Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Whose Uterus is it, anyway?

There seems to be a great deal of discussion in the blogosphere about the Duggar Family of Arkansas, and the recent arrival of baby number 17. That’s right—17. The family has 19 members, all blood-related, all direct descendants of parents who are married to each other, and who have only been married to each other.

I’ve seen articles questioning the wisdom of large families in an already overpopulated world. I’ve seen articles both advocating and decrying the use of contraceptives. I’ve seen discussions over the Duggars’ choice to “rob” their older children of their childhood by “forcing” them to help with the daily care of so many younger siblings.

Enough already, people.

If absolutely forced to choose, yes, I do usually categorize myself more as a liberal than as a conservative. Social issues often bring out the liberal in me because I think we are called to look out for one another and to create a social network that will help those who, for whatever reason, are unable to care for themselves. This is why I think public education, socialized medicine, and food programs can be useful, supposing they are not abused or corrupted. Does this mean I think that the current systems in place are perfect and functioning well—of course not. The human nature thing interferes and what starts out as a good idea is almost always corrupted by someone’s private agenda or lust for power.

But it irritates the stew out of me when individuals play the “gander-sauce” game, where no one can criticize the hot-button items on their personal agenda, but they feel free to criticize others.

The Duggers seem to be a well-organized, self-sufficient, loving and happy family. Whose business, besides their own, is it how many children they have? Are they collecting welfare? Nope. Food stamps? Uh-uh. Selling their children for medical experiments or farming them out to relatives? No way. They all live together in the same house, which they built debt-free. The parents are licensed real-estate agents and earn a living sufficient to raise a family. The children appear to be clean, well-fed and healthy.

So why does anyone at all think they should offer an opinion as to how many children this family has? This is their dream. Does it have to be everyone’s? It is just as inappropriate to question why they have so many as it would be to question why another couple has none at all. Family size (or lack thereof) is a very private and personal matter between a husband and wife. Find something else to natter about. This ain’t nobody’s business but their own.

Years before Dear Daughter came into my life, lots of people asked me why my then-husband and I didn't have children. Especially when my close sister had her wonderful first daughter (just turned 17 last Monday!), the questions came thick and fast about when would we get busy and reproduce. It was so humiliating and painful to listen to all of the busy-bodies who honestly thought it was acceptable conversation to pry into our reproductive life. Finally, I grew a spine and developed two responses guaranteed to stop questioners dead in mid-sentence. Dear Abby provided the line "I'll forgive you for asking such a personal question if you'll forgive me for not answering." This was a good one that I used mostly on the little old ladies at church and the friends of my mother and mother-in-law. No matter how badly they pissed me off, I really didn't want to completely blow them out of the water with the truth.

Persistent questioners and those who just absolutely had no excuse for asking eventually got the bald and undiluted truth: at the same time my sister was expecting Wonderful First Daughter, I did indeed become pregnant. For about three weeks we were pretty happy about it, and my parents were practically doing cartwheels at the prospect of having two grandchildren within three months of each other.

Always one to do things my own way, things didn't turn out quite as expected for me. On Super Bowl Sunday, while I curled up and read the same book every other expectant mother in America reads, I realized I didn't feel so well. A few days later in my doctor's office, I found out why, as I listened to my doctor shouting orders to get me admitted to a hospital and prepared for immediate surgery.

I woke up in my room the next day, sad, scarred and babyless. Because I was an obstetrical patient, the hospital policy required me to be on the maternity ward, two doors down from the nursery. The nurse's aide who came in to bring me breakfast inquired repeatedly whether I'd had a boy or a girl. An anesthesiologist came in and mistakenly asked how I'd tolerated my epidural. My own doctor thought it necessary to parade a dozen or so students into my room to see the "anomaly" of an abdominal pregnancy. As they stood shuffling from foot to foot trying not to look me in the eye, my doctor lectured about the rarity of my "condition" and gave them the specific details of my surgery, some of which I hadn't even heard at that point. Humiliated, disgusted and infuriated, I threw back the sheets covering my raw, four-inch long incision and shouted "want a look at where Dr. Lightsaber cut me open?"

You could have heard a pin drop. I let go of the sheet and suggested, none too politely, that they all exit immediately. I had no more visitors, save family and a few close friends after that. Heart-broken and grieving, I didn't share the entire story about our loss with just everyone. That is, until the busy-bodies started in on us about having children. My struggle with infertility began that year and lasted until our marriage finally broke apart. Yes, Dear Daughter was an unexpected blessing, but the key point is that she was, and continues everyday to be a blessing to me in thousands of ways.

My point in telling this story is, family is family. It's not a topic for public speculation or criticism. The Duggars are just as entitled to their 17 children (or 18 or however many) as I am my one and only. Hush up and let them love their babies. I'll love mine. You love yours.

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