Fabulous pulls up outside Nadya Suleman’s ’70s-style detached house in a quiet
Californian cul-de-sac called Madonna Lane. A long, sweeping drive leads up
to the front door, over which hangs a Halloween decoration. It reads: ‘Enter
If You Dare’. We’d like to, but the woman christened “Octomom” by the US
media is running late.
When you’re a single mum with 14 children all under the age of 10, it’s
totally understandable. So, we wait. An hour later she arrives, driving a
silver people carrier. There’s no sign of any children, and she’s full of
With long raven hair and dressed for the gym, she’s more attractive in the
flesh than in photographs. She’s also in great shape for a woman who’s had
multiple pregnancies. Surely the surgeon’s knife has helped her? She insists
Nadya, 35, leads us into her home. The hallway has a grand staircase, but
that’s where any hint of glamour ends. The rest of the house resembles a
nursery. Toys – plastic trucks, bouncing balls, baby books – are piled high,
spilling out from containers, teetering on the edge of shelving units and
falling out of cupboards.
Nadya leads us into the lounge; the only furniture in the room is a small
brown sofa. There’s no coffee table, no TV and no family photos gathering
dust. Apart from one large painted canvas with the words: ‘Bless These
Babies’, there is nothing on the magnolia walls.
Every spare inch – from the garage converted into a playroom, to the laundry
room rammed with children’s clothes – tells you this is a home where
children rule the roost.
Yet, surprisingly, for the first two hours of our visit, it is completely
silent. The octuplets are asleep.
“It’s not normally so calm,” says Nadya, who talks at a million miles an hour.
“Wait until they wake up,” she warns, with a tired smile. They’re being
looked after by her live-in nanny Teresa, a Latin-American woman in her 30s.
Calm before the STORM
Nadya’s six older children – Elijah, nine, Amerah, eight, Joshua, seven,
Aiden, five and three-year-old twins Caleb and Calyssa – are at school and
Teresa offers me a bottle of water to drink. “It gets crazy when they’re all
here together,” she whispers.
Kneeling on the carpet, Nadya begins to tell her story. She was born in the US
to an Iraqi father, Edward, and eastern European mother, Angela. An only
child, she says her father was warm and affectionate but her mother was
cold, and she yearned for a big, loving family.
When she was a 21-year-old psychology student, she unsuccessfully tried for a
family with her then partner Marcos Gutierrez, a store manager. After five
years she was diagnosed with blocked Fallopian tubes and told her only hope
was IVF. That was when a friend introduced her to controversial fertility
doctor Michael Kamrava.
By then she and Marcos had split up, but Nadya was still desperate for a
family of her own. On her own.
She approached a former boyfriend who agreed to act as a sperm donor. Nadya
has never revealed his identity.
“He agreed to help,” she says with a shrug. “The children have not and will
not have any contact with him. I do feel guilty depriving them of a father
figure but I have to push the guilt away.”
The first IVF attempt failed but the second was a success and Elijah was born.
Over the next four years she gave birth to five more babies through IVF.
“I was happy with six children,” she says. “I was still studying and hoping to
get my PhD in child psychology, and we were a busy but contented household.”
Despite reports that she underwent over 12 cycles of IVF to have the
octuplets, Nadya insists: “I got a letter from the clinic telling me I still
had some embryos frozen. I thought I either use them or lose them and it
didn’t feel right to destroy them. They were all little lives…”
So in June 2008, she returned to Dr Kamrava, who implanted 12 embryos, one
final time. Nadya says she believed he transferred six embryos, with little
chance of them all implanting.
“But at three weeks pregnant my stomach was the size of someone who was three
months pregnant,” she says. “I had an early ultrasound and the doctors told
me that there were at least six babies in there. I was speechless with
She believed she would miscarry many of the embryos. “I expected the number to
reduce naturally.” But at Nadya’s 17-week scan doctors counted seven.
“I was panicking. How on earth was I going to care for them all?” she recalls.
But she says she never once thought of terminating any of them. That goes
against all her principles and beliefs.
Baby number EIGHT
On January 26, 2009, at 31 weeks into her pregnancy, Nadya was taken into the
Bellflower Medical Centre close to Los Angeles. One by one, seven babies
were delivered by Caesarean section.
“I felt like a carcass being ripped and torn by a pack of hungry lions,” says
Nadya quietly. “Right at the end, just as they were about to stitch me up,
they found baby number eight, a boy, hidden under my diaphragm.”
She named the six boys Noah, Isaiah, Makai, Josiah, Jeremiah and Jonah. The
two girls were named Nariyah and Maliyah. They weighed between just 1lb 8oz
and 2lb 12oz, but were all healthy and strong.
At one week old, the newborns became the world’s longest-surviving octuplets
and the media soon got wind of the story.
After that, things were never quite the same. Back then, Nadya’s mother was
there to help – they have since fallen out after rows about money and,
although her mother still visits her grandchildren, she and Nadya don’t
Just as Nadya begins to describe how her life was turned upside down, we are
interrupted by the sound of a toddler crying – first one, then two, then
eight wailing voices fill the house.
We follow Nadya into one of the four bedrooms and we’re greeted with an
Eight cots are neatly positioned head to tail around the walls. The only other
items in the room are a bench for nappy changing and a TV showing a cartoon.
Each cot contains a screaming child trying to clamber out. These children
seem terrifying at first glance – angry, hungry and impatient.
Surprisingly, they all look different. Blonde, brunette, pale skin, olive
skin… Some have curls, others straight hair.
“They are very aggressive, strong kids, just like I was when I was a child,”
their mother says. “All have different personalities, some are bigger and
bossier than others.”
She adds: “They all fight with each other, they pull each other’s hair. It
really is survival of the fittest in my home.”
No doubt. Nadya doesn’t expect her older children to help out. “It wouldn’t be
fair, they shouldn’t be the parents. I try to give them all love and
attention, but no one gets enough,” she says.
Suspicious OF MEN
What about a man around the house – does she ever dream of a knight in shining
“I don’t miss sex and I’m not looking for a relationship,” she says quickly.
“I am suspicious of all men. I got a lot of unwanted attention from men as a
young woman. In my mind all men who like children are potential paedophiles
[she won’t elaborate on this] and I’m very overprotective of my children.”
Despite the health risks of multiple pregnancies, the 21-month-old octuplets
are all thriving, although Jonah has a harelip, which will be fixed by
surgery soon. One of her older sons, Aiden, is autistic. He doesn’t like to
be touched and doesn’t make eye contact or speak. He will probably always
But Nadya doesn’t feel she’s been irresponsible. “I am a very optimistic
person,” she says. “I’m always planning for the future and I’m confident
everything will work out.”
It’s SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST in my home]]>
“I have very high expectations for the children. I expect at least half of
them to become doctors and paying for college fees isn’t something that
concerns me. I’ll find a way.”
But at the moment Nadya’s finances are her most pressing concern. It’s been
reported she made $160,000 (£100,000) from selling her story when the babies
were born, and for appearances on TV shows around the world.
But it seems the money has all run out. She is reported to be $500,000
(£300,000) in debt and about to be evicted from her home.
We ask her just how bad things really are. There are claims in the American
media that she’s been offered a starring role in a porn movie.
She tells me things aren’t as terrible as has been reported, but she is in
need of cash. She’s behind on her mortgage payments and owes significant
amounts on loans.
Last month she held a yard sale and made $2,600 (£1,600). But things aren’t so
bad that she needs to accept repeated offers to star in an X-rated movie.
She describes the idea as “gross”.
Nadya also insists she’s not on benefits, an assumption that has enraged
“I’ve had hate mail, death threats and people coming up to me in the street
angry because they think their taxes are going towards raising my children,”
she says. “It’s not true.” She adds: “Everyone thinks they’re superior to
me. I’ve had someone growl at me in the street. I’ve become a joke.”
Quite how she raised the money for repeated rounds of IVF and to care for 14
children remains something of a mystery. Amazingly, Nadya has no idea how
much she spends on groceries or nappies a week. She seems to rely on the
occasional interview (she can command five- and six-figure sums) to tide her
She’s written a book and is looking for a publisher, and in the future she
wants to do something in the field of health and fitness. She tells us she
needs an agent.
As Nadya changes the first of many nappies, we move on to the subject of
cosmetic surgery. Comparisons with Angelina Jolie have prompted suspicions
she’s been under the knife. Her skin is impossibly smooth and her lips look
too large to be natural.
But bizarrely, she says: “I’ve only recently even heard of Angelina Jolie.
I’ve not had cosmetic surgery. I’m flattered that people think I look like
her but I’ve no interest in celebrities. I’ve always looked the same. You
can see that in childhood pictures of me.”
But there’s no time to flick through the family album.
And so to lunch. All eight tots are plonked into yellow seats slotted into
holes in a giant dining table. The racket they make is deafening as they
grab their cutlery and plastic bowls and demand to be fed. Nadya rushes
around dishing out pasta from a huge pan and the kids tuck in like they
haven’t eaten for a week. It’s watermelon to follow, with pieces tossed to
them as if they were performing seals waiting for fish.
Within seconds it’s all been gobbled up. Teresa helps clear the mess while the
incessant din continues.
So how does Nadya cope? “I have a lot of energy, I really don’t need much
sleep – about four hours. I just keep going and looking to the future. My
one release is the gym. I try to get there a couple of times a week. That’s
where I can work off all the stress.”
Maybe I’d have made different CHOICES]]>
After lunch the children are let loose and begin careering around the house
like spinning tops. It’s mayhem. Balls are being thrown from every
direction, Noah chases after us brandishing a plastic spoon, while Maliyah
thrusts a book at us to read. Jonah grabs hold of our legs and we feel
ambushed by this undeniably cute little army.
Then the back door slides open and it’s out into the fresh air where we try to
round them up for a family photo. Nadya is counting out loud: “One, two,
three, four,” she pauses, “five, six, seven… I’m missing one,” she yells.
It’s Makai who’s gone AWOL, slipping unnoticed back into the house.
Once Makai’s joined the others, a bowl of biscuits helps them stay still long
enough to get a single shot of them together. Everyone is exhausted– except
the kids who carry on at a frantic pace.
As we leave the house later that day with blinding headaches, we reflect on
the chaos we’ve witnessed. Nadya may be a little elastic with the truth. But
there’s no doubt she is a survivor. She craved a big family – and that’s
what she got – and then some.
Now, she is faced with an almost impossible day-to-day situation. Yet she’s
staying one step ahead and remains consistently positive. Nadia does what
she can to get through the day, every day – all at breakneck speed.
“Would I do the same thing over?” she asks. “Maybe I would have made different
choices but this is my life now and I have to deal with it. And I never talk
24 hours in the life of octomum
There is no such thing as a typical day in Nadya Suleman’s life. She tries to
stick to a routine, but it is almost impossible. “You learn to be fluid,”
5am Nadya gets up.
6.30-7am Teresa, the nanny helps out when the octuplets wake up.
7.30am Play with the kids, try to do the housework and make beds
in-between changing nappies.
8am Breakfast for all the children.
8.30am Older kids get a lift to school.
10am Nap time for the octuplets.
12pm Octuplets wake up and have their nappies changed.
1pm Lunch is prepared.
2pm Twice a week, Nadya goes to the gym for an hour.
4pm Bath time (every other day).
5pm Dinner for the octuplets.
6pm Bed time for the octuplets.
7-8pm Bed time for the older kids.
9-10pm Tidy the house, make dinner.
10-12pm Studying and reading time – Nadya doesn’t watch TV and has no
Twist in the tale:Nadya’s fertility specialist, Dr Michael Kamrava, was struck
off by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in October 2009. The
doctor is currently under investigation by the Medical Board of California
for putting Nadya and her babies at risk by implanting 12 embryos in her.
By the time Nadya falls into bed just after midnight her children will have
60 (yes, 60!) nappies
4 loaves of bread
2.5 gallons of milk
PHOTOGRAPHY: JOHN CHAPPLE, MAX BECHERER/POLARIS/EYEVINE HAIR AND MAKE-UP: JEN
KIM AT KARLEE ARTIST MANAGEMENT