Whenever the Duggars and their mega-brood come up, someone inevitably asks: is the body designed to bear that many children? Good question:
MSNBC's "Body Odd" takes on the issue today, consulting a number of OBGYNs.
"The uterus is a remarkably flexible organ," says Dr. Florence P. Haseltine, ob/gyn and founder of the Society for Women's Health Research in Alexandria, Va. "It can grow rather rapidly and it can recede rather rapidly. It's able to reconstruct itself and reconfigure itself quickly...I don't believe a uterus gets tired. If it had damage as a result of a specific pregnancy, it might cause trouble. But it doesn't make any physiological sense why one should worry about the uterus."
And of course, health, fitness and the state of the uterus vary from one woman's genetics to another's. While it's physically possible, there are naturally risks. The piece states that post-partum depression is more likely "after delivering five or six children" - let alone 19. Says another doctor,
There's a continuous leeching of calcium and iron, the supplemental building blocks that babies need...After having many children, chronic anemia or osteopenia – weak bones – could be a chronic risk. Also carrying children does increase the risk of incontinence, but even women who haven't had children have incontinence.
Sexy! You can be incontinent either way - luck of the genetic draw - but multiple pregnancies may help! And anyone who's looked at a photo of a grim-faced great-great grandma surrounded by her brood knows that having dozens of kids wasn't exactly rejuvenating. Yes, there are health benefits to multiple pregnancies - research suggests that it prevents both ovarian and breast cancers. But, not to put too fine a point on it, in the old days would most of these mothers have survived to the age of cancer? Maybe a few generations ago, women did have kids in Quiverfull numbers. But they started young, and, frankly, the babies didn't all survive. What's more, without modern technology, just going by the odds almost no woman's body could survive that many pregnancies: after all, Michelle Duggar has delivered three of her babies via C-section.
And it's not just the physical delivery and pregnancy: caring for that many children would tax the emotions and energy of almost any woman. Are we made for that kind of anxiety - mentally? And attitudes towards child-rearing have changed a lot: modern parenting generally proscribes a lot more attention per child - and a lot less child labor. So, can we do it? Yup. But the body can do a lot of things - if it has to. Not everyone wants to test its limits.
Are Some Women Superbreeders? [MSNBC]