The QuiverFull Movement: Family Non-Planning

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You would have to be on a desert island to not know about the Duggar family who have been showcased on The Learning Channel (TLC). Jim Bob and Michelle have more than replaced themselves in this crowded world by adding 19 children to it. Of course, in some parts of the world, 19 isn’t unheard of. (And get this, the record number of children born to one woman is 69!*) But it’s rarity for the U.S.

What makes the Duggars particularly noteworthy is the reason they have so many children: They belong to the QuiverFull movement, which believes that it is God’s will for a woman to have as many children as she is able to. Contraception, even natural family planning, is a sin. (There’s also a group called Blessed Arrows which is for those who have been sterilized where they can “make amends for their sin” by getting reversals.)

Devotees of the QuiverFull movement teach that children are a blessing from God and that attempting to avoid a pregnancy is a subversion of God’s will. Everything is in God’s hands: the health of the mother or baby, the emotional and financial resources necessary to support another child, and the “so-called” problems of over-population and over-consumption. Obviously, they are against abortion, which puts them at odds with  most feminists. That’s not the only thing that alarms feminists, however. They also preach that the man is the head of the household and the wife is to be submissive to him in all things. They blame all the ills of society on women wanting their own way, especially over their own bodies, which are meant to be a “living sacrifice” to God.

I thought four children were plenty. I can’t imagine how I would have managed with more. (I barely managed with four.) The problem with the QuiverFull ideology is a corollary of what it teaches: if you do not trust God for everything, you’re not much of a believer. You may not even be a “true” Christian. I see nothing wrong with seeing children as a blessing from God. But don’t ask me to prove that I’m a Christian by laying my health and the well-being of my family at the altar of complete submission. I believe that God means for us to use the reasoning powers He gave us to make decisions in our lives.

Needless to say, there are critics. One of the most enlightening is Vyckie Garrison of the web site No Longer Qivering (“There is no ‘you’ in quivering”).  Vyckie, who has seven children but is no longer a part of the QuiverFull movement, is now working on a book, but don’t wait for it: check out her site now. She has plenty to say about “those who ruthlessly engender fear and dissatisfaction so they can offer their products as the remedy for the very malady which they themselves created.” QuiverFull adherents don’t usually go so far as to say that you’ll go to Hell if you practice birth control, but they certainly cause spiritual angst among their would-be followers. As Garrison puts it: “With promises of protection, security and ultimate victory, peddlers of ‘family values’ manufactured a culture war, and capitalized on our fears.”

If you read “Ten Great Reasons to Have Another Child” from the QuiverFull web site, you’ll get an idea of the mentality that fuels the QuiverFull movement. I had to scratch my head over #4: Have another child to help end abortion. The reasoning? “The more children there are in society, the more pro-life that society will become, and the easier it will be for the great evil of abortion to be eradicated once and for all. ” Right.

I agree that our society needs to become more child-friendly, but I don’t agree that having more children will make it so. And I don’t disagree with the notion that life is sacred. But doesn’t that mean that we should weigh the bringing of new life into the world carefully and not over-do it just for the sake of a short-sighted policy that says that having more children will solve all of society’s ills?

Women are dying around the world because of unrestricted child-bearing. And their babies often die, too. Wouldn’t controlling ourselves, moderation and careful family planning do more to protect those lives than forcing women’s bodies to go to the limit just for the sake of procreation?

Further Reading:

Arrows For the War” in the November 27, 2006 edition of The Nation, by Kathryn Joyce.

All God’s children” on Salon.com, March 14, 2009, also by Kathryn Joyce.

*The highest officially recorded number of children born to one mother is 69, to the first wife of Feodor Vassilyev (1707-1782) of Shuya, Russia. Between 1725 and 1765, in a total of 27 confinements, she gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets, and four sets of quadruplets. 67 of them survived infancy.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

2 thoughts on “The QuiverFull Movement: Family Non-Planning”

  1. Ellen, this is a great article! Thanks for including reference to Vyckie’s website! I’ve already added her to my reader. I live in a small NH town of about 6,000. There are a lot of ‘quiver’ families living here–five in my neighborhood alone. It took us a couple of months of being here to recognize what was going on. I have been asked why I am not having more children, if my husband is OK with that, and once was asked directly if I understood that it was god’s will that I be fruitful and multiply.

    As a feminist moving from just outside of Boston, I was very surprised. But I noticed something interesting. Many of the ‘quiverers’ that are young mothers in town seem to be very image conscious (hair just-so, perfect make-up, dressed up in high heels and expensive clothes, even on the sidelines of the ballfield…these are SAHMs, not professionals hitting the game on their way home from work…) Many of these women are also incredibly slender. TOO slender–downright emaciated in some cases. I have speculated with my husband that perhaps they are quietly practicing their own birth control–if you are *too* thin, your body will stop menstruating.

    Or, maybe I am just optimistic that they are quietly rebelling by finding a tiny measure of control over their bodies, and so, in turn, they have found a measure of control over their lives within the heavily patriarchal construct of their community.

    1. How interesting to be so close to a “counter culture”! Sounds like the Stepford wives. I think you’ve hit on what bothers me the most about this ideology: it takes away the little control that women have in their lives. I was a minister’s life for ten years, and although we weren’t “quiverers,” we did ascribe to the notion that my husband was the head of the family. It was pure hell.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

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