In 2009, Natalie (formerly Nadya) Suleman gave birth to octuplets after undergoing in vitro fertilization. The media dubbed her "Octomom," and she was quickly viewed negatively after the public discovered she was already an unemployed mother of six children, who were all conceived through in vitro fertilization.
Suleman also worked as a stripper and appeared in adult films while trying to support her family, turning to prescription drugs as a result.
Now, the mom of 14 has opened up to the Daily Mail about her past and how she's moving forward, revealing that she had to "kill" Octomom to save her own life.
"Everything I ever did was for money to put food on the table," she said. "Everyone thinks I had all these donations and help but I didn't – I did everything on my own and paid everything out of my own pocket so I was Octomom for four years. The last two years of it were so dark. I descended down a very dark and destructive path."
"I fully exploited and dehumanized myself with the porn and the stripping," she continued. "I was so desperate we were on the verge of homelessness, so rather than put my kids in front of the camera I decided to put myself out there. The consequence of exploiting myself was deep toxic shame and self disgust. To continue I had to numb and that's when I started with the prescription drugs."
Suleman believes she would have died from an overdose had she not "killed" her persona of Octomom in 2013, saying the moment she quit was when she found her then 10-year-old daughter Amerah playing dress-up in a pair of spiked heels.
Within a month, Suleman moved back to her hometown of Orange County and found a job working with troubled and vulnerable women.
"I've been working for three and a half years and people think I'm a lazy welfare recipient," she explained. "Before that I worked as a psychiatric nurse for a decade - altogether on and off I've been in the helping profession for over 20 years."
Suleman, who revealed that she was not trying for multiple children when she became pregnant with her octuplets, added that what angers her the most is when people think she is an unfit mother.
"If I weren't a fit mom I would have given up on my kids years ago," she explained. "I would have died of a drug overdose. I have stayed strong for them. My kids know what I did as Octomom I tell them the truth. I've told them I've done some very bad and shameful things and they say, "It's okay mom we love you anyway and we'll always love you."
"They know I did it for them," she continued. "We don't have kid conversations, we have deep and intellectual conversations about all of this. They are so smart and so aware."
Suleman and her kids now follow a vegetarian diet and regularly run 5k races together to raise autism awareness, as Suleman has two children with the disease and one, Aidan, requires round-the-clock care.
"I admit that I made many mistakes in my life and that I'm imperfect," she said. "I make mistakes constantly. But my children were not a mistake - they were meant to be here."