Last week, Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar announced that they are expecting their 20th child. This reality-TV couple bases its family-planning philosophy on a conservative Christian movement called “Quiverfull.” Taken from part of Psalm 127 that compares a man with many children to a warrior with a sheath full of arrows, the “Quiverfull” movement resists any form of birth control and encourages couples to be fruitful and multiply.
Both this news and the movement that promotes the Duggars’ child-bearing philosophy sparked renewed controversy last week. There were congratulations and queries about the next J-name for baby number 20. Then there were more neutral responses concluding that since the Duggars use no government assistance and seem to be a generally wholesome clan, it’s no one else’s business how many children they have. But a host of commentators brought up significant concerns about the health of the mother and child—especially since the last Duggar baby (Josie) was born 15 weeks early via emergency caesarean section due to complications with the pregnancy. Josie weighed less than 2 pounds at birth and spent the first 2 months of her life in the hospital, a difficult circumstance that led to no shortage of criticism for the Duggars.
While I don’t personally espouse the Duggars’ belief system regarding family size, I wonder how much of the uproar comes from real concern for mother and child and how much comes from disagreement with their philosophical principles. My own knowledge of the family comes from their reality show, which can only ever provide a partial (and heavily edited) perspective, but the kids seem well-adjusted, healthy, and sincerely devoted to their faith. Detractors who bring up population control issues and inter-family relationships seem to be missing key points—that one family can’t alter world population statistics in any meaningful way and that all families (regardless of size) have to work out their own economies of attention.
I doubt I’ll ever understand the Duggars and their desire for a super-sized family, but I’m not convinced that their 20th pregnancy warrants the ethical outcry it sometimes receives. Would people make the same judgments of a 45-year-old mother with only one child, even if that child’s birth were complicated? I can’t say for sure, yet it seems to me that part of what’s so off-putting about the Duggars is their extremism and their commitment to follow through on their beliefs, however strange they may seem to the mainstream. I would never want an outsider to step into my family and define how many children is enough for us, and I offer the Duggars the same respect of butting out, along with well-wishes for a safe pregnancy and childbirth.