Suze Orman's Intervention with "Octomom" Nadya Suleman
January 14, 2011
Nadya Suleman, known to most as the “octomom,” is one of the most controversial mothers in America. In April of 2010, she invited Oprah Show cameras into her home for a rare glimpse inside her hectic life raising 14 children. At the time, Nadya confessed she was running out of money and didn’t know where her next paycheck was coming from. She insisted that she would not exploit her children by putting them on a reality TV show. “From the beginning, I’ve always been consistent with this,” she said. “I would never do a reality show.”
Months later, she sent an emotional and desperate letter to Oprah. She wrote that she was financially destitute, emotionally depleted and suffering from constant anxiety attacks. On top of this, she said she feared her family was on the road to homelessness and that she felt like a hypocrite for contemplating offers to feature her children on reality TV.
In an effort to help, Oprah suggested that Nadya get a financial intervention from money powerhouse Suze Orman.
Suze agreed to help, and a call was set up between her and Nadya. Suze says she didn’t trust Nadya at the time, so she insisted that the call be recorded for everyone’s protection. (Nadya was aware that it was being taped).
Suze: How much do you currently have left to your name right now?
Nadya: I'm overdrawn. We don't have anything. My mind has been racing 24 hours a day. It's non-stop racing on what to do.
Suze: You need to look at all your bills. You need to look at this very realistically. The gifts have to go, the manicures have to go, the trainer has to go. All those things have to go. You don’t have to send your children to private school because I notice that you spend $2,000 a month. Private schooling has to go. Last Christmas, you spent almost $8,000 on toys for them.
Nadya: It makes me want to throw up thinking about it. I am so stupid. I am so stupid. If I knew back then that this was a possibility, I would have saved every dollar.
Suze: I would put as many of the toys that you have in that house on eBay for sale or somehow for sale. I mean, I don't care if it's $100, $500, but if you can, just start to show yourself everything that's in excess in that house ...you know, $100 feeds them for a day. I think also you would play a whole lot better [role] to society if they knew that you were taking care of all 14 kids on your own without any help whatsoever.
Nadya: Think of the reality though, Suze ... being one person, 14 to 1, with an autistic child inclusive in that, it is impossible for any human. Not even God could do that.
Suze: All right. Next it would be my recommendation to you, I don’t care what anyone says, to get an agent. If you can make a living by getting an agent—you know, selling a book, selling a TV show, whatever it is...those are things at least you have to try.
Nadya: I guess I have a fear of how they’re going to perceive me. I don’t want people to think I’m overly confident.
Suze: What do you care? Listen, they already think you’re crazy, you got that?
Nadya: But I’m not.
Suze: Everybody thinks you’re crazy for having eight kids. You know it, and I know it.
Nadya: Right. I agree.
Suze: So you have to change what you say to yourself without feeling like, "Oh my God, I'm going to be exploiting my children," because the other side of that coin as you talk to me today is, is it better to do something with them and put them on television? I’m just asking. Or is it better to have them on the street, not being fed?
Suze: You sitting on the streets with 14 kids around you. We have to go there. Because remember the power lies in you being able to know the truth.
After the phone conversation, Suze decides to work with Nadya off-camera to uncover the truth about why her life and finances were in a tailspin. Nadya and Suze join Oprah to talk about the progress they've made so far.
Suze: Here's what everybody in America—everybody, including us—is wondering: Why? Not the superficial reason why, but why, when you couldn't afford the six kids to begin with, would you even think about having one more kid, let alone eight more kids? ... That's what America wants to know from you, Nadya. So tell them.
Nadya: The thickest reason, at the core, I'm seeing, I'm desperately outside myself using an inappropriate filler to fill something that I should be filling from within.
Oprah: But this is the question, and we talked about this a bit in April when I said it sounded to me like you had an addiction to children, to having babies. The six children weren’t enough?
Nadya: Why did I say, "Doctor, one more?" I even ask myself [that].
Oprah: I think what Suze is saying is exactly what everybody's trying to figure out...and maybe you don't know the answer yourself. Because everybody I know who has one child, two children, three children...they have their hands full trying to take care of those children. Weren't your hands overflowing?
Nadya: Overflowing already.
Oprah: With six kids.
Nadya: And in school. Four days after I gave birth to my twins, I went back to school and I got a 4.0 in a master's program. I have that sick Type A, overachiever, perfectionist personality. This isn't just now. It started when I was little. Nothing's good enough.
Oprah: So the question is, I mean for everybody with children...the six children. You were able to manage those children?
Oprah: Suze's not buying it.
Nadya: I was struggling and I was trying to probably prove something to myself.
Suze: All right. You didn't have the money then. Yeah, she was making it, Oprah. She was able to go day by day.
Nadya: Yes, day by day. Right.
Suze: She was struggling. But what is "making it"? "Making it" is you have an eight-month emergency fund, you don't have credit card debt, you don't have to be on food stamps, you're putting money in your retirement fund. That’s "making it." Making it isn't just getting up in the morning and getting through the day and then getting up the next morning...
Nadya: It’s stupid.
Suze: This isn't about you putting yourself down. This is your day in front of the world to go to the deepest part in yourself, to be honest with why, what and now where do we go? But not to condemn yourself.
Nadya: It's safer. Kids won’t leave you. Kids will give me the unconditional acceptance and love that I didn't feel I got from my mother.
Oprah: But having six wasn’t enough?
Nadya: Six wasn’t enough. And guess what? [I have] 14 and the hole's still there.
Oprah: When the embryos were planted, you thought only one was going to take?
Nadya: I didn't think any of them would because I had them frozen...after the twins I tried twice again. Each time failed.
Suze: How did you pay for that?
Nadya: Through years of saving, saving...
Suze: Lie. Lie. Lie. ... I went through your finances. You had to pay back somebody who lent you the money to have it. You did not save the money to be implanted. You borrowed all of it.
Nadya: All of it. I borrowed the money.
Suze: You just said to me two seconds ago you saved. You lied.
Nadya: No, it's everything, it's everything. I saved and I borrowed and...I did everything I could—like an addict. Like an addict to drugs who will do anything they can to secure the money they need for in vitro.
Suze: Are you a baby addict?
Nadya: I think it could have been [a] part of me self-medicating.
Suze: Yes or no? Are you a baby addict?
Nadya: Today, no. Back then, probably yes. ... I think I could have been self-medicating through children.
Oprah: I think that’s pretty powerful. I think that’s a powerful admission that you were self-medicating.
Nadya: Yes. But I want to tell you, I felt like a watering can...with holes in it. ... I’m doing it well in my head, right? I gave up a social life...gave this up so I could put all of me in my kids, but that's not enough. There's holes in the bottom of the watering can, and the more I give to them, the more of myself is dripping out and the more depleted I become. When it's empty, I go back [and say], "Doctor, one more."
Oprah: If you're watching at home, it's very easy to judge [and say], look how many kids [she had]. But how many of you had two and then had another one when you knew you couldn’t afford the two?
Suze: And that's the point. That’s a big, big point. ... If you can't afford one and you have two, if you can’t afford two and you have three, if you can't afford three and you have four...are you really that much different from what is happening here? I'm just asking you to think about it.
Oprah: And also, for [Nadya], the addiction is babies and medicating herself—literally. I think that's a great term that you call it: self-medicating with children. People do it with their things all the time. How many people have things that they can't afford, and then they go get something else that they can’t afford, living in houses they can’t afford?
Suze: Do you know why I really wanted to do this show?
Suze: Seriously. I wanted to do this show because I wanted us to start changing people's addiction to judging others. Because it’s so easy to judge her—to hate her, to do whatever we've done to this woman. And if we can start to become a society where we stop judging others and just simply look at ourselves and what we’re doing, then, Ms. Winfrey, we have made the world, again, a better place.
Suze: This is the day to face reality. You don't have to cover your heart here. Your heart should feel safe here because we’re here to help you and not to hurt you. And that is true.
Oprah: This is true.
Suze: Or we wouldn't be here. So why am I here with you when I said I wouldn't be here? I didn't believe you. I didn't believe you because I watched the show in April and I watched everything you said, [and I thought], "Oh please, give me a break." And then I started to work with your finances and do everything, and I said, "She's not being honest." But I was willing to work with her off-camera because everybody deserves a break. Everybody deserves a chance. Even you.
Nadya: Thank you.
Oprah: So what happened after that conversation when you decided that you were going to work with her off-camera?
Suze: We had a come-to-Jesus meeting. We honest to God did. I gave her specific instructions. ... And the last thing I said to her was, "I want you to start the engine of your car right now and I want you to go to church and I want you to pray like you have never prayed before—because the only person that’s going to be able to save you at this point in time is God himself, girlfriend."
Oprah: So did you take Suze's advice?
Nadya: To heart—immediately. I had big floppy slippers on. She said, "Start the car and go to church." So I took the slippers off and I went barefoot and I started the car and I went to church.
Oprah: So what did you do? You walked into the church barefooted?
Nadya: Yes, I did. And they didn’t even look. One of my greatest problems [is] pride, and I have such trouble asking for help. Especially if I put myself in a predicament, I feel that I'm obligated to rectify the situation. So I did do it and I asked, "I need help, and is there anyone who would be willing to talk with me?" And she right away got a pastor, and I recognized him. He knew—he recognized me. He sat with me and he asked me the situation and I told him everything: "I'm terrified of what’s going to happen to me and my kids, we're losing our house and I have to borrow money for food." He said, "Let's pray." I was really wanting prayer—and we prayed. Within a week, there were major changes that happened.
Oprah: Major changes like what?
Nadya: One, I did the yard sale. I got going on that right away.
Oprah: How much money did you make from the yard sale?
Nadya: It was almost $1,500. That’s money to put food on the table.
Nadya: Then I got an offer to do a pseudo bartending job. I don’t drink alcohol and I’ve never opened a beer bottle. ... I was doing my best, [I got] $1,000 for two hours.
Oprah: For bartending?
Suze: Celebrity bartending.
Nadya: Then I really took a chance. I took a chance by securing management...
Oprah: Meaning, [you] got an agent?
Nadya: An agent, a literary agent, yes.
Oprah: You didn't want to do that?
Nadya: [It was] like two opposite ends of the extremes. One, I refused to go on real government help—to throw my hands up in the air and say I give up and feel like a failure as a parent. The other end of the extreme [was] I didn't want to become a self-fulfilling prophecy and become what people thought I already was: fame-seeking. So I was reluctant—extremely reluctant—to secure any type of management.
Oprah: And you, Suze, said to her that you have a responsibility to your children...you better get an agent or do whatever you can.
Suze: Just so we have this all in perspective, when I spoke to her and said you better go to church, she had maybe $300 left to her name. Period. Her lights were going to be shut off, her electricity was going to go, her house was going to be taken away. When I say she was going to be on the street with 14 kids, I was not just being dramatic like I can be. It was a reality that was maybe one week away at that time.
Oprah: Not even a week away. $300 and 14 kids?
Suze: Now the truth of the matter is that you didn’t want to not go on assistance because you would feel like you were a failure as a mother. Tell the truth. Why didn’t you want to go on assistance?
Nadya: Because people would hate me more than they already do.
Suze: And who cares if they hate you or not? Who cares?
Oprah: What else did you require [from Nadya]?
Suze: Here was the thing. We had 14 mouths to feed. Now all the other nannies are gone, [but] we have one left. That's like half-time because Nadya also has a child that is autistic. It’s not like she has 14 totally healthy children.
Nadya: Or older kids that make it easier. My older kids make it much, much, much more difficult. I don’t delegate the role of parent to my older kids. I refuse.
Oprah: That’s good. But I was thinking this last night...I mean, this is just unimaginable to me.
Nadya: It is.
Suze: Guess what, she’s doing it.
Oprah: It's unimaginable to me. My heart goes out to you because it’s unimaginable. As we were preparing for this last night, I [said], "This is unimaginable to me."
Nadya: You didn't [see me] lifting my 80-pound 5-year-old autistic son up the stairs with poop all over his back to his neck, giving him a shower, changing him—he needs three diapers—and bringing him down the stairs.
Oprah: Suze, when I heard that you had told her to get rid of the nannies...
Suze: [She] couldn't afford them. ... Here's the thing—I have this distinct belief, and I always will, that God never puts more on your plate than you can handle.
Oprah: I believe that too...but I think maybe God is saying, I didn’t tell you to go have 14 kids.
Suze: No, but she has them now. ... She's down to one nanny. She is doing it herself. She is taking the steps she needs to take. Whether or not you want to exploit these children...she has got to do something to feed them. So what's she going to do? She has to write a book, do a docu-series, do something that is respectful of these children on TV, make the money—why not? All of us are in reality today. There has got to be a respectful way for her to do that. So yeah, that’s what I want her to do.
Oprah: How are [your children] doing?
Nadya: They're all extraordinarily healthy.
Suze: Do you know all there names?
Nadya: [Laughter] Yes, I do.
Oprah: How old is the oldest?
Nadya: He's nine. So when I had the eight, my oldest was 7. I had 14 [children], 7 [years-old] and under.
Oprah: How are the six dealing with the eight?
Nadya: I personally feel as though the three oldest kids are 10 times harder than all the others. The three oldest—the 9-, the 8-, the 7-year-old—[are] fighting like dogs.
Suze: Want to hear the news, though? These 2-year-olds? They’re gonna be 6, 7 and 8 before you know it. We can laugh about that now, but just wait.
Suze: So I have two questions for you, if I can.
Nadya: Yes, anything.
Suze: Are you sure?
Nadya: I’m telling everything. Any question you have.
Suze: If you could turn back the hands of time—[and] this doesn’t mean you don't love them—would you not have done this? Tell me the truth, please.
Nadya: If I knew then what I know now...
Suze: Yes, I’m asking you now.
Nadya: I would have made different choices.
Suze: You would not have had the babies.
Nadya: I wouldn't...they wouldn’t be here. ... If I knew then what I know now, and how I feel my six have been displaced... Now they are actually all very healthy and fortunate—all 14 are healthy and fortunate to have what they have and to have a mother who loves them unconditionally.
Suze: Just answer the question.
Nadya: If I had to do this again, they wouldn't be here. ... I love them. I would die for them. I do love them. If I knew then what I know now, I would not have said, "Doctor, one more."
Suze: We have one more addiction I think we have to deal with. You go in the middle of the night to work out.
Nadya: Yes, I do.
Suze: You do and you're very proud of that. You also had a trainer that you were spending a few hundred dollars a month on to train you.
Nadya: That was last year.
Suze: I don't care when it was. It was.
Nadya: I’m justifying it.
Suze: I'm justifying it away. So there are many ways to get this out, but the reality of it is—and I want you to go here with me—you want to look good. You want to be able to have a great body, be strong and all that. Is any part of you also addicted to fame?
Nadya: No way.
Suze: Addicted to the cameras, addicted to magazine covers, addicted to the attention—addicted to that, and therefore, you want to look good for those cameras?
Nadya: No, I will say honestly no. Absolutely not.
Nadya: When I was little, my mother said, "Nadya, go make me some money." People are approaching her, all the time, for modeling, acting. I said, "No, Mom. I didn't want anything to do with that stuff." My dad [was telling me], "Education, Nadya. That [other] stuff is phony. You don’t want anything to do with it. You go to school—that is the one thing you're going to have for the rest of your life. No one will take it away from you." I gravitate toward my dad. I want to mind my own business, become a psychiatrist.
Suze: That doesn't have to do with anything we were just talking about!
Nadya: It does. I began to associate saccharine-ness, phoney-baloney stuff—like the media and Hollywood—I associate it with a mom who I desperately sought approval from. On one side, I do want people to like me. I do care what people think because, in a way, I'm seeking approval from women to compensate for never feeling approved or liked by my own mother. On the other side, I’m hiding from the cameras and the fame because my mom wanted me to do that. Dad didn't, so we've got a complicated issue.
Oprah: My heart goes out to you. It really does. And I don’t care how much you’ve been villainized or how much people have judged you. What I feel in my heart is that your children deserve a chance.
Nadya: They do.
Oprah: Your children deserve a chance just like every child in the world—in this country and beyond our country—deserves a chance. And so I don’t think your children should be, you know, held in low esteem or villainized because of something that you did. Here is your one chance—because we’re rooting for you. I will go on national television and say I’m rooting for you, I want you to do well. But can you answer the question? Because there is a perception in the country that you were seeking attention. ... You know, you’re a pretty woman who looks like you might have had some work done, and I don’t know if you did or not.
Nadya: No surgery.
Oprah: But the perception when people see that...because all of [us] know work costs money. And the perception is that you are liking it—that all this somehow feels okay to you, that you’re seeking it in some way.
Nadya: Every day, I still feel like I am being dragged back down to elementary school days where I was teased incessantly. Teased and bullied for being too skinny and [being called] Snuffleupaguseyelashes...
Oprah: Are those your eyelashes?
Nadya: These are mine, and I don’t wear makeup.
Oprah: Those are not some kind of...?
Nadya: No, they are not. They are mine.
Oprah: Are those your lips?
Nadya: Everything is mine. I’ve never had plastic surgery except for my breasts.
Oprah: You didn't have...?
Nadya: No. Nothing.
Suze: So listen to me, okay? You have been in front of the camera, you have had articles written about you, you have made a lot of money.
Nadya: Right. In the beginning.
Suze: Because of that, you could make a lot of money again.You made a lot of money in the beginning. Don't tell me that you don’t think to yourself, "If I did it once, I can do it twice."
Nadya: Yes, because you told me I could. That’s true.
Suze: And you never thought about it before that ever?
Nadya: I don’t want to. The reason is [because] I don’t feel I earned it. Here's the thing: celebrity. I feel as though you need to have talent and you need to have earned the word.
Suze: You have 14 babies.
Nadya: Being a breeder does not warrant the celebrity label. I did not want to be famous. I feel like I am a breeder. I had children, but all I wanted was to continue on [with] my own business and go back to school. I did not want those cameras in my face. And then here I'm thrown into the situation and I feel like..."Oh my gosh, how the heck am I going to do this? I have to put food on the table."
So I'm going to do it. Oh, they're paying for my house, they're sending me $150,000. I'm going to buy a house. ... So I'm going to have them wire money. I'm going to keep on having to do these interviews. They're going to jump in with the makeup and the crap and "you can't wear sweats," they say. And they're giving me gift cards—"You're going to buy this, you're going to but that." I'm not true to myself. And I hate myself. I hate me because I'm not being me. I'm being this thing that they invented in the frickin' media. This octomom. ... I want me back. I want to be true. I want to stay true to me. Which is why we're freaking poor—because I refused to go on any reality [show]...to exploit my family. I don't want anything to do with it. I like my dilapidated, torn-up minivan. I don’t want an expensive car. I started to hate money because everything that's associated with that—fame, the limelight—all of that to me is phony.