On January 26, 2009, the nation’s second set of live-born octuplets was delivered at a California hospital. The public fascination with this unusual event quickly turned ugly when the media revealed that the new mother was thirty-three-year-old Nadya Suleman, a single, unemployed woman already caring for six other children under the age of eight. As Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe described it, upon discovery of Suleman’s identity, the mood of the country went “from ‘Gee whiz’ to ‘Are you kidding?’” in a matter of days.
The reaction to Nadya Suleman’s new family stands in stark contrast to the enthusiastic reception for many other families with high-order multiples. For example, the cable show Jon & Kate Plus 8, which features a family with a set of sextuplets and a set of twins, is currently one of cable television’s highest-rated shows. The McCaughey septuplets, born in 1997, are similarly famous: for example, they celebrate their birthdays each year with Dateline reporter Ann Curry. Indeed, public fascination with high-birth families dates back at least to the famous Dionne quintuplets of the 1930s, who were treated as a tourist attraction by the Canadian government and who were visited by more than three million people over a ten-year span.