Mama’s Choice … Whose Choice?

Mama’s Choice … Whose Choice? September 17, 2012

by Vyckie Garrison

“A Woman’s Choice” is a central issue in contemporary American culture, religion, and politics. Our society values Choice as an imperative freedom.

Although “liberated” women would never personally choose to forego birth control in favor of welcoming each and every pregnancy as an unmitigated blessing from God, and even though privately feminists may be repulsed at the TLC spectacle of mega-moms bearing a new baby every-other year, they will nonetheless defend the unrestricted right of Michelle Duggar and Kelly Bates to have as many children as these fecund women choose to produce.

Even submissive Christian Quiverfull women, who reject the feminist ideals of empowerment and bodily autonomy, tacitly accept the validity of Choice – as evidenced by their frequent, vehement assertions that they are living the extremely demanding “biblical family” lifestyle of helpmeet, prolific motherhood, home birthing, home schooling, cottage industry, hospitality, etc. – thoughtfully and deliberately – without coercion.

“This is MY choice,” moms of many insist emphatically.

It has been said that the anti-feminist flight “back to patriarchy” is a women’s movement. “True womanhood” is older women (e.g.: Michelle Duggar, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Debi Pearl, Stacey MacDonald, Jennie Chancey, Nancy Campbell, etc.) teaching younger women to love their husbands and children, while being “discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands.”

It is the women who attend the conferences, buy the books, listen to the teachings, search the scriptures – gleaning nuggets of information pertaining to “biblical families” to bring home for their husbands’ and children’s consumption.

Are they “drinking the Kool-Aid”? Brainwashed? Deceived? Have Quiverfull women been beaten into submission or bullied by fanatical, power-hungry male pastors? To outsiders, fundamentalist women often seem ignorant, ill-informed, illogical – perhaps even dim-witted or crazy.

Sure committed Christian women are choosing for themselves to live submissively and self-sacrificially – they are living martyrs willingly. But why?!

Comments open below

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Vyckie Garrison started No Longer Quivering to tell the story of her “escape” from the Quiverfull movement. Over time, NLQ has developed into a valuable resource of information regarding the deceptions and dangers of the Quiverfull philosophy and lifestyle. Several more former QF adherents are now contributing their stories to NLQ and our collective voice makes these Quiverfull warnings impossible to dismiss or ignore.


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NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce



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  • Holly

    It is a choice made under duress when the alternative means your soul will suffer eternal damnation.

  • madame

    I agree with Holly.
    When dh and I met, one of our common grounds was that we wanted to welcome as many children as God/nature gave us. I believed that was the only way to please God, that it was the narrowest and straightest road we could take, so we set out to it with those beliefs. Dh, as it came out later, didn’t believe it was mandatory, but wanted a larger family.
    As I realized I wasn’t cut out to be supermom to a crowd and that homeschooling may not be the best option for us, I realized WHY I was trying to live the lifestyle, and I decided that if God truly loved me, he wouldn’t kick me out of heaven for using birth control. I told God I couldn’t responsibly keep having children. I told Him I couldn’t responsibly “follow” my husband down the paths he was choosing. I finally told Him that if He was good, how come all his rules felt like they were designed to crush me? Why did He keep putting hoop after hoop between me and heaven?

    I think the lifestyle can only be safely embraced by women who know their salvation doesn’t depend on having baby after baby, submitting to their husband and doing all the other QFP things. Women who LIKE having babies, are healthy, love being at home with them and enjoy homeschooling will do fine because they won’t be operating out of fear. But don’t expect practicing QFP women to admit their fears. They won’t, unless they are on the way out of the system.

  • First generation QF/P women are arguably choosing their hyper-religious lifestyle but the same certainly cannot be said of their daughters and granddaughters.

  • Laura

    I think you’re going to find a variety of reasons.

    A woman who is an extreme introvert, maybe to the point of a little agoraphobia, who has zero self esteem and so on, would find great comfort in the thought that her husband is supposed to be out there fighting the battles and winning the bread, while her responsibility begins and ends with keeping the home.

    A woman who doesn’t want to take responsibility for anything would be drawn to the concept that the man leads the home and that the buck always stops with him.

  • I can’t speak for the patriarchy movement per se, but I can give a lot of reasons why I got into the shepherding/dominion movement which are probably not dissimilar. I wouldn’t say that my choice (at least initially) was made “under duress” (though the reasons I stayed were later related to duress and fear of negative consequences). But my initial reasons for getting into an authoritarian Christian movement were like this:

    1. It was cool to be part of a group that welcomed me, and in which I could feel I was part of something bigger than myself, a movement that could actually do some good in the world. The fact that themovement was against things in society that had hurt me in the past (such as bullying, ostracism and sexual harassment in my neighborhood and in the public schools, all of which was now labeled “the world”) was its own justification.

    2. It was set forth as God’s perfect plan, and that if you embraced it, your life would be much better– and that everyone who really wanted to please God would naturally embrace these ideas. I really did want to please God and follow God’s plan.

    3. Having grown up in a dysfunctional home, I thought controlling, authoritarian relationships were normal. As a young college student just out of that home, I felt uncomfortable not having someone to tell me what to do. Being under “a covering of authority” felt safe.

    I certainly would have vehemently insisted that joining this group was my choice. And it was. But later, as I started to grow up and change, and after the initial spell wore off, I stayed because I was afraid not to. And also because of the wonderful friendships I had built which I didn’t want to lose.

    So it’s complicated. But I think this is a women’s movement because it is women who invite one another into it and give each other that welcoming, you’re-part-of-something-big feeling. That you’re-safe-with-us-from-the-things-that-hurt-you feeling.

  • vyckiegarrison

    Thanks for sharing, Kristen. (✿◠‿◠)

    I wrote this series mostly as a way to process all the thoughts I’ve been having about “choice” for a while now. I don’t really have a specific point, other than to provoke thought and discussion.

    All the reasons you mention here are very familiar to me too. I especially liked the idea that I was part of something larger that was going to make a substantial positive impact on the world and Kingdom.

  • Nancy B

    If you have lived a life that has let you make choices and think for yourself and test your fears you may not be drawn to the patriarchy lifestyle. That would require not being born in a Patriarchal/QF home, to not be from an abusive dysfunctional home, and to not be still wet behind the ears. Since the brain does not fully develop until age 25 we do see a lot of late teens/early 20’s kids making “right” choices that they would never make as a bit more mature adult.

    Most of life’s choices–religion,school major, career, relationships, geography can be changed if we find ourselves in an unhappy or untenable position. But once you start having children there are a million new reasons to tough it out or give everything to motherhood martyrdom.

    Wouldn’t it be better if young women made their choices after, say, age 26, so that they were absolutely sure they were comfortable with their choices? But the fear is young people may become sexually active or question or rebel so it behooves the movement to marry them off quickly.

    That’s my bigest gripe, the coupling of very young adults. IF a person lives, works, studies, thinks then makes the move into QF, it is more apt to be a choice they can live with.

    Also, how about teaching that God created us all different, so some women may be happy to bear 10 kids but others would be happier as Christians with one or two. Or none. And you’ll know this if you have health issues from an early age, stressful pregnancies or physical problems or psychological issues with pregnancy or post partum.

    If a patriarchal man can see an injured shoulder,”As God’s way of telling me to quit the lumber job and study electronics” a woman should be able to assert that her required bedrest during pregnancy or the hellish depression after childbirth is God’s way of telling her,”You were not meant to get pregnant again.”

    But the patriarchal movement sets the husband firmly between a woman and her God. But in truth God doesn’t have grandchildren. The patriarchal path subverts and confounds a woman’s relationship with the God who speaks right to her heart.

  • Saraquill

    I believe there is a difference between choosing and those insisting “My way is the right way, dammit! ™”

  • Nancy B

    I see a lot of,”My way is the right way, dammit!” among women no matter the topic. There are a many psychological and sociological reasons women trash each other, and even something as personal as breastfeeding becomes militant and angry.
    What is peculiar to the religious pressure is it not only “my way!” but “God’s way!” and that brings an unbearable amount of pressure on sane women and can bury unstable women alive. From what I recall Andrea Yates had only the pressure of two people’s convictions–her husband and the wife of the preacher Warnecke–but it was enough to help crush her mind and soul.
    As we get older we’re less apt to listen to the pressure filled messages. We are comfortable claiming our lives.
    But being young and vulnerable? The angry opinions can cut like boning knives. If one can’t tune them out she becomes whipsawed by the shouted advice.
    I know the pros have theories why women do that to one another. But still it is a awful, painful shame.

  • madame

    Good point, Sandra.
    Dh and I both come from QF-P homes, where both fathers made the decision not to use birth control and both mothers “submitted” to the decision and had many more children than they ever planned on having. Both fathers still think little of birth control and believe if you truly have faith in God, you welcome as many children as he gives you, and you raise them with the rod.
    I guess you could say we are a second generation QF. I’m glad I was around non-QF people, and I’m even more glad we moved to Germany where spanking and homeschooling are illegal. (Even if I don’t agree with the homeschool ban)

  • suzannecalulu

    Funny you mention Andrea Yates. I watched a show on her last night on the Bio Channel. Everything about their lives screamed Quiverfull but the media completely missed that aspect of their story. I so wanted to wipe that smug look off her husband’s face every time he spoke.

  • Nancy B

    I agree. Having been clinically depressed (although unlike Andrea, thank God, not with psychotic features) I’m still amazed that he was ready to again impregnate that very sick woman. Would he have holstered his desires if she had been paralyzed? In a wheelchair? Coughing with TB? Inflamed with wrenching muscle spasms or open sores? It boggles the mind.

  • suzannecalulu

    Rusty Yates did exactly what any QF patriarch does when The Uterus is out of commission (or in jail), he married again very rapidly to start again with the breeding up of as many ‘arrows’ as he could. He disgusts me.

  • Lisa

    Only if they’re already pretty religious. Your description fits me pretty well, but I’ve been agnostic/leaning atheist since I was 7. I’d rather not ever leave my house, don’t much like myself & *hate* making decisions, but you could not ever pay me enough to become QF or patriarchal.

  • david

    why do you denigrate someones ‘choice’ to have children? why do you make it seem derogatory to be a homeschool family? do you really feel that to justify abortion you have to denigrate other peoples right to choose what you don’t like?

    listen, if you don’t want to have a baby, that’s your right. either take birth control or don’t have sex, it’s quite easy to avoid pregnancy altogether. that doesn’t mean that other souls are wrong just because they choose differently!

  • Carol

    How is discussing the possibility of coercion “justifying abortion”. Where in this bog post is the word “abortion” even mentioned. You just conjured it up out of thin air. You can’t even say “woman’s choice” in your comment it’s “someone’s choice”. “Other soul’s”, “someone’s choice”… say it. Say “woman’s choice”.

  • Carol

    Uch. Blog post.

  • david

    I saw nothing about coercion in this article. just the idea that it is reprehensible for a woman to WANT multiple children. I quote:

    “as evidenced by their frequent, vehement assertions that they are living the extremely demanding “biblical family” lifestyle of helpmeet, prolific motherhood, home birthing, home schooling, cottage industry, hospitality, etc. – thoughtfully and deliberately”

    my entire objection is to the characterization that these are bad qualities. it is not a “woman’s choice” but a families choice. marriage is meant to be a joining of two into one, with God at the center, not his and hers and theirs.

  • Carol

    Uh huh. Your objection was first “justifying abortion”, now it’s an attack on your definition of marriage. And again, it’s neither. This is the question:

    “Are they “drinking the Kool-Aid”? Brainwashed? Deceived? Have Quiverfull women been beaten into submission or bullied by fanatical, power-hungry male pastors? ”

    This isn’t even just a Christian thing, fundamentalist Judaism sports the same exact beliefs and practices for the same exact reasons, the exact same patriarchy, with the exact same consequences for women. It’s not even original.

  • Carol

    Furthermore, the context of the statement you quoted was not at all in judgment of any lifestyle choice, so you can relax about that. A translation of the meaning of that paragraph can be summarized as “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”.

  • Yes. This is an introductory post for a series. The lifestyle being chosen is not being characterized here as bad– just “extremely demanding.” The question is not, “why are women making this bad choice?” The question is, “Why are they making this choice at all, seeing as it’s so demanding, resulting in their becoming ‘living martyrs'”?

    The issues of what kind of choice is being made, and to what extent it is a free choice, are being raised in later posts in this series. But I have not read anything along the lines of “it’s inherently a bad and wrong choice to have lots of children.” That’s something that commenters are reading into this.

  • Which is no “choice” at all, really.

  • I have never belonged to Quiverfull; however, I was raised Catholic. I am one of twelve children (one, still born) and my mother had four miscarriages. The Catholics from antiquity have encouraged “as many children as the Good Lord allows,” and this, primarily, to grow the Church. But the strong sub-theme of works-based motivation (in this heavily works-based religion) keeps couples worried about ending up in hell if they don’t have many children. Many Catholics these days, of course, are not as influenced by this notion. So, my inclination is to think Quiverfull couples also believe having many children is somehow related to salvation, while also, in many groups, they may be heavily influenced by Dominionism which, in my mind, is the Protestant version of the second-coming, man-made (literally).

  • Brad O’Donnell

    I know your bloggers hated me last year, but I thought you’d be interested in this article…

    People today can’t comprehend the level of social ignorance 2000 years ago. Remember, their earth was “flat” and women had lower human status because primitives thought they made no contribution to the character of progeny…hence, patriarch religion and social structure. The historic religious tradition of virgin birth collapsed in 1827 with the discovery of genetics… that mammals reproduced from the female’s “ovum” egg cell which possessed half the DNA character of the mother. Suddenly, Christianity was in crisis! Brad O’Donnell

    On Virgin Birth, Bishop John Spong Google: Charting the New Reformation, Part XVI – The Virgin Birth

    In my third thesis, I stated that if the Christian Church insists on interpreting the virgin birth as literal biology, “it will make Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.” That is for many a startling claim so let me be more specific. We understand reproduction today in a way that the first century authors of the gospels could not and did not. No one in that day knew that women produced an egg cell.

    The assumption was that pregnancy occurred as the analogy of a farmer planting his seed in the soil of mother earth. Mother earth added nothing to the genetic makeup of the planted seed that grew out of the soil. The soil only nurtured the seed in order to bring it to life. The existence of an egg cell containing genes from the woman would not be confirmed by western science until 1827 with the ovum discovery by Karl Ernst von Baer. When that insight was confirmed it meant that all virgin birth stories died.

    Virgin birth stories were created by ancient religions to explain extraordinary human power. In each virgin birth story of antiquity, however, it was always a divine agent paired with a virgin female. Since the virgin mother added nothing except incubation to the divine offspring, there was no need to remove her from the reproductive act. Only the male agent had to be replaced by the divine spirit or the God figure. That alone would produce the deity masquerading in human form.

    Virgin birth religious dogma vaporized when the egg cell of the woman was discovered. Now we knew that every child born received half of his or her genetic code from each parent. The product of a union between a deity and a human virgin could never be either fully human or fully divine be claimed again. Indeed such an offspring would inevitably be half human and half divine.

  • Astrin Ymris

    Meh, if you’re going to say “miracle” you don’t have to be limited to what’s scientifically possible. You can say that God created a blastocyst with whatever genetic code he wanted and implanted it in Mary’s womb as the words first IVF.

    I’m not a biblical literalist, or even a Christian– just a science fiction/fantasy fan who understands judging fictional universes by their own rules. ;-D