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Octomom: Single and So What? March 2, 2009

Posted by Onely in Everyday Happenings, Heteronormativity, Just Saying..
Tags: , , ,

The Octomom is almost as sick and selfish as the doctor who impregnated her.

However: the media’s fixation on her single status is just as disturbing.  Yes, it’s harder to be a mom if you don’t have a supportive, caring partner. But NPR, CBS, CNN, ABC, TIME, and MSN, among others, are flagging her single status above the facts that she’s unemployed, broke, already burdened with six other kids, and plain crazy.  This kind of coverage gives all single moms a bad name, and in fact, it also encourages the stereotype of “single” as innately bad, thereby giving even childfree singles a bad name too!

Why don’t they say “A broke, unemployed woman on food stamps with six kids gave birth to eight more”? That is more indicative of the problem than “A single woman gave birth to eight kids”, which could also refer to an unmarried Octomom  living with a supportive, competent cousin and grandmother and making 500,000 a year–someone who would probably be able to give eight kids a good home (ignoring for a moment the side issue of why she didn’t just adopt and help “decrease the surplus population”).

Thankfully, smothered amongst these semi-singlist articles was this thoughtful post by  Earl Ofari Hutchinson about how Octomom coverage is further stigmatizing single mothers, even while the Octomom herself rails against the fact that she would be much less controversial if she were coupled. This is true–if she and her husband were both unemployed, broke, and crazy, well, at least the children would be living with married parents, right?? YAY!

What we need to do is stop beating up single mothers and find ways that people can more easily raise children while single.  Suggestions welcome!  And also, Copious Readers, are you angrier at the Octomom or at the media’s coverage of her? Neither? Both?



1. lori - March 6, 2009

Nice observation Lauri- I agree with you about the “talking up” of pregnancy. I happen to be reading a biography about the Kellogg family in which there is an anecdote about one of the Mrs. Kelloggs being surprised to discover she was pregnant, having attributed the sudden weight gain to menopause. A friend quipped that she had been thinking Mrs. Kellogg had merely been “lucky” (to that point) in avoiding the burden of yearly pregnancies. I think she was echoing the general sentiment of her peers and that they didn’t all think it was “beautiful” and wonderful.

Unless a woman was anticipating providing a male heir to the throne, I doubt that a hundred and fifty years ago women celebrated each pregnancy with a party and presents. More likely they accepted their condition with resignation and made do. Pregnancy was hard given the living conditions and limited medical knowledge (like women shouldn’t climb stairs or exert themselves when in delicate condition) and often fatal. Unless there was a large farm needing more labor, for most it was another mouth to feed and literature is rife with this theme. My own great-grandmother was devastated to learn of a sixth pregnancy as her husband was an abusive drunk & she wasn’t able to adequately feed her 5 young children as it was. She died from septic shock caused by a coat-hanger.
I believe having many children was more a result of human sexuality sans birth-control, and/or religion and if given the easier availability we have today for family planning options, women would have definitely taken them. Birth control was illegal until 1965. When did these silly baby showers begin?

2. Rachel - March 6, 2009

Such an interesting question, Lori, to find out when baby showers began! I did a quick search on “history baby shower” and found a couple of pages that seem to be more historic than advertisement.

Baby showers have been around for a long time but used to be held to celebrate the baby’s birth and keep the mother company after she gave birth. The modern incarnation started during the baby-boom after WWII. It was celebrated before the birth of the child.

This second article is well worth reading (or at least scanning). Some choice excerpts:

The modern baby shower, then, supports the themes regarding the woman’s transition to a more dependent, but pure state while also creating and reinforcing the personal relationships which form the community.
From ancient Egyptian post-birth rituals to twenty-first century baby showers embedded in rites of consumerism, the ways a culture chooses to welcome a newborn child into its community reveals society’s most fundamental values and expectations. The emerging forms of baby showers seem to demonstrate the tensions and ambiguities modern women face in their transition to motherhood.

3. lori - March 9, 2009

Thanks Rachel for the research.
Wonder if octo-mom had a shower and if she did, who and where is her community beyond her parents today?

The modern baby shower does seem to focus on the mother in a sort of “you’re so amazing, you got pregnant” kind of way much more than about the baby; and I find myself squirming to leave when the games begin because I feel so trivialized when I have to stick my hand in a diaper full of mashed up Snickers bars or solve a baby-bottle word scramble. I also tire of hearing the condescending tone of people who have had babies and think everyone else should too or you’re just not a real grown-up. Which brings me back to the point that women have always been expected to give birth: we who don’t are still today perceived or portrayed as Unnatural; those who do, even to five or six kids is following nature. BUT a woman who actively seeks, on her own, to bear 14 children without a strong community or financial position is something else entirely.

Correction to my previous post- I am reading three books right now and crossed my titles/topics- the anecdote I referred to above was out of an old story told by a woman who became a doctor at the turn of the 20th century. She was talking about how she was herself the late baby and the reaction to her mother’s pregnancy.

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