You may have learned recently that Michelle Duggar was pregnant for the 20th time. You may have also learned that she recently miscarried a baby girl at 19 weeks who the family has named Jubilee Shalom Duggar. You may have read about the funeral service that they held for Jubilee, or you may have seen these photos (trigger warning: fetus photos) of little Jubilee’s hands and feet being held, gently and carefully, by Michelle.
The Duggar family, specifically Michelle and her daughters, get a lot of flack for the lifestyle choices they’ve made (or, in the case of her daughters, will make) from the general populous. Michelle is derogatorily referred to as “Clown-Car-Uterus” (I kid you not, see the comments here, but only if you feel like losing your faith in humanity), and other people feel content to interpret Michelle’s recent miscarriage as a “sign from God” that the Duggars need to stop having children (contrary to Michelle’s belief that “God giveth, so he shall also taketh away”).
While I, personally, had a negative, visceral reaction to the photos that the family displayed at the funeral service, I don’t want to diminish their grieving. If these photos had not been sold to a tabloid (really, TMZ? shame on you), then no one outside of family and friends would have seen them. They would have remained mementos to mark the passing of a sibling and daughter. And how can anyone disrespect their choice of how to grieve? What I find to be unconscionable was that someone close to the family made money off of their misfortune by selling these to a tabloid.
And I fear how these photos will be used going forward. Anti-choice propaganda is rife with these sorts of images. Some, caring and gentle, like Michelle’s memorial photos, others, bloody and violent. I fear that these photos will go viral and will be used to further a message that I find to be so damaging to women in our society. I fear that someone, somewhere is going to see these triggering images, and feel pain or shame or guilt over her own miscarriage or abortion. I fear the a woman who is looking at her life and considering her choices is going to feel shamed into a choice she doesn’t want to make by these images. I worry about the harm that this image can, and likely will, do.
As someone who has suffered a miscarriage, I can empathize with Michelle and the Duggars need to grieve. I also feel that, as a pro-choice population, we need to support Michelle’s right to choose to continue to get pregnant.
But we can also be cognizant of how the Duggars narrative affects the pro-choice narrative, skewing it in one direction. Michelle is likable and accessible, and she makes the Duggars, as a whole, an easier sell. She discusses her faith and her choices in a very non-defensive, calm manner. She carefully chooses her words and her actions, and she sets a very high standard for other Christian women. And all of this would be well and good if it was reflective of the reality of Christian women. Sadly, the reality for other women can differ drastically from the world the Duggars live in. Not all Christian families can afford, both literally and figuratively, for “God to bless them” so frequently. Jim Bob, Michelle’s husband, is a successful realtor and investor, and they supplement their income with royalties from their reality show (which is not acknowledged by the Duggar family on their website). When questioned about money, they reply that they live frugally. While that is likely true, it doesn’t provide a full picture. Similarly, when asked about her pregnancy difficulties, Michelle replies that, while practice certainly helps, her recent weight loss of 40 lbs has been the most helpful thing. No mention of her struggles with preeclampsia with Josie, born at 25 weeks, and certainly no mention of her most recent miscarriage. And finally, the narrative of the Quiverfull Christian is significantly downplayed on the show. They rarely discuss the dangers of multiparity to Michelle’s health, but when forced to respond, Michelle easily answers by saying that she would give her life for her not-yet-born child. And this may seem like the obvious answer to anti-choice people, but what if a mother wants to be alive to parent her other children? What if the father figure is no longer present? What happens to those already-born children if their mother dies for her pregnancy? The Duggars are lucky enough to have Jim Bob, and the support of their community, family and friends. Not all Christian women are so lucky.
Simply put, the Duggars are not reflective of a typical Christian family, nor are their choices reflective of the options available to most women. However, their choice to have more children is theirs and theirs alone. We can stop supporting tabloids that buy these images; we can stop watching the Duggars show; but we cannot tell Michelle and Jim Bob how and when to reproduce.