras for the dissolution of the Gosselins' marriage, and says of the upcoming special Octomom: The Incredible Unseen Footage, "Fox should include the following warning label: 'BEING THE SUBJECT OF A TELEVISION SHOW IS DANGEROUS TO YOUR FAMILY'S HEALTH.'"
McNamara's claims about the Gosselins are a little specious — she asks of Kate, who says her marriage was bound to end, TV show or no,
Really? Your husband would have left you for a Star reporter and/or the daughter of the plastic surgeon who gave you a tummy tuck (free, because it was filmed), even if you had just remained some obscure church-going Pennsylvania family with a bunch of kids?
"Obscure church-going" Jon might not have taken up with a Star reporter, but raising sextuplets and twins would likely put a strain on any marriage. The Gosselins' notoriety is more disturbing for its effect on their kids, who have to watch their mom give interviews about her divorce while their dad consorts with various mall-faced twentysomethings. And Suleman's children, who, as McNamara points out, are basically forced to be on TV for their mom can pay the bills, are unlikely to benefit psychologically from the experience.
Then there's the effect on us, the viewers. McNamara writes,
There is nothing to be learned from the Suleman story, no connection to be made with average parents. She is, mercifully, an anomaly, tempted, perhaps, by the attention society increasingly pays to large number of multiples, but certainly responsible for her own actions, an easy person to judge from afar, to pity or vilify as the mood strikes us.
It's not clear whether Nadya Suleman craves the unconditional love of children or the or conditional love of a TV audience (probably both). But it is clear that the former enables the latter. Whether or not there's anything "to be learned" from huge families, viewers are fascinated with them, so much so that even faking a multiple pregnancy may start to seem like a media-savvy move. Part of this fascination is just prurient — what does her belly look like? Will she get a tummy tuck? How did she get all those babies in there? And part of it has to do with the very fact that Suleman and the Gosselins aren't average parents — they're extreme parents. Their stories take one of the most basic aspects of human life and make it strange and new again.
Of course, having six or even eight babies at once isn't new anymore — maybe that's why AF felt she had to up the fertility ante. McNamara says we're in the midst of "a crisis of either public health or education" characterized by families seeking TV fame. But Suleman's particular brand of fame may have an upper limit. If it's true that you can't pack twelve fetuses into one uterus, then the next generation of opportunistic families are going to have to find a new way to bring cameras into their lives. Brace yourselves for My Lonely Only Child, or James And Kim: The Couple With No Kids At All.
Earlier: Multiple Choice