In January of 2009, Nadya Suleman suddenly became a pop culture focal point when she gave birth. Dubbed by the media as “Octomom,” Suleman gave birth to octuplets conceived via in vitro fertilization. And those babies made history as the second set of octuplets in the United States to be born all live, and the first set in the WORLD to live past a week. Octuplets—eight babies born of a single pregnancy—are incredibly rare, and the world was fascinated with the Suleman kids.
Nadya herself drew plenty of media attention as well. When details about how she ended up with octuplets in the first place surfaced—she was implanted with 12 embryos (and 2 is the norm for IVF)—the judgment poured in. Further controversies swirled around her housing situation, her controversial decision to go on welfare, and even her rumored plastic surgery. It’s been ten years, and much of the media storm has died down. But with a houseful of children, life for Suleman is anything but dull!
Image: Instagram / @nataliesuleman
At the time of the birth of her octuplets, the Octomom was known as Nadya Suleman. In 2016, Suleman revealed that she’d changed her name to Natalie, a symbolic gesture that she hoped would help in moving past the crazy caricature the media had painted of her life. Much of the coverage Suleman had received in the aftermath of the birth of “the eight” was negative, and the stress of the entire situation led to some bad times. Now, though, Natalie is moving on and striving only to be the best mother she can possibly be to her oversized brood.
At the time of the birth of her youngest eight kids, Suleman lived in or near Bellflower, California. These days, the family lives in a small three-bedroom townhouse in Orange County, in the town of Laguna Niguel. It’s a bit cramped, to be sure, and the dining area is so small that the entire family cannot physically eat meals together. But love helps hold everything together, and the kids have grown up tumbling over and weaving around one another. To them, it’s normal. Their home may be small, but it’s home, and Suleman is simply happy to have her many children surrounding her.
Can you believe it’s been ten whole years since those famous babies were born? Suleman stunned the world by lasting 31 weeks into her record-shattering pregnancy. All eight babies were born small but healthy, and ten years later, that’s still a good way to describe them: small for their age, but healthy. The kids are known for enjoying 5k races, cooking, and reading. When they were babies, it was easy to gloss over the octuplets as individuals, but these days it’s impossible to ignore how much they’ve grown and blossomed into unique human beings. Natalie is beyond proud of how far they’ve come!
With the spotlight firmly on the eight little ones that made the Suleman family famous, it’s easy to forget that the octuplets are not Natalie’s only children. They’re not! She had six children prior to becoming pregnant with the octuplets: four sons and two daughters, including a set of twins. The oldest children help out a lot around the house, and eldest daughter Amerah has said she considers herself to be almost a second mother to the octuplets. With such a full house—the whole family lives in a small townhouse—some kids inevitably end up sleeping on the couch, and it’s impossible for everyone to fit at the dinner table at the same time.
It’s been well-publicized that Natalie’s desire for a large family—and her inability to get pregnant naturally—was a big part of why she got divorced prior to the birth of any of her kids. Yes, Natalie has been a single mom from the very beginning. She claims that all of her children were fathered by the same sperm donor, but has never publicly revealed who that donor is. Suleman’s children have never met their biological father, although Suleman has said she might offer them that option when they become legal adults. Currently, Natalie does not date, and seems to have no interest in doing so; her hands are pretty full with her family!
The house may be full of people, but even this large family finds room for a beloved pet! Natalie and her kids love their cat, a striped grey creature named Penelope. She’s fluffy and cuddly, and if she’s a bit on the big side, well, Suleman has said they’re doing their best to follow the vet’s advice and get Penelope down to a healthier weight. Everyone in the family loves Penelope, who clearly lives a pampered life. Even The New York Times saw fit to mention dear Penelope in its recent article on Suleman and her family!
Ms. Suleman was raised as an “ethical vegetarian” herself, and in recent years she has transitioned herself and her youngest eight onto a mostly raw vegan diet. (Her older children remain omnivores, by all reports.) Natalie delights in the fact that the kiddos love learning to cook and they are growing and thriving on a purely plant-based diet, which many skeptics may find surprising! Suleman loves posting pictures of their veggie-centric lifestyle on Instagram and hopes to share videos of the octuplets, as well as her older kids, cooking exciting vegan dishes on her YouTube channel in the future.
With her own personal medical history, and especially considering her stated memories of the circumstances leading to the implantation of so many embryos in that last fateful IVF treatment, it’s not really surprising that Natalie is not particularly trusting of doctors. Suleman has said straight-up that she “perceive[s] pharmaceuticals to be poison,” and prefers to rely on her raw vegan diet, exercise, and prayers to keep her healthy. That being said, the family doesn’t avoid doctors completely, and she willingly takes the kids in when the situation calls for it. Still, she believes the family focus on healthy food and regular exercise helps keep the kids from getting sick very often.
Goodness only knows how stressful life must be for the Octomom! When the octuplets were babies, Suleman once revealed that she got, on average, three hours of sleep every night. Now that the kids are older, Natalie, no doubt sleeps better, but that doesn’t mean she lives the stress-free life. Spending an hour or two at the gym, whenever she can get away, has made a huge difference in her stress levels. Regular exercise also helps her manage the physical pain she carries the day in and day out, the results of her complicated pregnancies and a decades-past work-related injury.
Before the birth of her oldest son, Natalie was injured while working at a job in a psychiatric facility. As a result of that long-ago accident, Suleman suffers from chronic back pain; she has several herniated discs in her lumbar spine. Further complicating her physical problems was her pregnancy with the eight, whom she carried well into the third trimester. One can only imagine how swollen her belly must have been, how displaced her organs must have been! She claims that her fingers are constantly numb from nerve damage. And on top of all that, she suffers periodic migraine headaches.
Suleman may have 14 children, but only four of them are girls. And sometimes, a mother just needs some girly time with her daughters! In the past, she’s spoken about the fun of having a spa night with her girls. Natalie is ever-aware of the size of her family, though, and she works hard to make sure all of her children feel equally loved. So while some nights may be girl time, other evenings may be spent doing things the boys appreciate more. And Natalie and all of the kids still have regular family movie nights, complete with (vegan) junk food!
You might think that Suleman and her family are a reality television show in the making, and that surely Natalie has profited in some way from the massive amount of publicity she received from the birth of her octuplets. That’s not the case at all. There were talks of a reality show once, but it never happened. Suleman did gain brief media attention by creating a custom milkshake at trendy West Hollywood hotspot Millions of Milkshakes, but media attention fizzled out after that. In reality, Suleman actually filed for bankruptcy in 2012, and also has been in legal trouble over welfare fraud. While she’s got a healthier relationship with money these days, she still struggles at times to care for her large family.
Image: The Doctors / Fox
Not surprisingly, caring for 14 children has not made life easy, and with her chronic pain, Suleman has not had an easy time of it. One way she briefly made ends meet was via sex work—she’s worked as a stripper, and she still faces scrutiny at times for having made a sex tape. Those were years that Natalie doesn’t recall with any fondness, but she’s put the past where it belongs: firmly behind her. She’s since gone back to work as a counselor and considers herself lucky to be able to move forward in a healthier direction.
Despite the media frenzy of their early years, these days the press doesn’t have much to say about Natalie Suleman or any of her fourteen children. Every now and then, something new comes out, but for the most part, the media seems to consider Natalie to be a “has-been,” and the octuplets to be old news. In late 2018, Suleman did an interview with The New York Times, which inspired a spate of copycat articles quoting her words there. A few years before that, she appeared on the TV show The Doctors. Sometimes, too, Natalie posts a picture to the family Instagram account which pop culture sites pick up. But for the most part, the family seems to be happy to be living life outside the spotlight.
In that recent interview with The New York Times, Suleman describes the caricature of the “Octomom” that the media went nuts for in the weeks and months following the birth of the octuplets. “Octomom was media created,” she said. She describes relief at being rid of that fake persona and acknowledges that there are some parts of that persona that she’d rather had never happened. These days, while she doesn’t try to hide any parts of her past from her family, she’s happy to be able to just be herself. She’d much rather count her blessings and look toward the future.
Despite everything—the struggles, the expenses, the media circus—Suleman truly has no regrets. She had always wanted a family, and her desire to pursue IVF when she and her husband couldn’t conceive naturally became a wedge that drove them apart. All of her children were supposedly conceived using the same sperm donor, and if fourteen is, as she’s said, a ridiculously large amount of children, she still does not regret the birth of a single one of them. And the older the children get, the more the pieces fall into place. They have routines, and everyone helps out with one another. Natalie loves each and every one of her children.