Octuplets’ mother had miscarriages, depression, suicidal thoughts before first pregnancy
For seven years, beginning in her teens, Nadya Suleman tried to have a baby. She suffered three miscarriages. She tried artificial insemination and fertility drugs, to no avail. By 2000, a back injury and her inability to bear children had sent her into a deep depression in which she told a psychiatrist that she had suicidal thoughts.
On many days, she did not get out of bed. One doctor asked her what activities she had given up. Her answer: “Everything.”
That same year, she tried in vitro fertilization and became pregnant.
“And then,” she said, “I just kept going in.”
Hundreds of pages of state documents reviewed by The Times and excerpts from her first interview, which was recorded Thursday by NBC News hours after she was released from the hospital, began to sketch a portrait of the 33-year-old Whittier woman who gave birth last week to octuplets.
Suleman, a single mother who already had six other children and lives with her parents, has come under fierce criticism for giving birth to the octuplets. In her interview with NBC’s Ann Curry, she tried to explain why she wanted to have so many children.
“I just longed for certain connections and attachments with another person that I -- I really lacked, I believe, growing up,” Suleman said. “I didn’t feel as though, when I was a child, I had much control of my environment. I felt powerless. And that gave me a sense of predictability. I -- reflecting back on my childhood, I know it wasn’t functional. It was pretty -- pretty dysfunctional, and whose isn’t?”
Suleman didn’t elaborate in the portion of the interview released by NBC (more will be broadcast on “Today” on Monday and on “Dateline NBC” on Tuesday). But she said her childhood made her yearn for many children of her own.
“That was always a dream of mine, to have a large family, a huge family,” she said.
Considerably more detail is provided in the 332 pages of documents released by the state in response to a public records request by The Times. Those paint a picture of a placid suburban childhood. Suleman herself said she was well-loved and close to her parents.
Born in Fullerton and raised in La Puente, Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights, she grew up in a “protected and sheltered” home environment, Suleman told a state-appointed doctor who was reviewing a workers’ compensation claim. She enjoyed schoolwork and earned grades that were “well above average.” She described herself as “half Arabic, half Lithuanian” and said she was brought up Protestant and continued to practice her religion. She is portrayed as an outgoing woman with many friends; a former cheerleader who liked reading and writing.
Not long after high school, Suleman began her quest as a single woman to have a family of her own. In 1995, she had the first of three ectopic pregnancies, a condition that routinely ends in miscarriage and can be dangerous to the mother. The records are unclear about whether those pregnancies were the result of artificial insemination.
A year later, she married Marcos Gutierrez, a produce manager. She also earned a psychiatric technician license from Mt. San Antonio College and began working at Metropolitan State Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Norwalk. It was there that she sustained the injury that led to the workers’ compensation claim.
On Sept. 18, 1999, 20 patients began rioting. Suleman intervened, and during the melee, a female patient flipped over a heavy wooden desk that landed on Suleman’s back, causing a herniated disc injury that dogged her for years. Ultimately, Suleman was paid nearly $170,000 in workers’ compensation benefits during an eight-year period that ended last December, when she resigned from her job. Although she had remained on the hospital’s staff, she had returned to work only briefly after the injury. At the time, she complained of continued pain.
In 2000, she separated from Gutierrez, a split she blamed in part on her withdrawal and lack of interest in life. “I didn’t want to keep bringing him down,” Suleman said. “I want him to move on with his life.”
All the while, she kept trying to conceive. According to her mother, she used sperm from a friend, not Gutierrez.
When she became pregnant again in 2000, she was so nervous after multiple failed attempts that she didn’t want to talk about it to anyone, she told a psychologist who was evaluating her as part of her workers’ compensation claim.
“I thought I would jinx it,” Suleman told Dennis A. Nehamen. “It’s the most wonderful, best thing that’s ever happened in my life. . . . I was still thinking it’s too good to be true. . . . When you have a history of miscarriages you think it will take a miracle.”
During her pregnancy and after the birth of her first child, Suleman’s records indicate, she experienced wild mood swings. Despite her joy at being pregnant, she told Nehamen, “It was during that time I became depressed and I just wanted to die.”
Nehamen said in his report that the depression was not related to her back injury, but stemmed from “the powerful and uncontrollable emotions associated with her pregnancy -- both the fear that it would end and her elation that it might be brought to fruition and she would realize her dream of having a child.”
Another doctor disagreed and diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder.
After the baby was born, the emotional roller coaster continued. This time, she was by turns elated and despairing -- and also terrified that the baby would be kidnapped or injured. “My husband or my mother has to take me almost everywhere,” she told one of the doctors.
Despite the separation from her husband in 2000, they attempted at least one reconciliation after the birth of the first baby. They split again, but did not divorce until January 2008, court records show.
Her back injury grew worse as the result of a traffic accident in 2001, which occurred on the way home from a doctor’s appointment, she reported. Pregnancy hadn’t helped either, doctors said. At one point, she said, the pain was so intense, she couldn’t lift her 3-month-old infant.
She later told a therapist that the baby “certainly has helped my spirits.”
“I have a child,” she said. “That’s the most wonderful thing in life.”
Doctors declared her resilient and strong, though one did question her “capacity for psychological insight.”
Over the next several years, Suleman had five more children, including a set of twins. According to her mother, Angela Suleman, and the NBC interview, all of them were fathered by the same sperm donor and conceived through in vitro fertilization.
She also went back to school, earned a bachelor’s degree in child development and began pursuing a master’s degree in counseling at California State University at Fullerton.
Then, last year, with more embryos still frozen, she decided she wanted “just one more girl,” her mother said.
Instead of one more baby, doctors told her she was pregnant with seven. She carried them for 31 weeks, declining prevailing medical advice to reduce the number of embryos.
On delivery day, the surprises kept coming.
She had eight babies.
Now the woman who said it was her dream to have a large family has 14 children.
Times staff writer Catherine Ho contributed to this report.