Why I Could Hardly Watch the Octomom Documentary

“People can’t comprehend…why I’m not worried.”

That’s just one of the many pearls of wisdom dispensed by Nadya Suleman on last night’s Octomom: The Incredible Unseen Footage. Sorry, Fox, but I think you oversold us. For those who missed it (and I hope, for your sake, you’re in that category) the two-hour special was largely Suleman waving off concerns that 14 children might be too many to handle and complaining about a loss of privacy. She showed off her new house, hid from paparazzi, got a tattoo, and spent a little time with the octuplets, too. Back when the babies were born, 23 percent of Americans followed the story very closely, according to the Pew Research Center. I, admittedly, was among them. Now though, I can hardly make it through a two-hour television special.

This comes on the heels of Jon and Kate’s Gosselin slow but steady journey to obscurity. In May, they were at their peak, with 9.8 million viewers tuning in for the announcement of their divorce. The show took a one-month hiatus, and ever since its return last Monday viewership has hovered around 4 million. Four million, to be sure, isn’t peanuts—for broadcast it's actually quite good—but it does mean that 6 million viewers decided, sometime between the alleged (and not-so-alleged) affairs and blow-out fights, they were no longer interested. The Gosselins used to be a mainstay of the celeb weeklies; they did seven straight covers of US Weekly. Today on the newsstand, there’s hardly a Jon or Kate in sight.

Multiples, it seems, have reached their 16th minute. How’d it happen? A few months ago we were obsessed. But then something about these the stories changed; namely, they stopped being about multiples. The Gosselin sextuplets—the reason these people are famous in the first place—became a sidebar to their parents’ antics, Jon’s latest girlfriend or Kate’s single life. No one has much interest in about a bickering couple in rural Pennsylvania. Likewise for Suleman: the octuplets spend maybe 10 or 15 minutes of the two-hour documentary onscreen. There are a few scenes, to be fair, that do deliver: like when all eight babies are arrayed on Suleman’s bed bawling their eyes out, with Suleman alternating between bottle-feeding one and picking up another. The most fascinating part of large, multiple births is always the sheer logistics: how do you possibly handle changing, feeding, bathing, raising eight babies at once? While we do see many things on the Octomom documentary—like a closet in the house Suleman thinks is haunted—we don’t see much of what we want to see: the babies.

While the Gosselins’ and Sulemans’ time might be up, this probably is not the last we’ll see of multiple-mania. We’ve been obsessed with multiples for centuries and with good reason: they’re fascinating. As I wrote in a recent NEWSWEEK story, multiple births, twins and upward, are a constant balancing act—between same and different, between public and private lives. And on the less intellectual level, it’s insanely adorable to watch six children do just about anything, from ride a merry-go-round to potty train. As soon as we see a woman pregnant with 12—well, one who isn’t faking it—we’ll be just as obsessed as ever.

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