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.
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.