Think back. The year is 2009, and the U.S. is still reeling from the global financial crisis. Barack Obama has been inaugurated, people are terrified about swine flu, yet your attention is decidedly elsewhere. That's because a woman named Natalie "Nadya" Suleman—better known as "Octomom"—has recently given birth to a cohort of highly anticipated octuplets, bringing her total tally of children to an unfathomable 14. The nation couldn't seem to look away.
If you followed the story then, you already know that Natalie, who now goes by her birth name, was treated as both a medical marvel and a tabloid sideshow. Today, she lives in California with her kids, and despite years of struggle, it seems she's hit her stride. The octuplets—Noah, Jonah, Jeremiah, Josiah, Isaiah, Makai, Nariyah and Maliyah Suleman—are now 11 years old, and Natalie reports that the family is thriving. Read on to see what the octuplets look like now.
Natalie shared a Mother's Day post of the octuplets and one of her older daughters.
On Instagram, Natalie often shares pictures of "the eight," as they're called—six boys and two girls—and laments that her older children aren't that into being photographed. Last Mother's Day, Natalie shared a sweet image of the octuplets holding up handmade gifts for her, which she described as "priceless."
And it's clear they're growing up fast based on her post from Mother's Day 2021. In a new photo of the octuplets and one of her older daughters, she showed off her many cards, flowers, and teddybears from her kids along with an appreciation post to moms everywhere. "Happy Mother's Day to all you devoted, diligent, and loving mamas in this world!" she wrote. "You are valued and appreciated! #HappyMothersDay ❤️"
She regularly shares sweet snaps of the octuplets at various milestones.
Looking at Natalie's Instagram account, it seems she's really pulled it off: 14 kids are living together under one roof, and aside from the family's size, their upbringing seems blissfully ordinary. The kids cook vegan meals, run races, celebrate birthdays, make crafts, and are shuttled around to school and sporting events just like their peers. The New York Times described theirs as a "happy household" after visiting in 2018.
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…But the family has had darker chapters, too.
When the kids were young, Natalie famously expressed regret at the size of her brood during a video interview with Radar Online (via ABC). "What the heck am I going to do? I have to put on this strong face, and I have to pretend like I don't regret it," she said.
The early years of raising the octuplets—plus six older children, including one with non-verbal autism—were understandably complicated for the single mom. (This short documentary about the family gives a sense of how challenging it would be to raise 14 children at once.) Struggling to make ends meet, Natalie found her family "on the verge of homelessness," at which point, she turned to drug use and began working in the adult entertainment industry. She later explained that this was her rock bottom, and that not long after, she made the decision to check into rehab and "kill" the "Octomom character." Looking back on the experience, she said, "The media created the character and I shamefully embraced it in 2009 out of scarcity and desperation to survive."
Her difficult past makes her victory that much sweeter.
Whatever your take on Natalie's "Octomom" persona of the past, there's no denying that the family is faring far better than skeptics expected. Somehow, she's tamed the chaos of a house full of more than a dozen children, and is living a life that she describes as "blessed."
So how does she do it? Natalie credits "consistent structure and discipline mixed with unconditional love and acceptance" for helping her to raise well-adjusted kids. "This combination of love and discipline has shaped them into the most grateful human beings I've ever known," she shared in one Instagram post.
The family is living a happier life away from the spotlight.
No longer constrained by the "Octomom" label, Natalie is now free to raise her family on her own terms—and for her, that means focusing on her brood's physical and mental health. Her Instagram is peppered with messages to her children about prioritizing kindness toward themselves, and extending that kindness to others. She speaks from experience, after having to make peace with her own past and ongoing life challenges.
"One of the most important lessons I try to teach you all is that every person that crosses your path is fighting a battle you know nothing about," she wrote in a post to her children. "Be kind, compassionate, and patient with people always; and aware that sometimes the brighter the smile the deeper the suffering… No one could imagine the struggle you face, that we all face, daily. We are going through challenges for reasons God only knows, yet those challenges are meant to forge, shape, and strengthen our character."
So, happy Mother's Day to Natalie Suleman and all the mothers out there who have made it through their own roughest parenting moments. May it only get easier from here.