Born to Breed
Content warning: I describe unsanitary conditions for childbirth in this post…not sure if that’s a specific trigger for people, but thought it still deserved a warning.
“Pull back the curtains
Took a look into your eyes
My tongue has now become
A platform for your lies.” -Cage the Elephant
My dad was playing his guitar, and the rest of us were sitting around, following him for clues on what to sing next. He looked up at the new Bible selection, printed with a calligraphic font, framed and hanging above the piano.
He picked a chord, tried singing along with it: “Lo, children are a heritage…”
It didn’t fit. He adjusted his left hand to find another chord, and this sounded better. He tried singing a few notes, then broke into song, following the words:
“Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord,
And the fruit of the womb is his reward,
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man,
So are the children of one’s youth.
Happy is the man that has his quiver full,
They shall not be ashamed (not ever)
For they will speak with the enemies in the gate
Psalm one-twenty-seven, yeah, psalm one-twenty seve-en.”
My dad always said he wanted a boy. He expected for me to be a boy, and he expected Lydia to be a boy. By the time Isaiah was born, there were four girls, and my parents were done.
Apparently that’s when God got involved, and convicted their hearts to keep having kids. Mom miscarried between Isaiah and Micah, and they were still just sixteen months apart. Then she was pregnant almost every year until there were sixteen kids.
We were quiverfull, and we were proud of it. In later years, my dad loved quoting the books “America Alone” and “The Empty Cradle,” and he often talked about how Christians weren’t having enough children. If we ever wanted to keep Muslims from taking over the earth, Christians needed to keep having loads of children. This was a competition, and the Quiverfull movement was fighting to win dominion over the planet.
That’s why it was a little weird to see my dad blogging recently that “patriarchy has got to go,” and that he’s ” becoming more and more repulsed at the use of the patriarchal idea of ‘dominion.’”
In 2009, we filmed our second show, this one with CBS. This was for the WE-TV channel, exclusive to certain cable services (Or is it cable networks? Dish connections? I don’t know how to talk about television subscriptions – we only had TV for one month when I was a teenager; we got a free trial so we could watch ourselves on TLC and then cancelled the subscription). It was, we found out after the producers had already gotten their footage, a show called “The Secret Lives of Women.”
Our episode for season 4 of the show was titled “Born to Breed,” and it featured four women who talked about the Quiverfull lifestyle. The first was Vyckie Garrison, founder of the site “No Longer Qivering.” She’d removed the letter “u” for her slogan, “There is no ‘you’ in Quivering.” She talked about how she’d lived the Quiverfull lifestyle and escaped from it. Then there was my mom, Wendy Jeub – in 2009, she had fifteen kids and she’d recently lost her pregnancy weight, so she looked healthy and happy. Another Quiverfull mom, Rachel Scott, was filmed with her large family, but it wasn’t as big as ours. The fourth woman was Kathryn Joyce, who’d just published a book about the Quiverfull lifestyle.
At home, my dad had derogatory things to say about Vyckie and Kathryn. He never swore or called them names, he just told us negative things about them that were partially true. He said Kathryn, being a woman who’d never experienced the Quiverfull lifestyle for herself, was just a journalist who didn’t know what she was talking about. He said Vyckie’s kids were rebellious and misbehaved all the time, and they looked less happy than they had been in the Christian Quiverfull lifestyle.
I loved having a big family. I thought I’d save my virginity for marriage, and that I’d save my first kiss for my wedding day. I wanted to have a large number of children, too. When friends asked if I was scared of the pain of childbirth, I thought I could handle it. After all, I’d watched my mother give birth to nine kids, eight of them in the small Jacuzzi tub at home. She endured each labor patiently, never screaming, always breathing through each contraction.
The forest-green carpeting in my parents’ master bathroom had white mold collected in the corners, and the panels around the shower had black mold climbing up them. I don’t know if it was Black Mold because you need such things to get professionally checked, but the mold was black. Sometimes we couldn’t turn on the jets while bathing the children, so the water wouldn’t get filled with flakes of the stuff.
I’d seen my mother give birth several times before I learned that most women can’t stand the pain. It also didn’t occur to me until this summer that since the bathtub was covered in mold, it probably wasn’t an ideal place for giving birth. I watched childbirth nearly a decade before I learned what exactly sex was, but I wore a purity ring in my late teens anyway.
All this, and I still thought I’d choose the same lifestyle my parents had chosen. I thought I was born to breed, that I’d court and marry a man who had my parents’ approval.
I practiced contentment. After all, I told myself, if I couldn’t be happy with my life as an older sister in a large family, how would I ever be happy as a wife and mother of my own large number of children? I knew I wanted this, so on hard days, when I got frustrated and overwhelmed with housework, I thought about how I’d someday have a husband of my own. I refused to even let myself fantasize about intimate moments with a man – that was impure, and I couldn’t expect married life to be all about that. I knew most of the time after we were married, he’d leave me home to cook and clean and watch the children. I must accept this fact of life and learn to be happy with it.
That’s what my life was: making promises I didn’t understand, being totally committed to things for which I had no alternative, and wanting a future life that would be just as happy as the one I was living.