A decade ago, one California woman made international headlines after she gave birth to eight children. But as the years have gone on, Natalie "Nadya" Suleman could not escape the attention.
In January 2009, Suleman, then 33, gave birth to octuplets and caused a media storm. Her octuplets were only the second set to be born alive in the United States. Suleman, who was already a mom of six before giving birth to the eight children, had all of her kids conceived through IVF.
"I never coined the term Octomom," she told Inside Edition in 2017, calling it a creation of the media.
But she admits that "out of desperation" to provide for her family, "I shamefully embraced the character. I have embraced every day with gratitude,” she added.
The media seemed to fawn over the single mom who resembled Angelina Jolie and, like the actress, had a desire to be a mother of many. Paparazzi were stationed outside her modest home in La Habra, California, as Noah, Josiah, Nariyah, Jonah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Makai, and Maliyah made their first voyages home from the hospital.
Prior to capturing the attention of the world for having eight kids at once, Suleman, who has a bachelor's degree in child and adolescent development from California State University at Fullerton, worked in a mental hospital. In 1999, she said she suffered a back injury during an inmate riot at the hospital and collected more than $165,000 in disability payments.
She was studying for her master’s degree in counseling when she became pregnant with the octuplets.
Caring for 14 kids is no easy task, and having cameras following the matriarch's every move made things even harder, especially when she would go out to run an errand with the kids.
“All I wanted was children. I wanted to be a mom. That's all I ever wanted in my life. I love my children,” Suleman told the "Today" show in her first interview weeks after giving birth to the octuplets. “I'm providing myself to my children. I'm loving them unconditionally, accepting them unconditionally. Everything I do, I'll stop my life for them and be present with them. And hold them. And be with them. And how many parents do that? I'm sure there are many that do, but many don't. And that's unfortunate. That is selfish.”
She told Inside Edition in 2011 that she only gets three to four hours of sleep a night due to the panic of keeping her kids safe. She said early in the octuplets' lives, Suleman received death threats.
Inside Edition visited her home in 2012 and captured holes in the walls and drawings on the white surfaces — results of the children’s antics. The condition of her home didn't seem to bother her, as she said she wasn't out to impress anyone.
“I don’t care what anyone thinks of me,” she told Inside Edition in 2012. “I have learned to let go. It took many years. I have always been a people-pleaser.”
While she unconditionally cared for her children, the reality of trying to afford raising 14 kids as a single mom became difficult.
In 2012, she filed for personal bankruptcy, claiming up to $1 million in debts. That same year, she moved out of her home after it was foreclosed on by the bank.
Suleman had to find money in non-conventional areas to support her family.
Her public life eventually became riddled with what she called "self-exploitation," including a brief career in pornography. Her adult film, “Octomom Home Alone,” won multiple nominations in 2013 from adult magazine AVN and took home the prize for Best Celebrity Sex Tape.
She also worked briefly as a stripper to make extra money.
"I was violating repeatedly my own core values and my own boundaries," she said in an interview on “The Doctors” in 2016. "In my mind, it was like an investment so I could support my family.
"There's going to be some type of repercussion. For me, that was the manifestation of toxic shame," she continued.
As a result, she said she became addicted to Xanax, for which she eventually checked into rehab.
"In order to continue that cycle with self-exploitation and dehumanization, I had to emotionally numb [myself] with a mood-altering substance," she said. "It was poisonous. It was horrible."
Times continued to get difficult for Suleman. In 2014, she pleaded no contest to welfare fraud. She was sentenced to two years probation and 200 hours of community service and was ordered to repay $26,000 prosecutors say she illegally claimed.
She raised her kids as vegans, Suleman explained to Inside Edition in 2017, and taught each of the children to help with chores around the house. She said her day starts at 6 a.m. with backpacks and lunches ready to go.
“It’s kind of messy but we are a strong, solid family unit, unbeknownst to what many people believe," she said. “I’ve always wanted a big family. We’re like a team.”
She drives her children to school and other activities in a white van and does it all on her own. Many of the children attend different schools, which requires different pick-ups and drop-offs during the week.
“Help? I don’t get any help," she claimed. "I haven’t had any help in many, many years."
Suleman, now 43, told The Daily Mail last summer that she is working now as a councilor with patients who suffer drug and alcohol issues. She says she lives paycheck-to-paycheck and gets by with government assistance as well as residuals from her adult film.
She told the New York Times in December that she is also in the process of writing a book and that her back is broken from giving birth to the octuplets.
"Four out of the five discs in my lumbar spine are ruptured, herniated fully. Think of a jelly doughnut being squashed, and it hits nerves, causing bilateral sciatica. And I have irreparable sacral damage. And I have peripheral neuropathy. I haven’t felt my toes on my foot on the right side for many years, and my fingers are numb all the time every day. The pregnancy caused it," she told the Times.
She says that she doesn't take traditional medication to fix it and relies on exercise to help her.
The family currently lives in a modest three-bedroom townhouse in Orange County and the busy mom of 14 also told the publication that she doesn't date.
Like many people of the modern era, much of her life is imprinted on social media, where Suleman takes to Instagram to post photos of the kids and their lives.
She also uses Instagram to promote their vegan lifestyle.
The children and their mom are very physically active as well, as Suleman posts photos of herself and the kids exercising.
As for having more children, Suleman told Inside Edition in 2011 that her baby-making days are over, saying, "the baby factory is closed permanently."