Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Desire to Control

It is difficult for me to read about women in the Quiverfull/Militant Fecundity movement. Aside from the not being allowed to vote, go to college, or get a job; there’s also the fact that some of the women have a baby nearly every year. It might seem strange to be writing this article when I’m not married but believe me; I have a good grasp of anatomy and have done my research. (I’ve also posted links at the bottom to other resources.) One young Quiverfull/Militant Fecundity mother has given birth to four children in four and a half years, at risk to her health due to requiring an emergency c-section for baby #3 and a life flight trip to the hospital for a D&C after baby #4. Quite frankly, this is not normal or natural! Don’t get me wrong, I love children and I want to have as many as God wants to give me…. (The Quiverfull/Militant Fecundity crowd has an annoying way of taking something good and making it an ugly, idolatrous route to "perfection".) However, when the time comes, I want to have children naturally. “Wait, stop!” You say, “Quiverfull is natural! They’re not using birth control!! It is God’s design!” Uh, no, it is not God’s design for a woman to give birth every year or to be pregnant again within 6 months of her last pregnancy. Women’s bodies are simply not designed to have children this quickly. When I see that a woman has four children in four years, I don’t see God’s design for family; I see a desire to control. It is known that many Quiverfull proponents are not exactly proponents of attachment parenting. I highly doubt that many Quiverfull women co-sleep, exercise, eat correctly, or do anything to maintain a healthy body. I also doubt that they continue to nurse for an extended period of time. It saddens me to write this but most of the women in the movement look as if they never lose their baby weight―a fairly telling sign that they aren’t nursing correctly. My guess is that early weaning and blanket training is the norm for most Quiverfull mothers. In fact, an old friend of my mother’s is a proponent of attachment parenting and is in with the Vision Forum crowd; she was very sad to find that many women in the Vision Forum crowd are fairly hands-off with their babies. Purposely weaning your child, making them sleep in a crib, and blanket training them is a way of controlling how many children you have. It is birth control… in reverse. It’s not in line with biblical custom either if you want to think along the lines of their culture. Hebrew children were not weaned until they were at least two; most commentaries on the first book of Samuel agree that Samuel was at least three by the time Hannah brought him to Eli. Again, women’s bodies are not designed to give birth every year; it is unhealthy and risky for both mother and child. God is good and He knows that having a child every year is not good for a woman’s body or for the wellbeing of her other children. He has designed a healthy, simple way of controlling fertility. “How food-foraging peoples regulate population size relates to two things: how much body fat they accumulate and how they care for their children. Ovulation requires a certain minimum of body fat, and in traditional foraging societies, this is not achieved until early adulthood. Once a child is born, its mother nurses it several times each hour, even at night, and this continues for a period of four or five years. The constant stimulation of the mother’s nipple suppresses the level of hormones that promote ovulation, making conception less likely, especially if work keeps the mother physically active, and she does not have a large store of body fat to draw on for energy. Continuing to nurse for several years, women give birth only at widely spaced intervals.” (1) When a woman breastfeeds on demand, her fertility declines. If she carries her baby with her in a sling, sleeps beside her baby and nurses him or her at night, doesn’t use a pacifier, or even continues to nurse a toddler or young child, her fertility will decline sharply. (2) “It has long been observed in cultures where breastfeeding is common that nursing a child has a prophylactic affect against conceiving. In fact, this phenomenon has been so consistent and observable that it has been named: lactational amenorrhea, the absence or suppression of a woman's menses (or menstrual flow) due to breastfeeding…. Studies show that this method provides more than 98% protection against pregnancy during the first six months after birth. Many women find that breastfeeding is effective as a prophylactic against getting pregnant well beyond this six month period. Sound incredible? There is actually a perfectly logical, or, more to the point, physiological explanation for this phenomenon. Here's how it works. As a baby nurses at its mother's breast, the sucking action stimulates nerve endings in the areola, which send messages to the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls metabolism. This in turn signals the pituitary gland to release two hormones (oxytocin and prolactin) which work together to produce and release the mother's milk. However, in addition to contributing to milk production, prolactin has another effect: high levels of prolactin in a woman's body helps to suppress ovulation.” (3) We in the U.S. are pretty culture bound (4) when it comes to babies, as this quote from the Anthropology textbook will tell you: “As a case in point, consider the fact that infants in the United States typically sleep apart from their parents. To most North Americans, this may seem normal, but cross-cultural research shows that co-sleeping, of mother and baby in particular, is the rule. Only in the past 200 years, generally in Western industrial societies, has it been considered proper for parents to sleep apart from their infants…. Recent studies have shown that separation of mother and infant in Western societies has important biological and cultural consequences. For one thing, it increases the length of the child’s crying bouts. Some mother’s incorrectly interpret the cause as a deficiency in breast milk and switch to less healthy bottle formulas; and in extreme cases, the crying may provoke physical abuse. But the benefits of co-sleeping go beyond significant reduction in crying: infants also nurse more often and three times as long per feeding; they receive more stimulation (important for brain development); and they are apparently less susceptible to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS or “crib death”). There are benefits to the mother as well: frequent nursing prevents early ovulation after childbirth, and she gets at least as much sleep as mothers who sleep without their infants.” (5) And this is in a secular textbook!! :-D Perhaps one truly unfortunate aspect of young women not going to college is the fact that they are less likely to be exposed to sociology and psychology classes which contain a lot of useful information about marriage and family. I never thought I would learn so much about childrearing as I have in my Psychology and Sociology survey classes. Did you know that people of other cultures consider cribs to be “cages”? One missionary to New Guinea who visited my church explained that the people there wanted to know why she put her baby in a “cage”. Take a moment to study all the other cultures that practice co-sleeping including Korea, China, and Thailand, and allow your eyes to be opened to how the rest of the world functions. And for the “you’ll roll on your child!” crowd, here’s information on sleep cycles from a psychology textbook, “Even when you are deeply asleep, your brain somehow processes the meaning of certain stimuli. You move around on your bed, but you manage not to fall out of it. If you sleep with your babies, you will not roll over and suffocate them (assuming you are not intoxicated). The occasional roar of passing vehicles may leave deep sleep undisturbed, but the cry from a baby’s nursery quickly interrupts it. So does the sound of your name―a stimulus our selective attention responds is ever alert for. EEG recordings confirm that the brain’s auditory cortex responds to sound stimuli even during sleep.” (6) Yes, I am a proponent of the family bed. (Read some articles by Dr. Sears and you will be as well.) I believe that babies and children are entitled to as much love and cuddling as they want and I believe they should be allowed to nurse as long as they want to nurse. I believe that blanket training and letting a child “cry it out” is neglectful and even abusive. Now, I know not all Quiverfull proponents wean early or blanket train but I ask you, can you name one? My Mom’s friend in the Quiverfull/Vision Forum crowd who was a proponent of attachment parenting did not speak up! She was and still is too intimidated to say anything! If there are those who understand natural child spacing or attachment parenting in the Quiverful/Militant Fecundity movement, they need to speak up! Can you imagine how wonderful it would be for mothers and babies across this country if Michelle Dugger was a proponent of attachment parenting? A perfectly good opportunity lost! Militant Fecundity (I hate that term!) really is a good name for this type of child raising/training because it is much more akin to a military campaign than normal living. It is also just as toxic as a war zone to mother, child, and family. Quiverfull and Militant Fecundity are NOT pro-family nor are they Biblical; those who believe that these movements are beneficial are sorely mistaken.


November 5, 2014,

I’ve gotten so many comments on this post that I feel a few explanations are necessary. So, I’m taking a minute here to address a few things that have confused several readers…

1: I’m not advocating NFP here. I’m explaining how patriarchy claims to be “natural” and “God’s design” but really is not at all. I truly believe that God designed women’s bodies to self-regulate and space out pregnancies. However, we live in a fallen world and sometimes things just don’t work how God planned due to genetics, disease, and etc. So, while NFP can be a good option, I don’t think it’s for everyone. 

2: I think some forms of birth control are a perfectly fine option and plan to use some sort of control when I get married. The reason? I don’t want to spend 10-15 years of my life able to become pregnant at any point. There are many personal reasons for this but one of them is simply practical: I have seasonal allergies and I take medications for them. I get migraines sometimes and take ibuprofen. I wouldn’t want to worry about unknowingly becoming pregnant and having medications affect the baby. Because I care about stuff like that and I think it matters.

3: Let me make something clear. In this article, I’m taking about parents within the patriarchy movement… not parents in general. There’s a big difference. I don’t care if you have one child or ten or how closely spaced they might or might not be–unless you’re having all of them because some system made up by random people told you that you should. You should have children because you want to have them and love having them–not because some guy somewhere decreed that you needed to have kids. But please, space your kids out as much as possible, for your own sanity, there’s usually no need to have them all at once. ;)

4. Seriously, I don’t care about your baby weight. Like really. Please stop telling me about your baby weight. Life happens. I believe in being healthy and keeping a healthy weight, even during pregnancy. I do firmly believe that pregnancy is not an excuse to eat whatever and whenever you want. That is a recipe for disaster. It’s actually one of the times when you should be most health conscious. And any doctor you ask will back me up on that. Just please, I beg you, no more comments about your baby weight. That gets awkward for me and for you and it just ends badly. So please no more. :D 

Works Cited

1. Haviland, William, et al. Cultural Anthropology: The Human Challenge. Belmont, CA: Thomas Wadsworth, 2008. Print. Page 9.

2. Now please, don’t start giving me the, “Well my sister/friend/cousin tried the nursing thing to limit her fertility and it didn’t work. She ended up with another baby 11 months later!” I’ve heard that many times before and all I want to say is: “But did she co-sleep? Did she use a pacifier instead of nursing? What about slings?” All of the mothers I know who nursed on demand, co-slept with their babies, didn’t use pacifiers, nursed more than one child, and etc. had child spacing of 2-3 years. It is always possible that one spacing might be closer than another just as another could be longer.
3. Overton, Larry G. Breastfeeding and the Bible.
4. Culture Bound - “Theories about the world and reality based on the assumptions and values of one’s own culture.” As defined in Cultural Anthropology.

5. Haviland, William, et al. Cultural Anthropology: The Human Challenge. Belmont, CA: Thomas Wadsworth, 2008. Print. Page 9.

6. Myers, David G. Exploring Psychology. New York, NY: Worth Publishers, 2005. Print. Page 210.


1. Family friend with 10 children (who is not Quiverfull influenced!) Proponent of the family bed and natural child spacing via extended breastfeeding. http://www.themotherscompanion dot org/index.php

2. I <3 Dr. Sears! http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/sleep-problems/co-sleeping-yes-no-sometimes

3. Has a great article right now about not letting your baby cry it out and co-sleeping. http://parentingfreedom.com/


laban24 said...

I appreciate how you have pointed out how those of the "quiverful" mindset actually use "birth control" in their unnatural attempts to achieve multiple pregnancies. I was unaware that many of these people (including the Duggars) use such parenting techniques, and am saddened to learn of it. I have already had many of my own objections to their philosophies (OT based time frames for resuming marital relations after menses and childbirth being just one) before this but still feel surprised with what I am learning.

However, it is worth noting that all of the large families I'm close with (including my sister) practice attachment parenting and family beds. Also, some of my own children (who were breastfed on demand including all through the night while sleeping next to me, and worn constantly in a sling during the day) are fairly close in age (the closest being 18 months the others about 2 years) and would have been even closer if we had not used fertility awareness NFP. The time frames have been different with each child but with 3 of my 4 it was under a year when fertility returned. Also, I've always been a fairly thin person (sometimes underweight) which I accredit to genetics and my love of running.

I'm only pointing this out because, yes there are norms and general rules that bring about general results, but there are also always anomalies and exceptions. I was shocked when I was breastfeeding my very plump first baby every 1-2 hours (even through the night) and was slightly back to underweight myself and yet restarted menses when he was 6 months old. Good to know (for yourself and for examining others) that it can happen when you're doing everything right.

I've just stumbled upon your blog and am impressed to see your balance in many areas that lend themselves to extremism within the Christian culture. Keep up the good writing.

A Heart of Praise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ingrid said...

Well, it’s pretty obvious that most Quiverfull mothers use cribs and pacifiers when there are many blogs with pictures of such things. In addition, a good number of them actually endorse blanket training and the use of control on their blogs, especially by advising readers to use “Babywise” or the methods of Debi Pearl. I haven’t seen any pictures of co-sleeping, sling-wearing environments on these blogs. I also noted in my article that one of my friends was involved in events with leaders of the Patriarchy movement and observed blanket training and a lack of attachment on the part of the mothers.
Also, I know I haven’t had children of my own, but don’t you think it’s possible to know a lot about something without experiencing it directly? As a man, Dr. Sears hasn’t given birth but he has studied and knows a lot about the benefits of nursing and co-sleeping. I don’t consider myself an expert (my mom is much closer to being one) and that’s why I refer to other sources and provide links to additional resources. Either way, I’m generally discussing facts and I must speak as I find.
The instant return to fertility you have experienced is unusual but not impossible; I doubt that I would judge your situation harshly when I have many friends who have had a couple of their children close together. It happens sometimes… however, when it happens four or more times, one has to wonder about the parent’s motives. You state, “I had a say in if I wanted more children or not” and that’s wonderful! Some people like having their children close together and some choose to have a large family and that’s fine for them. Yet, for many women in this movement, having children is NOT a choice. It is a duty. And many of these husbands don’t treat their wives like queens. If you would like an example of this, see my article about Kelly Bradrick and the negligent, if not abusive behavior of her husband. http://ingridgraceandaudrey.blogspot.com/2012/06/portrait-of-lady.html

Anonymous said...

I wish nursing "correctly" made my body ditch the weight. I lost 15 pounds at delivery and not an ounce since. The other 50 just sits on my belly, bottom and legs while my nine month old still nurses round the clock on demand. Lots of women have the same story. Don't assume cause we are still fat, we aren't nursing correctly.

Ingrid said...

I've debated about whether or not to say this but... I think I should. You'll probably be mad at me Anonymous but I have to say that it is not healthy to gain 65 pounds during pregnancy (or at any other time). Here's a link to Mayo Clinic's chart on pregnancy weight gain: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pregnancy-weight-gain/PR00111 Frankly, I'm at a loss to understand why your doctor didn't provide this information for you. As at any other time in your life, one has to be very careful with healthy eating habits and exercise before/during/after pregnancy. Contrary to popular opinion, pregnancy is NOT a time when you can eat whatever you want nor is it a weight loss program. Just because you're craving something doesn't mean you have to eat it. Like many other women, I get carb cravings every month during PMS and I ignore them because I know they'll go away eventually. Sometimes you just have to do things like that to stay healthy. It's not fun but it has to happen.

Kathleen said...

One issue with returning fertility after childbirth. As someone noted above, a low level of fat in the body suppresses ovulation, along with intensive breastfeeding on demand. The thing is - modern people just have so much more access to fat than traditional hunter/forgager societies. They ate lean wild animals, we eat farm fattened animals. They didn't have butter or milk, or a big supply of nuts & seeds, or olive oil or donuts for that matter. Even those of us with very low fat modern diets don't eat as healthfully as they did, and very few of us get as much exercise. Plenty has been written on the disconnect between the modern world and the adaptations of the human body. I think this is often forgotten when people talk about how God wills us to live. Much of what we assume to be out of our control (and therefore God's will?) is a modern lifestyle that humans only began 200 years ago.

Elle said...

Anonymous, I'm so sorry you got shamed for your weight gain by someone who's never even been pregnant. Wow. Ingrid, really, you should know better. You are doing a great job of trying to speak against the sanctimonious nature of many aspects of fundamentalism, but please look out for it in your own words as well. You lose a lot of credibility by not giving grace, and by using a simple comment as an excuse to be holier-than-thou.

Peggy said...

I have to agree that nursing correctly doesn't mean you automatically lose the weight. I didn't gain an excessive amount during my pregnancies, but the little extra fat I put on simply wouldn't come off until my babies had stopped nursing.

Our bodies are meant to hold on to extra fat while we're pregnant or nursing, to ensure the survival of our babies in case of famine. Some women's bodies are more efficient than others at maintaining these emergency reserves. Lucky me (sarcasm): I had one of those highly efficient, famine-proof bodies, in spite of good nutrition and exercise. The moms who lose weight quickly from nursing are fortunate from a purely cosmetic standpoint, but they would have been at a disadvantage in societies where food is not abundant.