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.
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):
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 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?
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.
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.