|What is Quiverfull?|
Editor's Note: After reading a post on another large family message board about what the term "quiverfull" meant to one individual, I was intrigued and asked the author to elaborate further on the subject in an article for this site. Please note, this piece deals with religious beliefs and ideals which some readers may find offensive. Since we promote the LOK lifestyle in general, and realize there are many reasons people choose to have large families, this article is presented solely for the purpose of providing our visitors with some insight into the philosophy of being quiverfull, so they may have a better understanding of those who choose not to limit their family size in response to religion and faith.
You may have seen the term "quiverfull," or QF, on large family sites. In case you're curious as to what it means, here's an explanation.
As it's used in large family circles, "quiverfull" generally refers to those who eschew birth control of any means, "natural" or artificial, and just let nature take its course as regards the number of children they have. More specifically, the term is used of people whose religious convictions lead them to accept whatever number of children God has for them.
The term derives from Psalm 127: "Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they shall not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate." Hence children are a good thing, and those who would prevent them are denying themselves a blessing and a reward.
Of course, the standard reactions to such reasoning range from incredulity ("Are they KIDDING? You know how many kids a woman could HAVE before she hits menopause???") to all kinds of questions regarding if and when birth control might be a wise course of action and/or biblically mandated.
A few questions-and-answers follow, but it's helpful to first keep in mind the basic premises behind QF thinking: that children are a gift to be desired, and that it is a loving, personal God, not a mere biological system, that controls conception.
This runs counter to much of our society's philosophy on the matter--that under some circumstances, children are a good thing. Generally children, in reasonable numbers and in the context of a good marriage and sound finances, are welcomed. Once that "reasonable" number is superceded, or if a child is conceived out-of-wedlock or at an inconvenient time, children tend to be regarded as "whoopsies." The result is that large families are stigmatized, and most of us know the results--hostile remarks in the grocery store, relatives seizing every opportunity to comment on our apparent reproductive ignorance, and so on. While nearly every large family recognizes that each child is important and special, QF regards as-yet-unborn children with the same reverence. Therefore deliberately preventing the conception of a child is saying, in effect, that that child is unwanted and worthless. Further, it runs counter to the will of God, who might have chosen to bless the couple--and the world--with that child.
Q: Does this mean that you could have THIRTY kids by the time you're done???
A: Yes--in fact Guiness lists the world-record as a whopping 69 children from a single Russian mother! (I can see the joy on your face as you contemplate THAT possibility!) As a practical matter, however, probably not. First of all, most of us don't start our families at age 15. Secondly, an estimated quarter to a third of us are infertile--meaning that for one reason or another, we are unable to have children at all. Thirdly, our bodies are generally not as efficient at turning out babies as we think them to be--for instance, I myself am one of the very few breastfeeding women who resume regular cycles within a couple of months of giving birth. On paper, this should mean that my children could be spaced 10-11 months apart. In reality, my closest pairs are 15 months apart, and they range up to 22 months apart. Fourthly--and most importantly--QF recognizes, above all, the sovereignty and wisdom of God. God knows the perfect number of children for each of us and the ideal spacing for them. I would have told you, before I had kids, that I would be a horrible mother. I did not like children and didn't want any. In my own estimation, the "right" size for my family was a nice, neat ONE (me), or maybe TWO. Yet here I sit with nearly a dozen children--and I wouldn't trade any one, or the lessons I've learned or the joys I've had in raising them, for the world.
Q: Isn't it wrong to have more kids than you can handle?
A: There must be dozens of biblical references and secular cliches to the effect that "God won't give you more than you can handle with His help." My favorite is the quote from Mother Teresa: "I know God won't give me more than I can handle; I only wish He didn't trust me so much." To be honest, there are days when I sit in a corner and scream that I just CANNOT take this anymore; that it's just way too hard to raise so many children, and so on. I am learning that these are the times when God ALLOWS me to feel overstretched, so that I will learn to lean on His strength and not my own. His purpose is not that I should be comfortable, a spoiled brat getting everything just the way I want it, but that I should become Christlike, conformed to His image. He wants me to rely on Him, to trust Him, to look to Him for wisdom. I have reflected that I would not love my children so much if I hadn't put so much blood, sweat, and tears into them. Nor would I understand so much of the love of God for me.
Q: But how can you afford so many kids?
A: See above answer. Additionally, I like to point out that the "experts" who estimate the price of a child's upbringing are not dealing with reality so much as we might think. The truth is that a child will cost whatever you are willing and able to spend on him. If you are wealthy and have one child, that child will be expensive--new clothes from high-end stores, fancy vacations and birthday parties, a good private college. If you are poor and have twelve, each one will be very inexpensive--hand-me-down clothing, camping trips, and college funded with scholarships and hard work. QF recognizes God's promise to provide all we need--though not necessarily all we might want. If my child needs to get to Harvard, a means will be provided. If not, it will be because Harvard was not in the child's best interest.
Q: Just out of curiousity, what does this mean for those who are infertile?
A: It means that the Lord has thought it the best thing for those people NOT to have children, or to have fewer children than they think they want. Just as QF people differ on their philosophies of "When might birth-control be OK?", they differ on "What sorts of fertility treatment, if any, is OK?" An important DIFFERENCE in the questions is that since children ARE a good thing, biblically speaking, and since our bodies were designed in such a way as to naturally produce them, infertility might be looked at as a disease--and thus treated--while fertility is a normal, natural, good thing. In other words, it's OK to fix something that's broken, but not to break something that's working perfectly. Of course, some of what falls under the umbrella of "fertility treatment" definitely violates most Christian ethics--for instance, the production of excess embryos in vitro and their consequent destruction, or the use of donor sperm/eggs.
Q: Doesn't having a lot of babies wear your body out?
A: So does age. The effects of both can be minimized by eating properly and exercising regularly and all that other stuff we know we ought to be doing. For those of us whose entire adult lives are spent pregnant or recovering from pregnancy, there is a lot of incentive NOT to be slobs, figuring that we'll pull ourselves together when we're done having kids. (OK, so there are also a lot of reasons why we can't find the time to exercise and sit down to a proper meal, and that nagging thought that "by the time I work off this baby weight, I'll just be pregnant again"...) One important thing to realize is that as mothers we need to be willing to make sacrifices on behalf of our children (to say nothing of the fact that Scripture calls us to "offer our bodies as living sacrifices" to God). I had one scary delivery, in which the baby's shoulders got stuck and he'd gone blue and limp before his collar bone was snapped and he was freed. The doctor had called in the anesthesiologist and I wondered later what he had intended to do--perhaps snap my own pelvic bones apart? It might have made me lame for life, I thought, but I'd have been more than willing to take that in exchange for my son's life. And so yes, there are sometimes stretch marks and chronic back problems and such to pay for the lives of our children, but it's pleasantly surprised me how FEW problems I've got after twelve pregnancies.
Q: What if the doctor says another pregnancy will kill me?
A: This is the toughest of the tough, in my opinion. The first thing to ask is whether the threat is a real one. Many doctors overstate (often simply because they have been trained within a culture that assumes that having a large number of babies is "dangerous") the threat posed by pregnancy and childbirth, and often we are all too willing to take that "out" when in our hearts, we really don't WANT another child. The question I like to ask is, "What if this were a desperately-wanted first child? Would the risk be worth taking then?" (It bears mention that first-time mommies are at HIGHER risk of complications than the rest of us--including the "great-grandmultiparas" who're on baby #10-plus!) Some health risks ARE serious. Some can be minimized. Some are worth risking, if we want the child bad enough. A further point to consider is, again, the will of God. Is my life worth more than that of the child I'm carrying? Our pride, and our desire to mother our extant children, might scream "YES!", but the list of important people in human history whose mothers died in giving them birth runs into the hundreds--while the mothers' lives were hardly worthless, part of their worth was in the children they bore. Without those children, they might have lived another twenty or forty years in obscurity. Through the children, they have enriched a lot of lives. A long life is not necessarily the best life--hence we take some risks all the time, rather than staying cooped-up in our living rooms where we are "safe" and never touching a piece of chocolate.
I'm sure this doesn't begin to answer every question that might come up on the subject, but hopefully it does offer a bit by way of explanation to those of you who've been puzzled by the term "QF". If you're interested in further reading, an excellent book is "A Full Quiver," by Rick and Jan Hess. There is also a QF website (as there seems to be for everything): www.quiverfull.com
Anyone interested in talking to me more is welcome to e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org. I can't guarantee that I will get back to you promptly, but I will try.
**Jenn Towianski is a stay-at-home mother of thirteen children. She enjoys writing and sharing her life experiences having lots of kids. She is moderator of the Tons of Kids Message Board at Tonsofkids.net.**
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