In Defense of the Duggars… Again

This is not my first post about the Duggars and I suspect it probably won’t be the last, either.


“I bet my mom wished she’d had infertility! I’m one of nine children.”

Someone actually said this to me, to my face, four years ago. I was in then-Senator Kerry’s office at my first Advocacy Day for RESOLVE. There were two advocate groups waiting in his office: RESOLVE’s Massachusetts delegation and some aviation group about shutting down airports on the Cape or something. One of the women from the other delegation casually strolled over to where I was sitting and asked what we were on the Hill for that day. I responded how we were there for family-building legislation in support of the infertility community.

And then she laid that one on me. I was so flabbergasted I think I just responded only with a gob-smacked expression on my face. Thankfully, Kerry’s legislative aid called us into his conference room, preventing me from making a scene having an emphatic teachable moment right then and there.

To this day, I still cannot forget that experience and the sheer audacity of what that woman had to say to me. The ungratefulness. The callousness.

“What I wouldn’t give for just one,” I thought at the time.

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When I first wrote about the Duggars, I wrote about the “collective eyeroll” the infertility community (myself included) seemed to have in response to her announcement in 2011 of her twentieth baby being on the way. And, like 20% of all pregnancies, it ended in miscarriage.

The Duggars are again in the news, still on their quest for their twentieth child, but this time, they’re seeking the help of a fertility specialist. With Michelle’s advanced maternal age (she’s 47) and the most recent miscarriage, this is apparently the longest she’s ever been NOT pregnant since first having children almost thirty years ago (note: ad plays before the TLC segment):

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I know there are many of us in this community who can’t believe that Michelle Duggar would have the audacity to actually see a fertility specialist to have more children. “Isn’t 19 children enough already?” many of us have said, privately, out loud or otherwise.

Let’s consider for a moment if Michelle Duggar only had one child (born early due to extreme pre-eclampsia just as her daughter Josie was in 2009) followed by a miscarriage (Jubilee, 2011), and she and her husband still wanted to build their family. If she were any other mom or even infertility blogger, we’d be talking about a textbook case of secondary infertility and advanced maternal age: she’s a 47-year old multigravida, a history of pre-eclampsia thus making her high risk for future pregnancies, and she recently experienced a second-trimester miscarriage. Of course she should be seeing a fertility specialist. It’s the advice we’d give any woman who fit that profile on any blog, fertility forum or otherwise: “Get thee to an RE!” we’d all be saying.

But then insert 18 more children into the equation and suddenly, we’re not so keen to push her into the arms of a fertility doc.

What gives?

What is it that makes their pursuit of a twentieth child so… unnerving? Distasteful? Some might even argue selfish? Is it the sheer number of children that she already has that causes us to cringe at their prospects of continuing to build their family? Is it their lifestyle, their religious beliefs? Or is it a resentment of the fact it seems as though they’ve got a perpetual case of the “gimmies” when it comes to their family size?

And here again, I find myself in defense of the Duggars, something I never thought would happen once, let alone a second time.

For those who would claim their desire to have more children is “selfish,” there are plenty of people outside of the infertility community who feel that the desire to have any children at all is selfish. “They should be grateful for what they have.” Infertility patients have been told the same thing, whether or not they have children.

Where’s the threshold of “how many is too many”? At what numbered child does it go from perfectly normal to selfish? Two? Ten? Twenty?

(On a philosophical level, it’s a classic example of Theseus’ paradox.)

But more importantly… who are we to judge?

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I realize this is a somewhat controversial opinion.

I’m not asking you to agree with their choices, but I would hope that we can be open to them. Because what we’re looking at here is, believe it or not – a textbook case of reproductive choice. Sure, you think of choice arguments in the context of abortion: you don’t have to agree with abortion but (I feel) we need to be open to the possibility of choice, lest it be taken from us again.

It’s no different with respect to the Duggars: we don’t have to agree with how big they want their family to be (and how they choose to build it), but we must be open to the possibility of their growing family, lest someone or something take that option away from us. And believe you me: They have tried to take away family building options from us. Repeatedly.

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When I was on Capitol Hill for Advocacy Day a few weeks ago, we asked one of the legislative aides we met with about how we can strengthen our case for The Family Act: how do we make it more appealing to gather more co-sponsors?

The LA responded: “I think the biggest challenge you’re going to see is that so many of these folks believe that fertility treatments are elective, on the same level as plastic surgery.”

It’s a maddening argument: yes, using assisted reproductive technology is a choice but infertility itself is not a choice. (And for some, ART is a forced choice. Case in point: veterans whose injuries sustained in combat render them unable to conceive or carry a pregnancy.) But just because we choose to seek help for a medical condition does not make it elective in the sense of frivolity. Fertility treatments are not a nose job or a penis pill.

Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar are doing exactly what any other couple facing advanced maternal age and secondary infertility should be doing. While their nineteen previous children sensationalizes their story, it is by no means a “sensational” story in what they’re actually doing. They’re having trouble trying to get pregnant, so they’re seeing a fertility specialist – just like any of use would be or are doing. If we want the greater public to be open to that choice for infertility patients, then we too, as infertility patients, must be open to that for the Duggars.

We don’t have to agree. But we need the room to be open to it.

Otherwise, we’re just hypocrites.

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  1. S says

    When watching the show the Duggars have said repeatedely that they leave it up to the Lord to decide if and when they have more children. This is the part I don’t get. If they want more children then that is there choice and if they need a fertility specialist to help them that is again ther choice. It really is no one elses business.

    • says

      Definitely agree re: no one else’s business. And, as much as I love to debate their religious beliefs, I intentionally choose not to.

  2. Kelly says

    I agree with your comments. I’d just like to point out that the Duggars consulted a fertility doc to find out what she should know if she were to get pregnant, not to seek treatment in the pursuit of pregnancy.

    • says

      Thanks for the clarification, Kelly (and the comment)! I think regardless of whether she’s looking to pursue treatment (which I doubt she will, TBH), the fact that she’s consulting a fertility specialist is important. It’s the same course of action any other woman with a history of miscarriage and pre-eclampsia *should* be doing – at least she’s not just flying blind into the whole thing. She’s empowering herself as a patient – and that’s a good thing!

  3. says

    I absolutely agree with you. We see this a lot in the ALI community, women going through secondary infertility who are not supported because OTHERS IN OUR COMMUNITY feel they should just be thankful for what they have. The more kids one already has, the less support they get (and the more they are judged as being selfish or ungrateful). If you have one, people are somewhat supportive of you wanting another, but if you already have two, or god forbid three or more? The support is just not there.

    I’ve seen so many people SWEAR they will be totally content if they can just PLEASE have one child, and then they get that child and that child turns one or two or three and suddenly they are very upset (rightly so) that they can’t have another. I’ve seen is SO MANY TIMES (and I don’t mean to imply that it happens to everyone, because it definitely doesn’t, but it happens to a significant number of those in the IF community). I know the desperation of facing the possibility of not having any children, and I understand why it makes people feel they way they do about situations like the Duggars, but you’re right that we have to respect people’s choices in their family building paths, otherwise we are hypocrites.

  4. says

    My issue with the nay-sayers is who has the right to tell who that they already have “enough” and is also a core battle for infertiles who finally achieve parenthood with their first. Of course they are thankful/grateful/gloriously happy for the child(ren) they have but until the family size feels right to them, no one else can or should say enough is enough. I was done in my heart at 2, one of my BFFs was done in her heart at 1, one of my other BFFs has 4 and doesn’t yet feel done in her heart so I mourn with her. that #5 is not in the cards.

  5. says

    I agree it’s no one’s business how many children someone should have and how many is “too many.”

    However, I think my issue would be if they DID use fertility treatments/medication (I understand their fertility doctor treatment was to see if there was anything they should be doing naturally, so no beef there). The ONLY reason I’d have an issue with this is because they are strong proponents of the Quiverfull Movement, which means you are happy and welcome the number of children God gives you… whether that’s 19 or none (which even they have said before). So it would be hypocritical for them to preach that and turn around and use fertility treatments just to get their 20th living child.

    Again, while I do roll my eyes (as I do for people who complain about how quickly they get pregnant when they think it’s going to take a while), I have no issue with the number of children… just if they should turn to treatments and still push the Quiverfull Movement–if they change their mind on the QM and do treatments, then that’s their right to decide to follow something else.

  6. Catie says

    I also heard Michelle was only seeing an RE for advice should she fall pregnant again. And I agree that it is a very smart move. She would be high risk for a number of reasons at this point. The only thing that would rub me the wrong way if they were doing ivf is how they are always saying they left their family size “up to god.” To me, seeking fertility treatments after a statement like that is a little…questionable?

  7. says

    I have mixed feelings on all of this and I’m not afraid to say that. But my issues are less that she is seeing someone with questions and more that she is making a public spectacle about it. They use their children to make money. They went onto the Today show to do a report about visiting an RE with questions. The visit will air on the show. People who already have limited info about the process may see it more as a choice than a need for the people who use RE’s.

    I worry that those who are already trying to convince of infertility as a disease instead of a lifestyle choice will see that she publicly announced that she seen a reproductive endocrinologist (whether it was for treatments or just a consult) will have people suddenly viewing our circumstance as a lifestyle choice. All publicity for the cause is not always good publicity. I’ve already had to answer questions from well meaning people to explain why someone like her would use an RE office. That this visiting a fertility clinic is not a lifestyle choice and it’s not just for people who are older and should stop popping out kids. Suddenly it becomes people viewing infertility clinics in a different light, much the way people viewed IVF after the octomom. Will this hopefully open positive discussion? One can hope. But are there chances that this will further cement the harsher comments we already get? Probably.

    If she wants to have 40 kids, that’s her business. But I’ve always been of the mind frame that she shouldn’t use those kids to make her income. I don’t watch the show because the few times I did, it didn’t settle right with me. But they keep themselves in the media spot light so it’s hard to avoid at times. At the end, I worry about the negative connotations that her filmed visit with an RE will hurt those of us that are truly trying to legitimize infertility and the need for treatments. We’re already fighting enough backlash on a daily basis. I just don’t see this “publicity” helping it.

  8. Ria says

    I’ll be honest, I don’t think she’s a very good parent to the kids she already has so it bothers me that she’s hoping to have more. She seemed like a good mom earlier on but now, she just comes across like she can’t be bothered with them. I think she’s addicted to pregnancy and should seek counseling to find out why. She also doesn’t seem to take much joy in her grandchildren, I feel awful for her DIL. Michelle will never be the doting grandma because she’s too wrapped up in getting pregnant again herself.

    I think she should pass the torch of childbearing down to her adult children now and accept that she’s had that time of her life.

  9. says

    I’m mildly fascinated by their parenthood journey. After my initial shock at the number of kids they’ve had, and my own subsequent pregnancy, I’m definitely not judging them. I just watched the video and my main reaction was, holy crap she’s 47?? She looks at least 15 years younger than that! Maybe she knows something the rest of us don’t haha! More power to them.