Addicted to Pregnancy and Babies?

I just ran across this quote by Kelly Bates on learning that she is expecting her nineteenth child:

While some parents struggle with just a couple of kids, Kelly, 44, has spent almost half her life pregnant — and she’s happiest when she’s carrying a child.

“It feels more normal to me to be pregnant than not be pregnant,” she told ABC’s Nightline. “I’m happy holding a baby.”

This reminds me of a Michelle Duggar quote I ran across a few months ago. I can’t find it now for some reason, but Michelle stated that she feels “empty” when she’s not pregnant and is happiest when she has a baby inside.

I’m no psychologist and I don’t like to think badly of people like the Bates and the Duggars on points where I can’t know for sure, but I have to wonder if Kelly Bates and Michelle Duggar might possibly be “addicted” to being pregnant and to having small babies. Most women accept the reality that they are pregnant and caring for small babies for only small periods of time, and once their two or three children are past the diapers stage, they move on to parenting preschoolers and elementary schoolers. Mothers like Kelly and Michelle don’t seem to want to give up pregnancy and babyhood, so they put the two on repeat so that they don’t have to.

All I’m saying is, if your body feels empty when you’re not pregnant and so you try to always be pregnant, and if you’re happiest when you’re holding a baby and so you try to always have a new baby in your arms, I think you probably have a problem. I don’t know if “addicted” is the right word, but normal women are able to feel perfectly whole and happy without being pregnant or having an infant. And if you don’t, something is probably wrong.

Then there is the fact that Michelle Duggar wants another child even though doctors say that after the complications of her last pregnancy another pregnancy would be very dangerous, both to her and the baby. It strikes me that she is showing very little care for (a) her life; (b) the life of the baby she might carry; and (c) the needs of the children she already has. It’s almost like she’s more interested in a possible twentieth child than she is in slowing down and investing in the nineteen she already has. She’s willing to run the risk of robbing her nineteen existing children of a mother in order to have that potential twentieth baby she wants so badly.

This brings up an important question: what about the rest of the children? What about them and their needs? If a mother expends her energies being always pregnant or caring for a young baby, she has less time to spend with the kids that she has. Michelle has a dozen and a half kids who I’m sure would jump to spend more time with her, but the truth is, while love may multiply, time does not. Every minute Michelle focuses on her desire to get pregnant again is a minute her kids don’t have her full attention.

Kelly Bates’ quote about being happiest when holding a baby brings up another question. What happens when that baby turns into a toddler? If I understand correctly, Michelle Duggar hands a baby over to one of her older daughters as a buddy at about six months, and the care for the baby transfers to that daughter. I would imagine something similar happens with Kelly Bates, as young toddlers are handed over to the other kids so that she can concentrate on having another baby. Regardless of the mechanics, one gets the sense that preschoolers somehow matter less to these women than do fetuses and young babies. Rather than repeating pregnancy after pregnancy and baby after baby, most people turn their attention to raising their toddler, preschooler, and then, elementary schooler. Not so with Kelly or Michelle. Of course, this is only my impression. Hopefully Michelle and Kelly are taking the time to invest in each of their kids individually, though with nineteen and eighteen, there can’t end up being that much time to go around.

In the end, it seems to me that Quiverfull beliefs can easily end up privileging future children at the expense of existing children. I know that when I consider having a small family (say, two or three) I think about all the kids that I could have and won’t have and feel sad, almost like I’m murdering someone before they’re born by not having five, six, or seven children. Melissa at Permission to Live told me that she feels the same way, that if she stops with the four she has she will always feel a sense of regret for those kids she didn’t have. The problem with that is that always wondering about these possible children makes it hard to focus on the children that already exist. As Melissa said, she’s been working on changing her perspective from thinking about the next baby to focusing on investing in the four small children she has right now.

I also wonder if, when Michelle and Kelly finally reach the end of their childbearing years, they will be at a loss for what to do. Being pregnant and having small babies is simply life to them, and they will simply have to learn to cope without that. Hopefully they will adjust well and simply turn to raising the children they have. Unless, of course, like Kelly, they simply use hormone therapy to extend their childbearing period indefinitely. Because yes, while these women may eschew artificial birth control they’re not against using artificial means to bring about the pregnancies and babies they want so much.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Libby Anne
  • Anonymous

    Well, as the mother of 10, I feel a bit qualified to contribute here. I am now 56, my youngest just turned 10. I thoroughly enjoyed pregnancy and babies, but I am also equally enjoying my older children, my adult children, and my grandchildren. I do not at all feel loss that that season of my life is past, and neither do I regret having 10. It's not about how many children you have or don't have; rather, it's all about yielding yourself to God, following the leading of the Holy Spirit, staying within biblical bounds. He may or may not lead you to have 10 children…but I do know that God is most glorified when our lives are filled with joy in Him however He leads. You sound bitter and as if you are on a crusade. What's with that?

  • Anonymous

    Oh, just ignore the above post. I had not read anything on your blog but the above article. Now that I have read more, I realize where you are, and what's with that. My apologies for intruding.

  • Libby Anne

    Anonymous – I did see your second comment saying I could just ignore your first comment, but I wanted to say that I'm sorry you felt (still feel?) that I am being bitter. The issue isn't being bitter but rather sorting through my past and trying to separate the good from the bad. In many ways my growing up experience was great – a big happy loving family – but there were also some problems as well. Without the problematic teachings of Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull, these problems wouldn't have occurred, and that is why I blog. It's not that I'm bitter, but rather that I'm trying to sort through all this for myself, to let others who have similar backgrounds know they are not alone, and to shed light on these problems so that others can hopefully avoid them.I'm glad you feel that you have enjoyed your older children as well as your babies. Hopefully the same is completely true of Kelly Bates and Michelle Duggar (though I would point out that they each have nearly twice as many as you). It was the statements Kelly and Michelle have made about feeling empty when not pregnant and being happiest when having a baby in arms, comments I find potentially worrisome, that prompted my post. I was raised in a large family (even larger than yours), and my mom worked hard to invest in the older and middle kids as well as the younger ones. But the thing is, like I said, while love does multiply, time does not. It's therefore harder to invest in your kids as individuals if you have ten, twelve, or fourteen than if you have two or three. I'm not saying it can't be done, but it's sure not as easy, and kids can get missed from time to time. I'm sure you've run into this yourself. :-)

  • Libby Anne

    Anonymous – Also, it's not that I'm against big families. I'm not. I do think, though, that big families need to keep their priorities straight, and to not overlook the kids they have in their eagerness to have yet more. Kids are little individuals, and they need individual attention and room to grow and be themselves. But then, it sounds from you comment that you were well aware of that in raising your ten.

  • Fina

    I suspect that having babies and being pregnant is a way for those women to cover their own insecurities and lack of self-respect/self-esteem. After all, Quiverfull takes both away from women quite effectively. Having children is almost the only purpose for women under it, and it probably provides an easy "sense of purpose" no matter how bad the rest of their live actually is: They have a baby to focus on (and a baby takes a lot of attention after all), so they can't focus on all the problems in their lives.

  • shadowspring

    "I know that when I consider having a small family (say, two or three) I think about all the kids that I could have and won't have and feel sad, almost like I'm murdering someone before they're born by not having five, six, or seven children."I know a QF dad who posted that right out: preventing pregnancy=infanticide. Someone must actually be preaching that for people to all feel that way. That's some sick, guilt-inducing doctrine. Glad I was never exposed. *shudders*I haven't checked out your link about being addicted to pregnancies, but I totally see that. As someone commented on another blog once,"It's like they're hoarders, only they hoard children." Heck, you might have even been the one to say that! I don't remember who/where, but I remember the idea, because it rings true.

  • Mommy McD

    Its like you've said before – if you are having so many kids that you are having your older ones "buddy parent" the toddlers so you can have another baby, you've had to many. Its not right to keep having babies when you are unable to fully parent all the young children and have to assign them to older ones. Older daughters of course, though I wonder how its done if say the family had 4 or 5 sons in a row before any daughters.

  • Final Anonymous

    "I know that when I consider having a small family (say, two or three) I think about all the kids that I could have and won't have and feel sad, almost like I'm murdering someone before they're born…"Wow. Interesting. Totally new to me. When I was in the midst of those childbearing years, wondering each time whether or not to have another, friends told me I'd "just know" when we were finished, and I did. After the last one, although I always wanted a very large family and would welcome a baby if one came, I never again had that intense, biological clock kind of desire to purposely create one ourselves. Physically, financially, emotionally, and time-wise, we are at and sometimes over capacity, so we're done.I guess I also figured if God really wanted me to have another, he's shown me he's capable of by-passing all my best birth control methods ; ).I think you're smart to keep an eye on that guilt. I have honestly never heard that outside of Mormon or Catholic circles, although it certainly makes sense as a by-product of patriarchal indoctrination. Sounds like you're developing a health perspective about it.

  • Anne

    First of all…I think it's sort of funny someone calls you bitter…you're one of the most matter-of-fact bloggers I've read who deals with this stuff!That being said, I'm the oldest of 12 so I believe I am more qualified perhaps than even a mother of 12 to comment on this. LOL! My mom didn't even wait for 6 months to hand off her babies (as soon as I was old enough to care for them, and later, some of the other girls). She would birth and breastfeed…the other girls and I would do the rest of the work.I don't think she was addicted to having babies though…it was just their "convictions" that "God should choose the size of their family". (Read: LAZINESS.) IMO, some people CAN do the big family thing, and make it work where all the children feel special and loved. But also IMO, those are rare.

  • Anonymous

    I would agree with Fina, at least in some cases. I think being pregnant gave my mother purpose in an emotionally abusive marriage and gave her something to focus on that made her feel worthwhile. She has depression and very low self esteem, but always seemed happiest when she was pregnant or was nursing a baby. (She has 12 children).

  • Disillusioned ex-Homeschooler

    I think Fina is right. A culture/belief system that centers women's worth in their fertility and reproduction will naturally create an atmosphere in which women seek to find validation, recognition, worth, and satisfaction through being pregnant and having babies. (Not that all women who have many children fall into this category; I know many who don't). But it's a pretty sick culture in which you reach superstar status by endangering your own and your baby's life by repeated pregnancies against common sense and medical advice (to say nothing of risking leaving your many offspring motherless). As for the thought that not having more children makes you feel like you're murdering potential offspring, that's just so sad. :( I grew up in an environment somewhat similar to QF/CP, but at least I didn't absorb that particular mentality. My husband and I have very happily stopped at two children, but we always keep our eyes open to the potential of adoption. One of the ethical problems I have with QF is that people have so many children despite the myriad grave consequences of exponential world population growth, but I also think about all the children out there in dire need of good homes. Honestly it feels selfish to me (again, I don't put this on other people) to have more than two children. I feel that if I can care for more, I should open my home to those who might otherwise spend their lives in terrible situations of poverty, neglect, abuse, and violence.I'll share an anecdote: I recently visited my family and met up with another large family I have known for years. They are a delightful family in many ways, and I have a lot of respect for them in many areas. But I was shocked and very disturbed when the mother, whom I care for greatly, started talking about one of her children's budding courtships. The person with whom her child is involved is an only child, and they way she described that bothered me so much. She outlined how she loved this young person despite the fact that this person showed the signs of being an only child, and of being too used to having the parents' attention and to expecting to be listened to. After more criticism in this vein, she ended with, "I do love x and think x is a wonderful, godly person, and I just remind myself it isn't x's fault x is an only child."

  • Anonymous

    I personally know several women who were told that they should not have more babies due to health problems, who decided to "leave it up to God" and went on to have more anyway. I try not to judge people, but it's very difficult not to be disgusted with these women. It's selfish to choose a not-yet-conceived child over the children you've already brought into the world. Don't they have a right to grow up with their mother in their lives? Do they deserve to grow up with the thought "I wasn't good enough so my mom died trying to have more kids?"

  • Anonymous

    I've heard people describe Michelle Duggar or Kelly Bates as 'collecting children as if they are Precious Moments figurines' that always stuck with me because I agree whole heartedly. When Michelle Duggar was asked on her program to describe her children's personalities she only could tell you,in detail, about the first five. The rest was just about her labors with the subsequent ones. I have four children because I knew that was my limit. I love pregnancy and the baby and toddler years but I know you blink and they are 10 years old. The only reason these women can have so many is because a majority of the grunt work falls to their daughters. It's so unfair. I'm not talking about all large families, but the ones being discussed here. And any Quiverfull family that fits that mindset. They have daughters as young as 8 years old that help run the home; cooking, cleaning, endless laundry, infant care etc. Love your blog Libby Anne!~Allison

  • quietpanther

    Some of the things you said in your blog post brought this little parody to mind.Great post!

  • DragonGirl

    Frankly, this sounds like animal hoarding to me.

  • Anonymous

    I was raised in a home like this, and after my mother was past her child-bearing years, she and my father became foster and adoptive parents. I don't believe my mother feels any sense of self-esteem or self-value without having children to keep her busy. She comes from an abusive background (both from her father to her mother, and then a first violently abusive marriage) and I feel she pursues childcare as a way to feel as though she has self-value or a purpose in life. I don't believe she sees any value in herself, unless she's living to meet someone else's needs (and even sacrificing her older childrens' time and needs as well as her own) to take on new children all the time. I've wondered about the term "addicted to child care" or something like that? I would also describe my upbringing very similar to yours.But my mom never and still hasn't found any balance in meeting her own needs. It seems to have similar effects, like a drug addiction. Like you pointed out in the article, about Michelle Duggar not caring about risking her own health? My mother is like this, in her mid sixties, in very poor health, and instead of wanting to be healthy, to EXIST for the children she already has, she wants MORE children. She wants to expand to a larger home, despite the number of children currently living with her being the highest its ever been even when I was living at home!But she doesn't see it. She doesn't see that she's killing herself, and she doesn't care to see it even when I've pointed it out to her. She literally, has NO self-value outside of raising small children. I think she feels she needs to help and care for something that is dependent upon her to get its needs met to make her feel that she has any value in the world.

  • Danae

    I was very interested by the previous poster's comments, because I have seen the same phenomenon in certain extended family members of mine. Once the childbearing years were over, they turned to foster babies. Fostering is a wonderful, wonderful calling, but when you are doing it to meet your own emotional needs instead of functioning as a healthy adult who is able to give of yourself to a child…it's a mess. I definitely can see that for some of these quiverfull mamas, the sense of being needed, holding that tiny baby in their arms, etc, provides an emotional validation. Perhaps one they aren't receiving from their spouse. Perhaps making up for a lack of fulfillment in other areas of life. It's sad, whatever the reason. And as a sidenote, this whole "I love pregnancy" thing always leaves me a little frustrated. After two very difficult pregnancies (well, currently at the end of the second) and an extremely colicky first baby, I'm convinced that many of these chipper moms weren't vomiting all day long during the first trimester or dealing with a constantly screaming baby for weeks on end until you're crying yourself and desperately wondering when your baby will ever be happy.

  • Sara

    One would think that common sense would tell us that if we are willing to use artificial means to prolong life and prevent death rates, wouldn't the responsible thing be to slow the population by preventing conception? Already there are alarming animal extinctions, bee colonies collapsing, mass bird and fish deaths. Those who take the Genesis creation literally should remember that animals also received the same command to multiply. Is the expansion of our species preventing them from what God intended according to this belief? And what about future generations whose lives might not be sustainable when extractive industrial systems run dry?

  • GirlDownUnder

    I understand the 'regret' about not having lots of children. I am one of seven – Mum just always wanted lots of kids – so I sort of assumed I would have lots. My husband and I both wanted four. But so far six pregnancies have only produced two children, and our likelihood of more miscarriages is high. Our two children, as beautiful as they are, have been horrendous sleepers, and I'm not really a lover of small children! We'll try for one more, but there is only so much more heartache we can take, and it's kind of unfair if we keep dragging on having babies… my husband is already 41. He'll be retired before they finish school if we don't stop soon! But my heart aches for that fourth baby we probably won't have, partly from guilt, feeling like I'm supposed to have lots of children..

  • Mara

    Hi I am new here :)I like your post, I am a believer in "What God will's" meaning if it is God's will to have children, a parent as an ambassador for Christ must provide each child with the faith, knowledge and constant nurturing every step of their life. Whether they are the sweet babe in our arms or a rebellious teenager. I agree, parenting doesnt stop the moment the next kid comes along. I believe the same doctors that help the survival of a premature baby should be listened to when they tell you "your body cannot cope." It is tempting God by maintaining this ignorant approach. "….almost like I'm murdering someone before they're born by not having five, six, or seven children." Isnt it murder by producing life, with the knowledge the mother and baby have little chance of survival?I feel sorry for these ladies, it sure sounds like they made their own plans and expected God to fall into His part.

  • Mara

    I am sorry I posted without perusing your site. I guess I came off way too "preachy." For some reason I assumed you held some belief. Reading more of your site, I am in a little shock. Not about you leaving your faith, more the background and upbringing. I have never heard some of the teachings you were subjected to.. I grew up in a conservative church (I am not sure whether its fundamentalist or evangelical or both.. if thats possible?) but some of the doctrine you recounted left me scratching my head and wondering where it came from.

  • Natalie

    ” It strikes me that she is showing very little care for (a) her life; (b) the life of the baby she might carry; and (c) the needs of the children she already has. ”

    Would she be carrying a baby or a fetus?

  • ArachneS

    As one of the youngest siblings in a big homeschooling family(#12 of 14), I can witness to the statement about time not being enough. From the earliest I can remember, I was always one of many. I probably got plenty of attention as a baby, but I don’t remember it. Anyway, my younger sister was born 14 months after I was, so it it wasn’t very long before I moved into the bedroom with my older sisters.

    I loved a few of my older sisters dearly. And if you asked me if I loved my mom, I would of course have said yes. I knew that it was what I ought to say. But I did not feel the way with my mom that I felt with my sisters who read to me, who taught me to read, who let us “help” bake and decorated cookies with us. Mom and Dad were there, but they are always far away in my memories.

    When I got into my teenage years, this turned into a problem, because then about half of the family had moved out and/or married and mom and dad started to have more time to pay attention to us younger half. I felt like the ones who knew me weren’t there for me to turn to, and mom and dad didn’t know me or trust me. I clashed with my parents through out my later teen years, and went out of state to college as soon as I could. Right after college I got married, and while the distance cooled down our conflicts, it also makes it awkward. I visit my parents with our kids, but I still don’t feel very connected to them.