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Effects of Militant Fecundity on the Mother

As I have been studying this whole patriocentricity movement, I keep asking myself this question:

What EFFECT does having one baby after another have on the mother?

Often called Quiverfull or the Quiverfull movement, it is becoming more prevalent lately, particularly among homeschooling families. 

I well remember our “first round” of kids: My husband had two already, I had one, and we had one together. That was 4 kids under the age of 6. I remember cluster nursing while taming two year old tempers and trying to get dinner on the table while assisting with math homework and battling mastitis. When we adopted the boys (we got each one as a newborn) and had the chance “to do it all over again”, the first round kids ranged between 6-12. It was easier the second time, of course, but we remembered living in survival mode…. When we discussed raising the bigger ones, we remembered just trying to get through another day. So I asked myself, how in the world would having six kids under 7 (or 10 kids under 12?) affect the mother?  

Physical and emotional exhaustion, as this Newsweek online article, Extreme Motherhood, has this to say:

“…what’s problematic about Quiverfull for many is the position the movement relegates women to on its way there. Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff, a former Quiverfull writer who left the movement, says that the lifestyle is frequently one of unrelenting duty and labor that leaves women little recourse if the demands of their lives prove too much to bear. “The Quiverfull movement holds up as examples men like the Duggars … all men of means.

But for every family like this, there are ten or fifty or one hundred Quiverfull families living in what most would consider to be poverty … Mothers are in a constant cycle, often, of pregnancy, breastfeeding, and the care of toddlers.” Women are expected to feed and care for a large family on what are frequently limited resources, and the strain leads some to suffer clinical levels of exhaustion and self-neglect. The work that mothers can’t manage usually falls to their eldest daughters, who learn early that their role in life is domestic, as helpmeets to their parents and later their husbands, and as mothers to many children.”

The end of a mother’s sanity, as well as excommunication from the movement if the marriage ends. An interesting article at Women’s Space addresses the Andrea Yates case, among others: The Truth About Full-Quiver Families

“The full quiver people never talk about the victims of the movement, other than to distance themselves, to explain how it is that the victims are aberrations. They don’t talk about women like Andrea Yates and her children. Yates stoned her kids in her back yard, then drowned them, believing she was a terrible mother and that her children would be better off with God than with her. ”
“And above all, they don’t talk about the way the lives of so many, many women in that movement have been all but destroyed– women with 5, 7, 9, 11 or more children, women who lived sometimes for decades with abusive men who were then excommunicated, lost everything they had, when they divorced their abusers.”

Life-threatening complications with pregnancies are often considered just one of the risks, and the patriarchy-pushers insist that the women must have more faith and continue to reproduce, as this Salon.com article, All God’s Children, explains:

“Indeed, Mary Pride referred to her mothers as “maternal missionaries.”
Garrison (woman the article is about) complied. She’d had her first three children by cesarean section, but after coming to the Quiverfull conviction, she was swayed by the movement’s emphasis on natural (even unassisted home) birth. During one delivery, she suffered a partial uterine rupture and “felt like I’d been in a major battle with Satan, and he’d just about left me dead.” The doctor who treated Garrison lectured her for an hour not to conceive again, but she felt that stopping on her own would be rebellion. When she turned to her leaders for inspiration, she received a bleak message: that if she died doing her maternal duty, God would care for her family. For six months, she couldn’t look at the baby without crying.”

And that is the sad, sad part of this whole thing. A woman should never feel like crying when she looks at her baby. Children ARE a gift from God, but no where in the Bible does it say Thou must reproduce until your body is depleted and your mind has turned to mush. No where!

 Looking for more information on patriarchy? I compiled a list on Patriarchy and Legalism.

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10 Responses to Effects of Militant Fecundity on the Mother

  1. Hillary April 16, 2009 at 12:11 pm #

    I cannot find a "contact me" button for you anywhere ;-)

    I wanted to send you a brief "Me too!" regarding one of your posts but wanted to do so anonymously. Just know that you are writing some amazing things and we have something in common that really touches me to see how you have handled it. God bless!

  2. wysiwyg April 16, 2009 at 1:02 pm #

    I know there are many (too many) extreme cases out there. If you took those out of the equation, you would be left with quite a few rather normal families. Large, but fairly much just like everyone else. My husband is in no way abusive and we both just loved the idea of having a large family. We fell for the quiverfull idea but didn't realize the toll it would take on us. From physical to mental exhaustion it's hard sometimes, well maybe a lot of times. It's also extremely fun and wonderful at times. For whatever reason God allowed us to fall into the quiverfull idea and have 9 children and I know they are a gift and He has a purpose for them. I also know I won't ever recommend having so many so close together. In the same breath though, I don't think it is the best case scenerio for a child to be an only child or to be raised with just one parent. All of our children (and us)need to find peace and happiness in whatever family situation we find ourselves in. There can be fun and love or disfunction and heartache no matter what family size you have.

  3. Carole April 16, 2009 at 5:03 pm #

    This is such a difficult and sensitive topic (to say the least). As far as I can see, one of the most concerning issues with militant fecundity is its works oriented mindset. This mindset reaches far beyond the actual choice to bear as many children as "the Lord wills," and impacts a woman's view of her standing before God. No longer is she truly saved by grace alone. She needs to be more submissive (to her husband/to God), more modest, a better housekeeper, a super homeschooler, a thrifty shopper, and the list goes on. The tendency to shut out grace and (self?)impose unrealistic standards is very, very high in this particular culture.

    My heart grieves to see young moms who are completely burned out and whose marriages are a wreck feeling that they are rebellious in their hearts towards God for not wanting another baby (or even not wanting another one right away). The lifestyle is not sustainable, especially when paired with a performance facade which demands that these moms do it "all" themselves.

    When I say "particular culture" or "that group" I don't mean to sound arrogant. I also don't mean to lump every single large family in with them. There are many healthy, grace oriented, large families. And there are plenty of smaller families that emphasize works. You will be able to tell by how you feel around them: does the mother of the large family next door always ask you if you're going to have any more children, or does she befriend you for who you are? (that kind of thing)

  4. Momma Knows April 17, 2009 at 7:16 am #

    wysiwyg: Yes, exactly. It almost seems to be Mormon theology wrapped up in a Christian package. Be Perfect at everything: House and home, cooking, wife, mother, homeschooler, obedience to spouse, church/spiritually, etc. There is NO ONE perfect, and this is a standard that is truly impossible to attain and then attempt to hold. I know that the rate of suicide among the population of devout Mormon women is much higher than among evangelical Christians, and the #1 reason I have heard psychologists address is STRESS.

  5. myderbe May 5, 2009 at 1:00 pm #

    This is very interesting. I can agree with you about some of these points. And I share some of the concerns mentioned. However, I'd like to tell you about our family to give a bit of a different perspective. We are not the stereotypical quiverfull family, as presented here.

    My husband and I were married four years before our first child was born. On the way home from the hospital, he jubilantly said, "That was fun! Let's do it again!" We were both laughing and in love with our new baby. We did decide we would like our first two children close together, so they could grow up together, as best friends. Evidently, God agreed with that idea, and our second child was born 15 months later. :)

    After #2 was born — long story, but we prayerfully realized God was convicting us to give up control of planning our family. At that time, we could not think of one unselfish reason to plan our own family. We read _A Full Quiver_ and I joined the Quiverfull Digest. I'll be honest and tell you that I never felt like I totally belonged on that digest. In my normal life, I'm one of the most conservative people I know, but on the digest, I felt like a crazy liberal. :) So many aspects of that culture did not set well with me and I could find no Biblical basis for — and, believe me, I looked! I am thankful for all the times conversations on the digest provoked me to search God's Word. So I know God used that period of my life to grow me.

    And He certainly grew our family! When #2 was nineteen months old, #3 was born. Almost 17 months later, #4 was born. Twenty months later #5 was born. And almost 18 months later, #6 was born. Six children in 7 1/2 years.

    You know, if we had not felt directed to leave all family planning up to God and remove ourselves from trying to manipulate or plan it, I would not have the 6 particular children I have now. And what blessings I would have missed out on! (I suppose it's important to point out that I did always want a large family. My dad is one of 12, and I loved LOVED being part of a large family.)

    I was never super-militant about my quiverfull beliefs. I knew God had directed my husband and me to that decision, and that was all I knew. I didn't know about other people. I did (and do) think that too many people decide for themselves how many children they want or don't want, and never consult God — just like people choose schooling options or careers or spend money without consulting God. And I know He did that for many reasons — some of which I probably won't know until I see Him face-to-face. I certainly was on a fast-track to learning humility and dying to self. I had some hard years. In the midst of morning sickness and diaper-changing and all the dailyness of having baby after baby and pregnancy after pregnancy for more than 7 years, there were days when I felt overwhelmed. There was definitely some self-sacrifice involved. But I think that's a good thing, and something that we in our culture probably don't willingly do enough of.

    I am thankful that we were involved in a non-quiverfull church, so I think there was some balance. I was very involved in a MOPS group with a very diverse group of women. My husband is amazing and supportive and helpful! (Actually, at a large family gathering when I was expecting my 4th, a cousin exclaimed, "If I had a husband like that, I'd probably be having 4 kids too!")

    I think there is a danger when you take any idea to an unhealthy extreme. And some people who are quiverfull do that. I also think there is a danger when you begin to believe that the extra things you do will earn you brownie points with God. And I saw some of that on the quiverfull digest — people who thought God somehow looked more favorably on women who were quiverfull, who homeschooled, wore only dresses, wore headcoverings, observed the Old Testament customs and feasts and cleansing rituals.

    Never, for one minute did I think that my having all these babies was linked to my salvation. Never did I think it was earning me brownie points with God or making me somehow more righteous in His sight. I cannot be more righteous in His sight than I already am because when He looks at me, He sees Jesus, Who is Righteousness. I knew that just as God leads some families to be missionaries (which He has since done with us), and just as He leads some to other ministries or to certain jobs or to homeschool or to _____ (fill in the blank), God led us to give up trying to control our family size because He had some things to teach us in that and He wanted to bless us in that.

  6. Momma Knows May 5, 2009 at 1:35 pm #

    Jenn this is exactly my point. I am not by any stretch of the imagination saying that having a large family is bad or contrary to Scripture, or anything like that! It's that the Quiverfull "movement" has added all of these "conditions" to their lives and treat them as the Gospel, when in fact they are very much personal choice. And to add to that the father being the central source of spiritual guidance is very much idolatry. It's just sick, the whole thing. And my homeschool group has purchased so many VF materials, along with a lot of the speakers who push the patriocentric theology. It just makes my stomach turn to think how many are being deceived. I've tried to raise the issue with one friend in the group and was not well received.

  7. Beth October 13, 2009 at 2:31 am #

    I've been reading all your posts on this topic and again I just wanted to thank you for helping me to feel that there are Christians out there who share in my thoughts and ideas. My husband will be so happy to hear about my blog reading today. He's very encouraging about me finding like minded people, because he knows how much I struggle with the "norm" of highly conservative christian lifestyles. He doesn't struggle with it, but that's because if something doesn't really fall under his idea he pretty much says it's nonsense. For him it's total nonsense for people to put women in a lesser category or tell them or shame them into having children, even if it means death. He says that's just craziness and I shouldn't be so concerned about what radicals do. He makes a lot of sense sometimes, but it's nice to come across a fellow woman, who homeschools and thinks simlilarly to us. Thanks again and God bless!

  8. not a gator September 30, 2012 at 2:54 pm #

    I think it's rather hurtful to state that one child with one parent is "not a best case scenario". I think it's much better for a single parent to raise the child alone than go for the first man/woman who comes by and bring an abuser into the home. As you say, "All of our children (and us)need to find peace and happiness in whatever family situation we find ourselves in." That sounds like the family my wife grew up in, just her and her mom because her dad was too much of a Peter Pan, and her grandparents who lived nearby. And you know what, she grew up surrounded by love and was very successful. I grew up in a large, two-parent, mom-at-home, heteronormative household and I suffer from anxiety and depression due to the years of physical and emotional abuse. Some of the abuse was probably instigated or exacerbated by the size of the family and the stress that put on the parents. In support of this notion, things got less horrific as the older siblings fled the nest one by one.

    And it's not just the parents as it doesn't take much for siblings to start abusing each other. In fact, in my grandmother's large, religious, farm-raised household the dirty secret was incest and rape by older male siblings upon young, helpless female ones. (Mama by then was too sick and too weak from too many pregnancies and births to stop it.)

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