A friend recently sent me an email with the subject line. “And you thought one was bad.” The mail contained a link to an interview with Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar from Arkansas. Loving couple, realtors and parents to 17 children. That’s right — 17. As in a prime number following 16. As in a number following 16. As in Josh, Jana, John-David, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jeremiah, Jedidiah, Jason, James, Justin, Jackson, Johannah and Jennifer. I almost fell off my chair when a clip from a previous interview showed the couple tell their children (and millions of other Americans) that they were expecting Duggar 18 in 2009. I watched with mounting disbelief as the show host interviewed the couple and their brood of seven girls and 10 boys, asking them if they had picked a name for the next addition to their clan.
Jim Bob struck me as a little smug, as only a man who has successfully sown his seed 18 times can be. But it was Michelle who caught my attention. For a woman who had spent the better part of over two decades either pregnant, giving birth or getting pregnant, Michelle seemed worryingly cheerful. Chipper even. “Why would anyone in their right mind have so many kids?” I thought as I forwarded the link to friends. “They’re nuts,” I told myself. “And she needs a haircut.” After all, it’s one thing to find yourself pregnant with triplets, quadruplets or sextuplets, but it’s quite another to churn out kids like they’re going out of style along with pleather leggings and then say it’s God’s will. Seventeen kids in 20-odd years seem less ‘a blessing from up above’ and more ‘what happens when well functioning reproductive organs are put to use repeatedly sans contraception’. Now some might say, ‘What’s the big deal?’ After all, the world record for the most number of children is at 69. The mother of all these kids was the first of two wives of Feodor Vassilyev, a peasant from Shuya, 150 miles east of Moscow. In 27 confinements, this nameless woman gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets. How interesting that while Daddy’s name has survived all these years, all we know of the poor woman was that she was Biwi no 1. Closer home, our own grandparents effortlessly spawned offspring in the double digits. Again, it looks like the ladies had little to do but grin and bear it. As one friend’s grandmother succinctly put it, “He would come home from work and we would do it. And then I would be pregnant.” Nine times. In our ‘We two Ours one’ world, we tell ourselves that we place the limit at one or two children because we can give them more attention. While that may be true to some extent, I also think it’s because we can’t be bothered to have more kids. Children are expensive, time consuming and want to watch Sponge Bob Square Pants just when they’re going to announce the winner of American Idol. So, if it’s alright for some of us to decide to have none, one or two children, shouldn’t it be okay for others to have as many as they want? Is it alright to use words like crazy and sex-starved when discussing people with large families? Are they selfish for burdening an already crowded planet with more children? Is it fair to question their choices or ask them to consider adoption instead? I’m torn between filing the Duggars under ‘C for crazy’ and ‘N for it’s none of your business’. But maybe if people are putting their lives on TV shows and in the pages of a book, I can question their decisions. 17 Kids & Counting! premiered on TLC (The Learning Channel) in October 2008 while The Duggars. 20 and counting is in a good bookstore near you. ‘...and counting’ — That means there could be more on the way.
This piece appeared here.