Is 'Only-Child Syndrome' Behind Octuplets?

Angela Suleman says her daughter had 14 kids because she was an only child.

Feb. 5, 2009— -- The 9-day-old octuplets of a California woman are all now breathing on their own. But as Nadya Suleman's babies continue to grow stronger and healthier, questions remain about what led the 33-year-old woman -- now the mother of 14 -- to have so many children in the first place.

Angela Suleman, the octuplets' grandmother, told US Weekly magazine this week that she strongly believes her daughter's status as an only child played a role.

"She always blamed me for only having her," Angela Suleman said. "She was a single child. ... She was always upset I didn't have more. ... She always wanted a lot of kids."

Nadya Suleman's reticence so far to talk to the media has made it difficult to confirm this motive; interview requests from sent through her agent were not immediately returned. But Diane Sanford, president and co-developer of the clinical and consulting group Women's Healthcare Partnership, told "Good Morning America" today that it stood to reason that some "onlies" who believe they missed out on siblings might want to have a big family themselves.

"I certainly think that if you grow up as an only child, that you would want to compensate by having more children, with the closeness and the affiliation," she said.

Nadine Kaslow, chief psychologist at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta and a professor at Emory University's School of Medicine, agreed that being an only child could have been a contributor in this situation.

"Some of them really, really want a sibling," she said. "They feel really lonely and isolated. ... Maybe that was one variable in this woman's story."

Still, while so-called only child syndrome might have been a possible factor in Nadya Suleman's decision, Kaslow said, it is probably just part of the picture.

"It is obvious that there are multiple factors that contributed to this, so we wouldn't want to get overly fixated on any one variable," she said. "This is probably a small part. Not an insignificant part, but a small part."

Filling the Void

Felipe Amunategui, associate training director for the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychology at University Hospitals of Cleveland, concurred that looking at Nadya Suleman's only-child status alone would be a mistake.

"I think that's reading way too much into this situation," he said. "Some individuals who grow up in that environment are very comfortable with their solitude."

If one thing is clear, it is that Nadya Suleman's motives were strong. Her mother told reporters that the woman sought in vitro fertilization in all of her pregnancies because of blocked fallopian tubes. But to obtain the repeated procedures necessary to have so many children, she, no doubt, had to go to special lengths to find doctors who would perform her IVF, even when she already had a number of children.

"You would start by looking at what the motivations are for this," Amunategui said. "One would surmise that in her way of thinking, this was a solution to something."

He added that for those who believe they have an emotional void in their lives, having children is not an unusual motive.

"There are people who have a feeling that adding something, a new pet or a new child, will bring about the happiness that has eluded them," Amunategui said.

But Amunategui noted that the idea of having children simply for these reasons may create more problems than it solves.

"You have to take into account that if one person's needs are being fulfilled by another person's existence, all sorts of questions are legitimately brought up," he said. "For example, is it appropriate for offspring to be brought up just so the parent can fill a void?"

Big Steps Ahead for Big Family

Whatever Nadya Suleman's motivations, Kaslow said she worried that her decision to have so many children could put a strain on her whole family, particularly the older children who are now joined by eight young siblings.

"I think there's no question that you cannot fulfill all of these kids' needs," she said. "No one can, no matter how good a parent you are."

Amunategui, for one, said that in this situation, counseling for Nadya Suleman and her family would be "very advised," particularly considering the possibility of such complications as postpartum depression.

"It is not unusual, even under the best of circumstances, for a woman after childbirth to experience major depression. So counseling, definitely, would be a prudent step."

But Kaslow said that absent any pressing need, counseling should not be the top priority for the newly expanded family.

"I think that for the first few weeks, even if you have one baby, you don't have the energy to form a relationship with a counselor at all," she said. "The most important thing that mom needs to do now is bond with those babies, nurture her attachment to the older kids, and figure out how they are all going to work as a family.

"I think they are all going to need help figuring this out."

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