Veil of secrecy surrounding octuplets' mother vanishes
Friday, February 6, 2009
WHITTIER, Calif. -- The veil of secrecy octuplets' mother Nadya Suleman shrouded herself in for more than a week was lifted Thursday with the release of public documents showing that the 33-year-old woman struggled with depression for years until she finally began to realize her childhood dream of having a huge family.
Suleman, who now has 14 children, told doctors she battled with depression for years after she was injured in a riot in 1999 at the state mental hospital where she worked.
The doctors' reports were included in more than 300 pages of documents released to The Associated Press by the state Department of Mental Health on the same day NBC released excerpts of Suleman's first interview since giving birth last month. Among other things, the documents reveal that Suleman collected more than $165,000 in disability payments between 2002 and 2008 for an injury she said left her in near-constant pain and helped end her marriage.
Meanwhile, Suleman told NBC what her mother and others have said since the octuplets were born: that she always wanted a huge family to make up for the isolation she felt as an only child.
"That was always a dream of mine, to have a large family, a huge family," she said. "I just longed for certain connections and attachments with another person that ... I really lacked, I believe, growing up."
In the interview -- scheduled to air on the "Today" show Monday and again Tuesday on "Dateline" -- Suleman calls her childhood "pretty dysfunctional."
In the state report, however, doctors indicate she had a happy childhood. She told them she was an above-average high school student, enjoyed being a cheerleader, had many friends and stayed out of trouble. She said her parents were loving and supportive.
As an adult, however, she said she often battled depression as she struggled to get pregnant and particularly after her injury.
The report says she had three miscarriages and two ectopic pregnancies, a dangerous condition in which a fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the uterus. She told NBC she struggled for seven years before finally giving birth to her first child in 2001 through in vitro fertilization.
Suleman said all her children have been born through in vitro fertilization, with sperm donated from a friend. The first six range in age from 2 to 7. The octuplets are doing fine, said officials at Kaiser Permanente's Bellflower Medical Center, where they were born Jan. 26.
According to the state documents, which were released to the AP following a public records request, Suleman was injured Sept. 18, 1999, when a riot involving nearly two dozen patients broke out in the women's ward of the Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, where she worked.
As she was helping other staff members restrain a patient, a desk thrown at her by another patient hit her in the back. It caused damage to her spine and left her complaining of headaches and intense pain throughout her lower body for years.
She attributed it in part to the breakup of her marriage to Marcos Gutierrez, whom she had wed in 1996. She told a psychiatrist the bouts of depression she was suffering as a result of her injury were unfair to her husband.
"I don't want to keep bringing him down. I want him to move on with his life," she told a psychiatrist.
The couple split in 2000 and divorced last year. Gutierrez has not returned calls to phone numbers listed for him, and his divorce lawyer, Roberto Gil, declined comment.
Suleman has come under criticism from TV and radio commentators, bloggers and others who accused her of irresponsibly having more children than she appears prepared to care for. Some say she had the octuplets to cash in with a TV or book deal.
Although the two publicists she hired last week acknowledge she is reviewing such offers, one of her friends said Suleman simply loves children and didn't get pregnant for profit.
"She's not even interested in that right now," said Jessica Zepeda, who lives down the street. "It's funny and sad in a way, there's a lot of people saying really negative things and they don't know her."
Suleman's mother said she expects people's opinions to change now that her daughter is going public.
"She's a very likable person," Angela Suleman said Wednesday. "She's basically normal except for this obsession she's always had with children."
She's also a good mother, Angela Suleman said.
Her daughter, who was born in Fullerton, studied to be a psychiatric technician after graduating from a high school in La Puente in 1993.
She received a bachelor's degree in child and adolescent development from California State University, Fullerton, in 2006 and was studying there for a master's degree in counseling when she became pregnant with the octuplets.
"She may not be able to finish her master's degree now and she was so close to wrapping it up," her mother said.
Publicist Mike Furtney said Nadya Suleman has told him it's her dream to eventually earn a Ph.D. in some field involving counseling.
Public records show Suleman was listed on the Metropolitan State Hospital payroll from 1997 until last year, although it appears she did little work after September 1999 because of her injury.
Furtney said Thursday that Suleman was "feeling great" and looking forward to being reunited with her octuplets, who are expected to remain in the hospital for several more weeks.
"She's happy to be out of the hospital, although she misses her children," he said. "She can't wait until they join her."
The octuplets were born nine weeks prematurely and will be released from the hospital individually as they hit a near-normal newborn weight.
"At this point in their development, they are not mature enough to coordinate the suckling and swallowing at the same time to be bottle-fed," said Dr. Mandhir Gupta, the hospital's neonatologist.
Associated Press writers Shaya Tayefe Mohajer, Raquel Maria Dillon and Thomas Watkins contributed to this report.