The story of Nadya Suleman bothers me on so many levels that I despair of addressing it in any coherent manner, but it has been on heavy duty agitation for some time now and must be hung out to dry.
At its core, the story seems archetypical of all that is right and wrong in America today. So many issues, so much clamor.
The issue of unmarried women who cannot even support themselves choosing motherhood—a role that demands incomprehensible resources of physical, moral, and emotional strength.
The double standard that allows a man who willingly provides viable genetic material to a single, disabled woman off the hook; even sympathizes with him. Maybe he didn’t actively choose fatherhood—but no matter how you look at it, he fathered these fourteen children.
Abortion. Six attempts implanting six embryos each; only the last experience made headlines—because not only did all six embryos take, but two spontaneously divided–and the mother didn’t choose abortion. If she had, there would be no uproar. Nobody would know or care who Nadya Suleman is.
You champion the right to choose while criticizing her choice. Damning it, even. She chose life. You and I might have made other choices, including the choice to implant fewer or even no embryos at all. But in this country of free speech and freedom to choose, she chose.
Which brings us to how that choice affects you and me and everyone else in America.
Here’s the thing. It all comes down to money, doesn’t it? If a long-lashed, Oscar winning actress ended up with octuplets, I’m willing to bet there would not be this uproar. It would be all giggles and grins—because she can afford to pay for her kids, and probably a nanny for each one, too.
Don’t hide behind noble-sounding sentiments about quality of life for those poor eight, or even fourteen children—that was my initial reaction, too, but don’t—what really bothers us is that our tax dollars will be put to work paying for this woman’s choices.
Taxpayer dollars! That’s the real ticket! You hear about those quite a bit lately, don’t you? Taxpayer dollars going to line the pockets of rich men who tanked on Wall Street. Paying to bail out greedy lenders and borrowers and foolish average citizens. Mismanaged tax dollars, everywhere you look. Eighty-eight point six million taxpayer dollars allocated to build new schools in the shrivelling Milwaukee School District where 15 schools are sitting vacant, while all over the country districts like mine are busting out at the seams—I think we have more children in trailers than in classrooms. Lunch hours are obscene. There aren’t enough teachers or busses or materials. And now you want me to pay for the choices of this crazy woman in Bellflower, California?
I have yet to read a full length article about Nadya Suleman that does not, in some way or another, descry the cost of the births and the fact that she’s on food stamps and receiving disability payments. It’s about the money, folks. Not about right to life or right to choose or even how many minutes a day is enough to hold an infant. It’s about the money.
But guess what?
We live in a country rife with both freedom to choose and social programs that insulate us against the consequences of our choices. It may not be possible to have one without the other.
Because we also live in a country rife with compassion. We pay for healthcare and education and basic food items if you can’t, no matter what your immigration status; we heat our prisons, and pay tuition costs for lower income folk. Because for every citizen that takes advantage of the system, or even if for every ten that take advantage there is one—one who is struggling and deserving and needy, even one who will take that college education or that two pound bag of pinto beans or the rehab sessions, and with that step up take even one step closer to self-sufficiency and respect—if there is even one, then we feel that the outlay of our funds is justified.
We cannot take away freedom or compassion in America.
I believe that we could reform the system. I believe that welfare could be more local and personable and accountable. I believe that if I pay for a struggling student’s tuition out of my own pocket I am then personally invested in that student’s success. I believe that student will feel more accountable for their own success if there is a face—mine, whom presumably they know and respect on some level—attached to that tuition check. If it were my neighbors or extended family pooling together to feed my children during a time of unemployment, rather than a faceless government entity, I think I’d be more inclined to make that food stretch, more inclined to find employment, less inclined to wallow in despair. Welfare on principles of local and personal compassion could function more like a hand up and less like a hand-out.
The problem is that there are more hungry people than abundant pockets in one neighborhood, and no hungry or suffering in another. Government steps in and tries to even out the distribution of wealth. Inevitably, in the gargantuan task of ensuring that no truly needy soul slips through the cracks, wealth slips through instead. Greed, carelessness, misplaced ideas of entitlement take hold and instead of supporting a young mother while she goes through college, my tax dollars are paying for a convicted felon to drink espresso in his air-conditioned cell. It happens.
But still, I wouldn’t take away freedom or compassion in America.
We are surrounded by men and women of all ages making choices we don’t understand and possibly don’t agree with. Choices. Good ones. Questionable ones. I’ve probably made some of those, and so have you. Almost without exception, I have been treated with compassion. The exceptions. Well. I don’t know—has blanket criticism from strangers ever motivated you to greater heights?
Who among us hasn’t made choices that didn’t turn out exactly like we expected? That maybe brought sorrow or hardship into the lives of the people we love?
So how should I feel toward Nadya Suleman? Were she my neighbor to whom I could take a loaf—or five loaves—of bread, or rock a colicky infant—or two—or if she is a woman I’ll never meet, but talk about over the phone lines and internet blog sites, whose support may or may not come in some way from my tax dollars, I think . . . today, in America, even with our faulty system and precarious times . . . I choose compassion. I cannot stop the wildfires in Austrailia, the twisters in Oklahoma, or greed on Wall Street. But I can still the indignant voices within my own soul. I can choose compassion. I have the freedom to do that. And maybe the courage.