Octomum Nadya Sulaiman faces a $1 million challenge
From Miracle Mum to Octomum and now, perhaps soon, Homeless Mum, the bizarre life of Nadya Sulaiman and her 14 children has been a subject that rarely fails to hit a nerve among those who have followed her personal soap opera.
With Sulaiman on the verge of losing her home and declaring bankruptcy this week with total debts as high as $1 million (Dh3.67 million) to everyone from her parents to her baby sitters to the water company, the Octomum Odyssey seems headed for darker days.
Beyond the fascination with her public foibles, such as posing topless in an obscure British magazine and talk of a solo porn film, is the very real concern about the welfare of her octuplets and six older children — all borne from her zeal for in vitro fertilisation.
Three of her six older children have disabilities for which she receives government financial support, Sulaiman has said. One is autistic, another has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and the third a speech impediment. The older children range in age from 5 to 10.
Soon, they could all be out of a home. The house where they have lived the past two years in the suburbs of Los Angeles is going on the auction block today.
One thing that keeps driving interest in her is whether authorities should step in and take the children.
University of Southern California sociologist Dorian Traube said that given Sulaiman's notoriety, it would be surprising if the welfare agency hasn't been monitoring her and her children for some time.
"Here you have 14 children whose mom is living on welfare, who has now declared bankruptcy, who is going in the media and posing topless and who most recently said she would be willing to do porn films if it meant that she could provide for her children," said Traube, who has studied and written extensively about parent-child relationships.
If the Sulaiman saga is wrapping up, it would mark a sad end to something that, if only briefly, once seemed to some like the feel-good story of the year.
That was on January 26, 2009, when Sulaiman's octuplets were born at a Southern California hospital and made medical history when they all survived. In the days that followed, she was reportedly showered with offers for book and movie deals, reality TV shows and a mountain of free baby stuff.
Things changed quickly, however, after it was learned that Octomum was also Single Mum and Welfare Mum. And that she already had six children under the age of 8 and was living on a combination of welfare cheques, food stamps, student loans and her parents' largesse.
The movie, book and TV deals faded, and Sulaiman, now 36, turned to increasingly bizarre means of making money.
She endorsed birth control, but only for dogs and cats. That earned her $5,000 and a month's supply of vegetarian hot dogs and burgers from the animal rights group People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
She once told Oprah Winfrey that she hated the term "Octomum" but then had it emblazoned on the back of the robe she wore into a boxing ring last year for a "celebrity" match against Amy Fisher, who gained fame in the 1990s as the "Long Island Lolita" when she shot the wife of her much older lover in the face.
Over the years numerous people tried to help and offer advice to Sulaiman, including such TV personalities as Dr Phil and money guru Suze Orman.
Instead, she went through one publicist and attorney after another. At one point she even spurned six months of free child care by the group Angels in Waiting that had been arranged by celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred. The group's co-founder, Linda Conforti-West, said at the time that Sulaiman seemed more interested in lining up a reality TV show than caring for the kids.
Documents filed in court for Sulaiman's bankruptcy case list assets of no more than $50,000 and debts of $500,000 to $1 million. Her creditors include her parents, her gardener, a babysitting company, private school, pest control company, mortgage holder and state Department of Motor Vehicles, among others.
Orange County businessman Amer Haddadin, who sold Sulaiman's father the four-bedroom home that's about to be auctioned, said he's owed $483,000, including 11 months of unpaid rent and a $450,000 note that Sulaiman never paid off. He says he has no sympathy for her, adding her actions led his mortgage holder to foreclose on him and destroyed his credit.
"She's not only using the system, she's abusing the system," Haddadin said.
Lately, Sulaiman has made money posing topless for the British magazine and has a possible porn deal in the works, although the latter comes with a catch. She had said she'll only do it if, to put it delicately, she is the only one being filmed. It would be what the industry calls a solo tape.
That led Vivid Entertainment Group co-founder Steven Hirsch, who once offered Sulaiman $1 million to do a porn film, to say he doubts his company would be interested in working with her in the future.
"I'm not sure that after that's released that it would make sense," he said.