Subscribe to Bitch—an award-winning, 80 page feminist magazine. Image Map

No Kidding: Dozens of Children (and Counting)

Reality TV tends to focus on and highlight extreme behaviors and choices—sometimes with the intention of normalizing them. For me, nothing has been such an obvious statement about our culture's obsession with parenting and procreation as the "we have a million kids" shows that have sprung up over the last few years—and there are quite a few, particularly for U.S. audiences. I'm referring specifically to 19 Kids and Counting, Kate Plus 8 (sorry Jon), Raising Sextuplets, and Table for 12, all of which celebrate the chaos of having 8-plus people in the house. (You can also lump in TLC's Sister Wives, since though they have 3 mothers and no sets of multiples, they also have more than 10 kids.) Nadya Suleman, the single mother unfortunately dubbed "Octomom" in the press, was also once in talks about creating a reality series after a made-for-television documentary about her family of 15 aired.

Admittedly, when it comes to these types of shows, I haven't been devoted to any particular season or series because I don't think they're very interesting. I watched most of Sister Wives and was pretty bored, if only because it seemed like every other show of this type. They all generally seem to involve a lot of explanations about daily routines, some sort of field trip (or even some domestic simple-turned-complicated task like preparing dinner or raking the yard), neither of which really holds my attention. The very focus of the shows seems to be that nothing extraordinary happens but that in the midst of such disorder lies some sort of narrative about the wonder of huge families or the joys of parenting. And yet, so far, several of these couples have also publicly split. Not exactly my idea of entertaining TV.

What I find most telling is the language about choice in these shows. Rarely is having several sets of multiples depicted as an active choice but instead the result of fertility treatments, a happy accident-turned-challenge, and/or God's plan.

For example, on their regularly-renamed show 19 Kids and Counting (it was 17 when filming began), Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar seem to skirt around the actual issue that they're against birth control for religious reasons. They even treat their procreation like a joke. "Be fruitful and multiply is Jim Bob's favorite verse!" Michelle says with a laugh, as if their enormous family is just what happens when you give up on trying to control nature or opt out of personal choice.

Yet, at the exact same time, all of this is intrinsically linked with the idea of personal choice as the ultimate moral high ground. Interviewed by Newsweek, Raising Sextuplets mom Jenny Masche does a great job of (somewhat unintentionally) summing up why I feel all of this has taken a strange rhetorical turn.

[The doctor] was so positive. He was like, "This is your choice. We're gonna do it, and we're gonna do it well." He's like, "If you believe you can do this, we're gonna do it."

While I don't doubt that the doctors discussed all of the risks with Masche, interviews with these families and the accompanying media spin make carrying multiples sound like a big, fun adventure, or at the very least minimize the serious medical risks, though in her case, Masche experienced what sounds like frightening fertility drug and multiple-child pregnancy-related complications such as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) and contractions at 26 weeks. During delivery, she ended up with preeclampsia and went into heart failure.

Indeed, many of the multiples featured on these shows were born early, and complications have been the norm for the mothers. Michelle Duggar has only delivered several sets of multiples, but after giving birth to 19 children in almost as many years, it's clear that her health has been a concern, even as she and Jim Bob forge on in their quest to have babies until it's no longer possible.

What I find troubling about this type of rhetoric, about glorifying these families as examples to emulate, is the assumption that personal choice trumps all else. In many ways, it mirrors some of the very worst ways feminism is co-opted as an excuse for any type of oppressive self-serving behavior. It's all about serving one's self, our own needs above what's best for the rest of the world, seemingly blissfully ignorant of how it might affect others. It validates any choice made for personal reasons without any further analysis. Want to have 15 kids? It's your choice. Anyone who says anything differently may immediately be chastised for butting into other people's personal lives (even if they're aired on TV), for not honoring the types of choices these families make (even if they seem to just fall into them anyway).

Why are all of these shows so popular? What do they tap into that makes them worth watching? Do people secretly long for the chaos advertised in this programming line-up, or is it simple one more way to make an easy buck by exploiting a family who can likely use the cash?

Enjoy reading this article? Good news! Our quarterly magazine, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, is packed with 80+ pages of feminist analysis, reviews, illustrations, and more. Subscribe today!

Subscribe to Bitch

Comments

36 comments have been made. Post a comment.

I think...

The original power behind all this came with the Dilly Sextuplets, who were the first big media craze of multiple births. Something that is supposed to be rare became a common occurrence but still bizarre. In terms of multiples and recording the phenomenon, people are fascinated by the oddity. Humans are really built to have litters.
Now, as the obsession has evolved or devolved, people are obsessed with watching the tragic decline. I think there is a bit of admiration("Wow, these parents are f*ing devoted and brave"), but there might be more of a smug sense of satisfaction when you watch the chaos and disintegration. I don't watch the shows but I'll admit to knowing about the families and shaking my head in a self-righteous way when they crash and burn. I'm not proud of it, but I know I'm guilty of it.
Why do families keep putting themselves in this situation. I think, and I could be totally wrong on this, that fertility treatments lead to the chance of multiples. And couples that want A child can with up with many children. But they take that risk because the desire to grow a family is strong. That's a heartbreaking situation. To me, though, this shows that this society is SUPER natalist at it's core. Women feel the need to put themselves at risk to be able to have children because you're not a real woman if you don't have babies. Would it be different if there was less of a stigma on people who don't/can't/won't have children?

I'm starting to see a growing

I'm starting to see a growing stigma against those who birth their own children rather than adopt, especially against those who use fertility treatments to have a child. Too bad the very causes of infertility are sometimes the grounds a person doesn't qualify for adoption, and there's so much red tape with adoption. Birth parents even have time to decide to take the child back and the adoptive parents get no money back. Still we women who've had to have any fertility help to have even one are called selfish, stupid, and many other names that I don't think would pass the filters.

I think the stigma should be against those who have so many children that their children cease to be individuals and those who have more than they can support, not against those who have one or two, or those who have none.

Why should there be ANY

Why should there be ANY stigma at all? Why is this judgement necessary?

As far as kids that don't get to be individuals- do you really think that this has much to do with family size? So, having 10 kids makes them all the same? May they don't get as much individual attention, but this doesn't mean hey don't get the love they need.

And when it comes to money- Do you really think that families that have more kids than they can support meant to get into that situation? That one day a woman woke up and said "today Im going to start having babies, finances be damned!" COME ON. And if they aren't deciding to do this, maybe there are OTHER factors?

I know when I got pregnant, I had a great job, my partner and I had been together a long time, and we were ready to have a family. Its a year later, I lost my job and we are broke. Life happens, you get through it. Besides, It's not as costly to have lots of kids as you think, maybe they don't get nice new clothes, private lessons, or expensive food, but this isn't what life is all about anyway, is it?

Women also get pregnant and want to keep the baby, even when it's financially straining. SFW! Sometimes, mamas have lots of kids because of cultural pressures, inavailability of birth control, or being part of a society that disempowers women so they CANNOT say no to more kids. But these things aren't solved by STIGMATIZING THE WOMEN!

Really, what good ever comes of stigmatizing women and their families?

I think you are young and

I think you are young and have never had the desire to have children. Yes, you take the risk of having multiples by doing fertility treatments, but the joys of having a family are something that you cannot put to superficial standards. I am a feminist. I support my family. I have triplets. I am offended by your comments.

interesting piece!

very nice article, well done. i wonder however, and i havent seen any of these shows, the only reality show i can stand to watch is the A-LIST and that is only for rodiney, i cant take all the farce, but i wonder, if it really is their choice, like not necessarily for their husbands i mean, but what makes a woman want to have 19 children and sacrifice her health, and lets be real, her freedom. i mean "the whole were opposed to birth control pills or whatever" is bull, i know many woman who use calendars to determine when they are ovulating. i mean it isnt even really in natural law. most sophisticated mammals would stop procreating eventually, but these humans on these shows, i just dont get it. breeding for the sake of breeding, it seems, nothing else.

Breeding for the sake of

Breeding for the sake of breeding is exactly what the Duggars are doing. They're part of what's called the Quiverfull movement - basically have as many children as possible, and then...onward Christian soldiers. Their thinking is that with all these kids (and grandkids, etc), the Evangelical movement will grow exponentially over generations.

But ah, such are rights

And such is their right as American citizens, to not only have as many children as they want, but to practice their religion as they see fit (as long as they do not break laws already in place).

As much as you may disagree with their actions, it's still their right to do so and is the foundation of the Constitution. If we limit their rights based on our disagreement with their religious views, what happens then? Are our rights compromised as well? If we take away one group's right to practice their religion as they see fit, then our first amendment rights are compromised. The beauty of our Constitution is that it gives everyone rights, not just a select group of people and doesn't exclude based on gender, sex, religion, ethnicity or race.

No one ever said they don't

No one ever said they don't have the RIGHT, but that doesn't we can't disagree or think they are wrong. Just because you CAN do or believe something doesn't mean that you're exempt from people disagreeing with you. People sometimes seem to think that free speech or free action means that no one else can say, "I don't think that's right." It's a two-way street: yes, you can do whatever you want, because freedom, but that means that I also have the right to say I think you're wrong, also because freedom.

Just to get nerdy for a

Just to get nerdy for a second -- the first big media craze over multiples was much longer ago: the Dionne quintuplets, born in 1934.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dionne_quintuplets

The Dionnes were a natural

The Dionnes were a natural HOM group. The rest of these HOMs aren't. What happened to the Dionnes was horrible, and it really is what's happening to the Gosselins and other HOM kids whose parents are selling their lives to TV viewers.

TV is not good for children.

I never really understood the appeal of a litter of children. If it is legitimately a couple's preference and choice, and they have the resources--physical, financial and emotional--to deal with that many children, then I guess all the power to them. But I have an issue with the fact that they wish to raise their children on national TV. While the idea may be to wax sentimental about family values, loyalty, and bravery, there's something unsavory to me about exposing a young child to the television world, and having their personal issues, however heavily edited, serve as entertainment for the general public. I find it to be, dare I say it, pretty bad parenting. I understand that the families get quite a lot of money from these TV shows, but it seems like such a selfish and self-serving thing to do, especially contrasted with the selflessness that is pushed as a characteristic of these parents.

My other issue is that if you have 19 children, how close are you to any of them? How much parental attention can 19 children possibly get? It seems so alienating, despite the army of people in the house. Call me old-fashioned, but I think establishing a solid relationship with one or even a few kids (single digits, for example) is way more healthy than bearing 19. I'm sure the Duggars try their best to interact with all their kids, but it's got to be so hard to be really intimate with 19 people plus a spouse.

Yes! This exactly. I also

Yes! This exactly.

I also have an issue with the idea that society owes them something simply for having so many kids. I'm all for helping those who need it, but when a person has spent thousands on fertility drugs and then expects help for their multiples, I feel less sympathetic. And I realize that not every parent of multiples feels that way. Many take responsibilities for their families and have the resources to care for their kids and do it well. If they fell on hard times, then sure, they should get the help they need. On the other side, though, you have Kate Gosselin who has been quoted as saying that society owes her because she had so many kids due to fertility treatments and society encourages those treatments. I'm sorry, but I do not agree with the idea that anyone owes her anything.

Not to mention...

...that fertility drugs, especially taken to the extreme that some of these women have taken them, can be extremely dangerous. While I understand that these drugs have helped people conceive, I'm wary of them (I know two people who took them: each bore twins and both got breast cancer), and I think it's kind of sick that (what I think is) irresponsible drug use is celebrated.

What about parents who work

What about parents who work two jobs each and rely on nannies or daycare to watch their children? Do you reserve criticism for those families as well? Furthermore, every family operates differently, none better than the other. You may not disagree with the way the Duggars raising their children, but who is to say which parenting style is better than the other?

You're welcome to say that the way the Duggars operate as a family isn't the way you would do it with your family, but to say what you think is best for families in general, takes it a step too far.

However, you are more than welcome to criticize a family's decision to broadcast their family and expose their children on television, which does have several ethical dilemmas, namely child labor and privacy. I do have to ask though, how is that any different from parents who get their children into acting or pageants?

I never said I think I know

I never said I think I know what is best for "families in general." To assume that's what I'm saying also "takes it a step too far." Frankly, I just don't trust anyone on reality TV, and when children are involved, I get all the more suspicious. Thanks for telling me what I am and am not allowed to say, though. That's really nice of you. As far as parents getting their children involved with pageants or acting, that's based on the situation, and there are laws in place (in the case of child actors, at least, I don't know much about pageants) that ensure the child is receiving education and is only working a certain number of hours. I don't know of the legal proceedings when it comes to kids and reality TV, though, and how much it is considered "acting."

Interesting when compared to size-matters posts.

I feel like this post completely does a 180 compared to the conversation over on the size-matters posts. Bitch comment moderators tell us NOT to discuss implications such as health, personal space, and environmental concerns when discussing someones 'choice' to be fat. And i use quotes because this post talks specifically how extra-large families don't discuss choice.....the very opposite of what fat-acceptance is about, the choice of a person to be fat and acceptance of that choice by the rest of society.

Why should a woman take into account concerns for fellow humans or the good of society when choosing to have 19 kids as opposed to choosing to be 300lbs?

Not necessarily comparable

Hi Ria,

Thanks for your comment. While I think I understand your points about the moderation on the Size Matters series compared to No Kidding, as a moderator here I don't see these issues as being all that similar. Brittany's post is primarily about the television shows that depict families that have multiple children, while Tasha's posts are primarily about the discrimination faced by fat people. We moderate the threads on both series using the same comments policy (linked to in my signature below), but you're right that we are more careful when it comes to Tasha's posts because we are working to create a community of fat acceptance here. While we moderate Brittany's posts also, we aren't explicitly trying to create a community of reality-shows-depicting-large-families acceptance, which is why I don't see them as comparable in this case.

Hope that helps!

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

I still see many parallels here.

Thanks for the reply. While I understand that Bitch is not encouraging reality-shows-depicting-large-families acceptance I still see many parallels here about a woman's right to choose.. Imagine that this were a reality show depicting fat-women and their choices. Would Bitch tolerate the paragraph below about fat women? Ive replaced 'families' and 'kids' with fat-women. Capitals are mine.

"What I find troubling about this type of rhetoric, about glorifying these FAT WOMEN as examples to emulate, is the assumption that personal choice trumps all else. In many ways, it mirrors some of the very worst ways feminism is co-opted as an excuse for any type of oppressive self-serving behavior. It's all about serving one's self, our own needs above what's best for the rest of the world, seemingly blissfully ignorant of how it might affect others. It validates any choice made for personal reasons without any further analysis. Want to be 300 LBS? It's your choice. Anyone who says anything differently may immediately be chastised for butting into other people's personal lives (even if they're aired on TV), for not honoring the types of choices these WOMEN make (even if they seem to just fall into them anyway)."

If we're going to accept fat women and their choices (to be on TV, to say it's the way their body is naturally, etc etc) then we need to accept women who want 19 kids and their choices (to be on TV, to say that this is the family that nature intended for them)

Rhetoric of choice

I definitely see your point here, Ria, and I had the same reaction while reading that paragraph - I don't know if I necessarily agree with the idea that personal choice "trumps all else," but I have always seen the option to secure choice for women as a primary goal of the feminist movement, even when those choices are ones that I would not make myself. I would never want to have 19 kids and I don't think it's a very good idea, but I have to support Michelle Duggar's right to have as many kids as she wants if I want Michelle Duggar to support my right to never have kids, or to use birth control, or have an abortion, or have a career and work outside of my own family. Unfortunately, I know she doesn't support those ideas, so that's kind of moot, but the point is, choice is a two-way street.

I also understand what Kelsey is saying about moderating the Size Matters threads to create a culture of fat acceptance, which is definitely more difficult than creating a culture of large-family acceptance. Shows about large families rarely depict them in an overtly negative manner, while shows about fat people are usually about losing weight and discussing how terrible and tragic it is to be fat. Even though being fat and having lots of kids aren't the same thing, I think your comparison in this context is pretty apt.

There's a big difference.

There's a big difference. When someone chooses to be fat, it doesn't directly effect 19 children. In the Duggar household, the older girls are surrogate parents for the younger ones. There are simply too many for Michelle to handle by herself. The little ones run to their "buddies," the sisters who are parenting them. Fat people who have a few kids can still directly parent them. When you have so many kids that their emotional needs must be met by siblings because there isn't enough time to individually bond with each child, this is a choice we shouldn't be expected to respect.

I encourage you to watch the German documentary on Nadya Suleman. There are so many kids in that household that she has no time to spend one-on-one with any of them. Breakfast for the babies consists of bottles of cold milk literally dropped into their cribs covered with netting (like cages) before she rushes out of the room, leaving them alone. They're at the age where milk should be a part of breakfast, not all of it. Those babies don't reach for her and don't speak. They stare blankly into space. Their stimulation is a TV in the corner of their bedroom. Should we really accept and tolerate and respect her choice to do this? If she wants to have more kids, when she already is neglecting those she has, should we really respect that? You're off your rocker if you think the answer is yes. Her rights end when they infringe on the rights of others. The children have rights, and she's ignoring that to practice her own.

"In the Duggar household, the

"In the Duggar household, the older girls are surrogate parents for the younger ones."

How do you know they don't like taking care of their younger siblings? You're just assuming they don't like it or that they're forced to.

"When you have so many kids that their emotional needs must be met by siblings because there isn't enough time to individually bond with each child, this is a choice we shouldn't be expected to respect."

Well that's just harsh. You have no idea how their family operates outside of what is depicted in the show.

"I encourage you to watch the German documentary on Nadya Suleman. There are so many kids in that household that she has no time to spend one-on-one with any of them."

Big difference between her and the Duggars: She is single, mentally ill, and has no income. She has no community to support her, and conceived not out of her beliefs, but out of her emotional need to have children. Plus, she has all infants and toddlers. She doesn't have grown children.

You really can't compare her to the Duggar family. Every parent has the right to parent their child as they deem necessary, until it becomes abusive.

Could you tell me more about

Could you tell me more about the Nadya Suleman documentary? I'm having Googling problems, but I would love to seee it.

great point, BTW.

great point, BTW.

Circus.

As someone has already mentioned, the Dionne quintuplets were the first known surviving set of quintuplets (also identical), born in Canada in the 1930s, and were the first example of high-order- multiple hysteria. If you think the media circus around Jon and Kate's 8 or the 19 (and counting!) Duggars, you should look up the Dionne sisters - two of whom are still living. In addition to being made wards of the government, taken from their parents, and made to live in an "observation area" so passersby could watch them - there was even a souvenir stand. The money brought in by the quints was squandered by the rest of their family, and they did not see any of it ,or even know the family's wealth was because of them. As you might guess, they did not grow up very well adjusted. I can only imagine what little Duggar #19 will be like when she is an adult.

The media now is different than it was 65 years ago. Rather than visiting a physical "Quintland" (as the Dionnes' "observation area" became known), the freakshow can come right into your very own living room through the magic of television. It's hard to say which way is more exploitative. Obstetrics has also advanced: there weren't fertility drugs in the 30s. Quints are no longer a big deal, it seems; even sextuplets appear to be popping up all over the place if the TV listings are any indication. The Dionnes' mother did not know she was having five babies. Even if she had, and decided that she did not want them (or all of them), abortion was not legal at the time. It was much less of a choice for her, and I think, perversely, that's part of why the hoopla surrounding the quints was so fanatical, because it was something that happened naturally, so rare an occurrence that it was truly one of a kind.

Of the shows you cited, I have only seen "Jon and Kate Plus 8" and "19 Kids and Counting." In both of these shows, even the deeply Baptist Duggars, religion is shied away from, alluded to only in vague phrases like "God's will." But the message is there all the same, and the shows have a creepy pro-life feel to them. It might be interesting to see a big family with parents who are socially liberal - perhaps without the semi-subliminal proselytizing, we could see how the mother's "choice" plays out when there was an actual decision-making process.

As the fact that I've rambled on for four paragraphs indicates, I've been sucked in to this phenomenon. I'm somewhat obsessed with reading or hearing about unique/odd/noteworthy medical cases. And I'll fully admit that most of it is probably straight-up voyeurism. But as much as it pains me to say this, when thinking of the well-being of the kids, I agree with Jon Gosselin. Get the cameras out of their houses.

Several issues with these programs

I have several issues with these programs, but it seems whenever I bring them up in mainstream forums, I'm somehow hateful for stating my opinions. I'm a mom, so I feel like I do indeed have a "horse in the race".

- Large families are bad for our environment. Here is me just callin' it like it is, but to be honest: The last thing we need is to continue the practice of bearing lots of children and glorify those who do. Not that long ago, it was accepted practice (beyond religious requirements), so that made sense. Women married much younger, babies (and their mothers) died a lot more often, and more children ensured farm hands. In 21st century America, we no longer need to have large families, thanks to modern science and industry. Therefore, to continue the practice is no longer viable for our society.

Many moms, whether they have one baby or a dozen, will take shortcuts wherever they can for their own sanity, as well as for devoting quality time to their babies. For better or worse, one of those shortcuts is disposable diapers. They're not biodegradable, and even the most eco-conscious of us use them while traveling. Diapers filling up landfills are only the tip of the iceberg: With life expectancies now in the 70s and 80s, each new life creates A LOT of garbage, usually thoughtlessly tossed in the trash. People also use lots of water, food and land. It's a no-brainer that opting for smaller families is better for our current and future environment.

- Babies cost lots of money, and because of that, many large families live in poverty. Being a good mother doesn't mean yearly vacations, fancy schools or designer jeans, but even the best bean counters among us have a hard time making ends meet. It gets harder with each additional mouth to feed. If the father dies or leaves the family, or if there was never a father in the picture, the onus falls on the mother, even if she is awarded child support.

While it's true life isn't fair, and poverty can strike anyone at any time, doesn't it make sense to reduce the risk? While in many cases two children born close in age cost less to raise than two born several years apart, each additional child does indeed require more money. (Unisex) Hand-me-downs only last so long, that extra spoonful of vegetables quickly multiplies, and living quarters can only sustain so many for so long before larger (and more expensive) housing becomes a necessity rather than desire. Let's not even get into medical care! Romantic daydreaming about a dozen smiling faces around a tree quickly diminishes when Toys for Tots, rather than Santa, provides the gifts.

- Many of these mothers lose their identities as independent individuals. New moms are always surprised at how different their lives change, even those who have the means to transfer parts of child-rearing to others, be it with supportive family, day care or in-house help. With each child born in close proximity to age, the less time she has for herself, and more of her income goes towards child-rearing. Even the most thrifty of us have to strategically plan the budget, and with more small children in the picture, it becomes less expensive to stay at home rather than work, even if she enjoys doing so. The more time dedicated to raising children, the less time she has with various degrees of adult interaction, especially with adults who have lifestyles not (as) focused on parenting.

When I was a new mom, I couldn't wait to get away for a while so I could interact with others or even having time for myself outside of housework. Many of the older moms (with their consistent unsolicited advice) considered it selfish behavior, but I called it sanity. Just because I became a mother didn't mean I gave up enjoying intelligent conversation, reading, painting, or *gasp!* a night out with my friends. I readily admit if I had more babies in quick succession, I know full well I would not have had the means to pursue these things, losing my identity in the process, and I don't think I would be the woman I am today.

- Women are not brood mares, and our wombs are not clown cars. There, I said it, and I await the rotten tomato tossing with protective fencing. Our bodies are simply not that durable, even with modern medicine at the standby. Even the hardy vessel of Michelle Duggar has proved this on television for the world to see. Her experience should be used as an example for those who choose to have multiple children, if of course these women are seemingly offered such a choice at all.

I understand and respect other peoples' religions, but common sense has to get involved at some point. I'm Pagan, in which my religion puts an emphasis on fertility and the Mother aspect. But unlike strict/oldschool Abrahamic religions, mine doesn't demand raising children to believe the way I do, nor does it require I give up my individuality, my Will and my body, much less submit them to my husband.

- Large families do not need to be blood-related. With so many needy children right here in America, much less across the planet, mom doesn't have to have them to have them. Becoming a foster parent can lead to adoption for those who do not have the financial means to adopt outright, and it is an incredibly selfless act. Foster parents are partly compensated for the care of those children, and I have yet to meet even one tight-fisted or judgmental taxpayer who promotes cutting funds for this cause.

Even staunch child-free advocates endorse adoption (for others, of course), because it does not create an additional impact on the environment, and adoptive parents are many times more mentally, emotionally and financially prepared for parenthood than those who go the traditional route. There are quite a few complex issues with adoption, and there is unfortunately a stigma in some religious and societal circles, so I do understand it's not for everyone.

- Modern science is a wonderful thing, but never should it supersede simple wisdom. I have no issue at all with women who elect fertility treatments, but if such treatments result in several fetuses, they don't all have to develop into babies. Multiple births are more difficult than singles, even "just" twins, and providing care for healthy babies of the same age requires more than one set of hands. With each additional fetus, and the age of the mother factored in, the risks can run from high to dangerous. Many multiple pregnancies require the mother to nest fairly early, as her body cannot handle even a simple trip to the grocery store.

I do not admire the mothers who choose to bring all the fetuses to term, nor do I pity or even judge these women at all. That's their thing, and I respect that, but I do not think it should be encouraged, which reality shows end up doing. I also purposely followed this issue after the foster care/adoption option, as I am pro-choice, which I feel covers all choices, and I wanted to make that clear. I guess I just don't get it.

I apologize for submitting a post that ended up being as long as an article, (tl;dr and all that), but it's a topic that strikes several nerves with me. When society celebrates families for doing nothing more than bearing a bunch of kids and all but condemns those who choose to plan their families wisely (or choose to not have children at all), it really bothers me. These reality shows all but endorse big families, and unfortunately, the kids are the ones who bear the brunt of the parents' choices, whether it's from cameras following them around all the time and thereby supporting their needs or living privately but in poverty or lack of parental love and individualized attention.

Thank you for allowing me a space to collect my three hours of thought on the matter.

Well written, and worth the

Well written, and worth the read. I nodded so hard I hurt my neck at, "society celebrates families for doing nothing more than bearing a bunch of kids and all but condemns those who choose to plan their families wisely (or choose to not have children at all)". Have one child, and pretty much everyone tells you you must be a bad parent if you need time away because "it's not like you have a dozen." Also those with a dozen kids get so many exemptions on taxes that few of those families will ever have to pay one red cent. Our household income puts us in the lower middle class, and we're paying thousands. We don't qualify for any help at all, but have a dozen and the aid is tossed at you. A dozen kids and a middle-class income in my state will get the family $2,800/mo in food stamps because of how much each kid raises the income bar. If you've got one kid, the bar is so low that simply being able to afford rent in much of this state means you have too much to get anything at all.

Our society encourages irresponsible breeding. Have a dozen kids and the state will protect you from falling. Nadya Suleman's proof of that. For all she's claiming to be destitute, she bought a brand new 15-passenger van and has plenty of money for manicures while her kids, all 14 of them now, are in private schools. She's not working. So who do you think is paying? We are.

good points

People are REALLY fascinated by multiple births. While I am one of those people who had fertility treatments, got pregnant with triplets, and couldn't terminate (I'm pro-choice - just couldn't do it and that was my choice); I agree with what you are saying. It should NOT be glorified and made such a show for people. Triplets are a HUGE risk and we were lucky they all are healthy. People have no idea that it is such a risk and humans are not made to have more than one kid at a time. But truth be told- we can't go anywhere without people stopping us to meet our kids, ask us personal questions, and judge one way or the other. I don't know what it is, but it is something in human nature that makes us very curious and interested in it. I think producers know this and capitalize and just only see $$. They don't consider the implications it has on our culture.

Big families are bad for the environment (esp. in the US) and expensive. But...there was another comment in a post about looking at carbon footprint instead of always focusing on the size of a family. As a feminist and conservationist, I like that angle. Kids do bring in a lot more waste, but if you can recognize it and adapt so that you don't take the easy way, you can have a very low carbon footprint with kids. And there are so many couples w/o children that I know that have a much larger footprint than me with 3 kids. but yeah, those diapers are one of the biggest contributors... one final thought, on paper, it is easy to write about the impacts of families on the earth- but our instincts run deep to perpetuate the species and there is something that happens when you have a kid that can't be explained.

Bull shit. If you have so

Bull shit. If you have so many kids you don't know who each is as an individual and one-on-one time only ever has a chance of happening on your birthday, IF your parents remember which day is your birthday, then you've got too many kids. Those kids don't have any choice. Calling large numbers of kids "personal choice" is selfish when it's used to have so many kids that they're one of a large crowd rather than individuals. Some moms of large broods, such as Kelly Bates (Michelle Duggar's best friend, who is now pregnant with #19 and will likely have more kids), notoriously doesn't even know all her children's names and had to defer to her husband in an interview because "he's better with things like that".

When there are so many kids that they're no loner individuals, then there are too many to nurture. When there are so many that the kids are surrogate parents and are working more hours than they could legally work a paying job, then it's just plain selfish and the parents are horrible people for having more. Tend the flock you've got.

Yes!

I'm an only child, and though I come from a large extended family (where the largest number of children, my dad's generation, was 5), I'm grateful for the close relationship I was able to have with my parents. Regardless of the number, parents should know their children and everything about their children. Having children isn't like having a tank of goldfish or an ant farm, where it's hard to tell each one apart but that doesn't really matter and quantity is the ultimate goal. You don't collect children.

One thing that I always thought was interesting about the Duggar family is that strictly statistically speaking, at least one of them has to be gay.

Open season on mother's choices

My last post on this, i swear, but I'm having a hard time reading post after post detailing how having SO many children is irresponsible, bad for the environment, bad for the mother, bad for the children....

"When someone chooses to be fat, it doesn't directly effect 19 children."

"She's (Ms. Suleman's) not working. So who do you think is paying? We are."

"it's just plain selfish and the parents are horrible people for having more"

"Modern science is a wonderful thing, but never should it supersede simple wisdom."

"Many of these mothers lose their identities as independent individuals."

When you judge a family, (and really we are all talking about the Mothers here because a woman is always ultimately responsible for her children, right?) you are deciding what is right for them based on your own preconceptions and prejudices about large families, and how much society should accommodate them. And I'm still arguing that Bitch and her readers would NEVER accept this kind of judgment towards Fat Women.(saying it's environmentally irresponsible, that it defys common sense about health, that it's selfish because taxpayers have to pay for your health costs.....Hell, there were even arguments about spreading the cost for Plus-sized clothing to consumers of regular sizes on Size-matters) What is it about super-fertility that is fair-game for judgment?

I agree that having 19 kids is a decision that affects more than just yourself. But so is being fat. It's a choice. And if we are arguing about what constitutes responsible mothering (not having more than 2-3 kids according to most readers) than we can argue that being a responsible member of society means not being more than 200-300lbs.

Disagreed.

Despite what is said in some of the other forums here, being fat is not always a strict choice. Having 19 children always is. You're also talking about individuals. I can't see how someone being 200-300 lbs. is going to destroy our natural resources faster than a family of 15 or 25 could.

If you decide to have eight or nine or twenty children and take it to television, it becomes open season. Media has such an underrated impact on our lives that discussion is absolutely necessary.

Getting a little judge-y...

Hi everyone,

I just want to step in here because some of the comments on this thread have taken a turn toward the judgmental. I think Ria and Sara have made some good points about our responsibility as feminists to accept other women's choices when it comes to their reproductive/body rights. You may not agree with a family's decision to have multiple children, but we don't know all of the details and even what we do know has been constructed by TV producers. We can't assume that these women are bad mothers or that their families are dysfunctional—we really don't know.

Just to keep us on track, the intention of this post as I interpreted it is to start a dialogue about the media's fascination with these families, so let's stick to that. To reiterate: "Why are all of these shows so popular? What do they tap into that makes them worth watching? Do people secretly long for the chaos advertised in this programming line-up, or is it simple one more way to make an easy buck by exploiting a family who can likely use the cash?"

Thanks!

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

Thank you! I myself was

Thank you! I myself was getting frustrated with the comments as well. With all of the talk on the "drain on natural resources".... come on. When people start talking about how bad it is for people to have many children, it delves into the territory where rights are taken away. The way people are talking here, and some of the comments, have, to me, indicated that there are people here if given the choice, would actively try to not allow people to have so many children. And then the comments about religion. The thing is, people have a right to practice their religion, and practice it how they see fit. If it means having 15 kids, so be it. If it includes not using birth control, so be it. It's their choice, and it's their right.

I know everyone here doesn't like it when the religious right impairs judgement on women's rights and issues, on us. So why should we judge others when they make decisions they deem best for them? And especially their decisions regarding reproduction? And when it comes to how others raise their children, who are we to judge? Yes, one might not like it that each child doesn't have a lot of time with each Duggar parent. But that's their parenting style. My father worked in Ohio and we lived in California. I only saw him a week out of the month, does that make him a bad father, worthy of criticism because that's how he supported our family? One might not want to raise their children the way the Duggars do, but it works for them, and that should be respected. And as far as I can see, the Duggar children are happy, well-rounded and adjusted.

Yes, they choose to put their family on TV. But is it unethical? I honestly don't think so.

Regarding why America seems so fascinated with large families on TV, it's an abnormality. People are fascinated by the abnormal, look at shows like Intervention and My Strange Addiction. It's an oddity and people are curious, and honestly, watching a family with 19 children is oddly fascinating. There've been a couple of movies like that too. And as for them making money on it, I have no moral qualms about it. As long as people watch it, TV networks will put shows like that on TV, and as long as that happens, there will be families willing to do it.

As for the Duggars, I think they sincerely believe in what they are doing is right, which is why I like them. Their sincerity is very genuine, and admirable.

Duggars and the Pill

Damn, I love this discussion (although I agree with Kelsey that things are getting a little more judge-y than they could be). I just wanted to point out something I find interesting:

If you do a little digging on the Duggars you'll find that when first married Michelle was on the Pill. After their first child was born she went back on the Pill and conceived and miscarried a child. She attributes this personal tragedy as part of the couple's motivation to "leave it in God's hands" from then on. If I recall correctly she is very careful when she discusses this and makes the point that the Pill simply was not the right option for them (check out their book to confirm). She does not condemn others for using it (just because actions speak louder than words doesn't mean they aren't important).

Additionally, the family started out fairly poor even when it was small. Even now that they have their own t.v. show their motto is still "buy used, save the difference" They've survived (and thrived, apparently) all these years spending significantly less per child than the average American parent.

Ok, now that I've gotten that out there, let me point out that I am a staunch atheist (the kind who thinks any and all religion is wackypants but respects your right to worship as you see fit) and super happy only-child and a lot of what the Duggars say and do creeeeeps me out big time. But, even knowing that they (and their producers) can pick and choose what to air, I have never seen them speak words as judge-y as those aimed at them, and for that I can (usually) grant them some of my respect.

Clown cars

I feel like the obsession with these shows stems from a dichotomy in American life today: first, these families are sideshows for most people. I grew up in an environment similar to the Duggars, where large families were part of their dedication to the Christian life, and even having just four or five kids these days frequently causes comment. My favorite: "Don't you know what causes that by now?" It's the fascination with the weird, and also the pleasure of judging someone else's choices(cough, cough.) The other half of the dichotomy is that I think some people watch these shows with a sense of yearning, because the power of the maternal image holds incredible sway for many people, and it's hard to get much more maternal than Michelle Duggar. Even Jesus played on it in likening himself to a mother hen, and his disciples to his chicks. I think these shows use the power of faux-nostalgia, combined with our fascination with people who are so different, to draw people in.

I just have to note that 19 children IS what "just happens" under the right conditions. Michelle Duggar isn't using fertility treatments, after all! I understood when I heard about Baby 19 that she thought(hoped?) she was entering menopause before realizing she really was pregnant again. As for the other moms, since I've never watched any of the shows, I don't feel I'm qualified to judge; but I think fertility treatments change the game significantly. I think the common factor remains, though, that these large families really are surprises for most people to some extent; I know the "Quiverfull" folks accept as many or *as few* children as come naturally, and the Duggars are still an anomaly even in that movement.

On a personal note, I don't have any children yet myself, but I wouldn't mind a "litter". My husband and I are planning to adopt or foster most of our children, though; we're fortunate to be in a position where we feel very comfortable with that. I think most folks don't have enough experience with large families to be able to say, Oh, they're wonderful because of this, or These parents are terrible because of that. I believe relegating this to the matter of personal choice is the right thing to do, as environmentally concerned as I am. For the hippies among us, what matters is the population birth rate; not the fourteen familes in the US with 20+ children.

All I can say about Nadya Suleman is OY!

Fix em!

I'm frustrated with society thinking it's okay to have butt-loads of children and getting away with it at no price to them. We send money to other countries for the starving children. The starving children we fed 50 plus years ago are having babies. If we're to support families (here and there) with children that they can't support themselves then the parents ought to be "fixed."