Monday, February 9, 2009

An irresponsible mother? Stop the presses!

The story here doesn’t seem to be about a successful delivery of octuplets. While it is a rare occurrence, nobody in the report gives any statistics about the frequency of octuplet births. At this point, the basics of Suleman’s story are already out. The novelty of her situation is a given. If this had happened without fertilization treatments, it would only add to the novelty.

The idea that the crux of the story is Suleman’s lack of a spouse is closer to the point. Ann Curry brings this up early and often, and Suleman seems to have known ahead of time that this would be a major talking point. If we are talking about the story the Today Show wanted to tell, this is probably it. But this is not to say that there isn’t a better story to tell.

People make irresponsible decisions every day. If the media reported on every mother who had children when she probably shouldn’t have, they’d have no time to report on anything else.

As it has been reported, this story is about one woman and her children. As such, it has no impact whatsoever on practically anybody. We watch to fulfill our voyeuristic instincts and pass judgment on this woman. If this were a legitimate news story, it might tie into current trends in in vitro fertilization. Are other mothers opting to have multiple embryos implanted? What are some of the reasons they offer? How common is it for laboratory pregnancies to produce multiples?

I remember a piece National Geographic ran a few years back about a town in New Jersey with a disproportionate number of multiple-birth children. The article tied this to the large number of fertility clinics in central New Jersey, saying that multiples are a known side effect of fertilization procedures. This worked as a story because it wasn’t just about one family’s predicament. It was about a whole community and, by extension, the people having these procedures done nationwide.

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