The Andrea Yates case throws a spotlight on a controversial Christian movement
by Dawn Friedman
Editor's Note: TNH is a secular website. We present this article not as an endorsement or condemnation of anyone's practices, but as one of our ongoing attempts to understand currents in today's parenting cultures.
nne Peterson* of Atlanta, GA was twenty-four when she became engaged. Before they got married, Anne and her fiancé Tom*, both Christians, had a serious discussion about birth control.
"We had it narrowed down to the rhythm method," says Anne. "We just needed to know when to start having babies. We decided to pray about it separately and when we both had heard an answer from Him, we would come together and share it."
When the answer came, it was not what either of them expected.
"We were looking for something like three children, two years apart, starting in two years," Anne explains. "But He told us the same thing, that children are a blessing, a gift from God. Who are we to refuse any of His blessings?"
Blessed indeed. After five years of marriage, Anne and Tom have three children and one on the way.
Tom and Anne are part of a movement in some conservative Christian circles known as "quiver-full." The nickname comes from Psalm 127:3 - 4:
"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 children of the youth. Happy is the man whose quiver is full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate."
Families who are quiver-full convicted eschew artificial birth control; most refuse even to use natural family planning.
Dawn Prince*, a 29-year old mother to five in Trenton, New Jersey, explains it this way.
"It comes down to the question of where do you believe babies come from? I have a hard time believing conception is just a biological act. I believe that God is at work in each and every conception that takes place."
It is a conviction that was probably shared by the Yates family. According to an interview with Andrea Yates's brother and sister, Russell Yates "wanted as many children as God wanted."
Bring up the Yates's to a group of quiver-full families and they get understandably wary.
"While the Andrea Yates case is tragic," says Paula Dunham, publisher of Joyfull Noise, a magazine for families with four or more children. "Unfortunately, these types of things happen in all types of families, not just those that have five children and home school."
Many quiver-full families are worried that the tragedy will bring unwanted criticism their way.
"I'm afraid to complain to my family about a run-of-the-mill bad day," says one mother of six. "I get old Andrea Yates thrown up in my face if I do."
"Having a large family in a day and age when family is relatively unimportant makes it hard to discuss the challenges of raising several children," says Wendy Armstrong, a mother of four in Paducah, KY. "I find that many are quick to point out that we do not have to have so many children, basically blaming us for making our own lives so hard. It would not surprise me if Andrea Yates experienced the same."
"The most critical people are those that don't know us," says Louise Strelow*, a mother to nine in Grand Rapids, MI. "We have had this happen most often when someone in public counts all our children and might say something quite crude."
John Willis is an ordained Baptist elder in Kane County, IL. His wife, Terry, is a registered nurse. They are the parents of eleven children. The oldest is thirty-two and the youngest is one; they are expecting another baby this summer.
"We both get sayings like, you are having babies like a cat or dog," says Terry. "Or enough is enough, when are you going to stop? I still get angry when I hear this sometimes but it's mostly when I'm pregnant."
"For me to hear that said about my wife is at the least disturbing," says John.
The Willis's get frustrated with other people's assumptions.
"Some people believe that with that many children the mother must be overweight, emotionally unbalanced and generally overwrought, " says John. "In our situation, none of these things are true."
"I'm not fat, crazy, and tired all the time just because I have a full quiver," adds Terry. "On the contrary, this is a lot of fun to me."
Paula Dunham says the argument she hears most often is that people with large families are stretching already limited natural resources for a population growing out of control.
"I have spoken with the most respected demographers in this country, " she says. "And their projections do not support this conclusion. As a matter of fact, in countries like Japan, Germany, and Spain that have very low population rates, many economic problems are surfacing because their populations are not being replaced."
Louise Strelow agrees.
"The entire population of the world could live in Texas!" she says. "With contraceptives and fertility problems, the birthrate is continually dropping and the world's population will probably never be doubled. We may actually have a problem in the future with not enough population!"
In the eyes of some of the quiver-full convicted, the problem is not that they are having too many babies, it's that other Christians aren't having enough.
In her article "How Do We Value Life?" on her web site Above Rubies, Nancy Campbell writes, "Now at this end time when God is looking for a people to fulfill His purposes like no other time in history, Satan is once again trying to eliminate the army of God. Over these last few decades he has been very successful. Born again, God loving Christians have fallen into his deceptive plan and helped him reduce God's end time army."
Not only is having many children good for God, quiver-full parents argue that it is also good for the women who have them.
"Most people don't know that an increase in full-term pregnancies and births can actually help a woman medically," says John Willis. "Especially prevention in the areas of cervical and breast cancer. Terry [who works in obstetrics] showed me that little piece of information from some research work she was doing before our first pre-planned homebirth."
"Many studies show that women who have been breastfeeding or have more children have a lower risk or all the reproductive system cancers including breast cancer," says Dawn Prince. "Also if you eat right and take care of yourself, pregnancies are easier and you recover much faster."
They say their families benefit, too.
"Our children do learn to work together and help," says Louise Strelow. "I think moms who have just one or two children have it harder than I do, since they have to do all the entertaining and keeping after them. I get lots of help!"
"It's wonderful to see how a toddler can melt a teen's heart with a big kiss," says Paula Dunham. "It's also great to see a twelve year-old patiently helping a five year-old with their reading."
All the families agree that support is important. Many turn to the Internet to find each other. There are several email lists and web sites directed to quiver-full convicted families. Most of the sites condone not only quiver-full thinking but also home schooling and wifely submission.
Sarah Bennett* and her husband Mark have six children and are expecting their seventh next fall.
"Most of my support comes from email lists I am on where there are other quiver-full type families. I think it takes somebody who has the same convictions to truly understand them."
Dawn Prince and her husband have a strong support system through their church.
"They feel that if this is what we heard from God to do, then we should do it," she says. "But my husband's dad is not supportive at all and has not even acknowledged my [last] baby's birth."
"Our family faces the same challenges that families with one or two children face," Paula Dunham says. "We do not always have time to do everything we'd like, we don't always have a spotless house and there are times when the laundry isn't all caught up."
In fact, for Anne Peterson, laundry sometimes seems like the hardest thing about letting God decide her family's size.
"We do cloth diapers," she says. "So we really wash a lot. I bought laundry detergent yesterday and the bottle said 32 loads. I thought, hmmm, that should get us through the week!"
Other families struggle with much bigger problems.
Kay Lind* has six children. Her first three were born with severe disabilities.
"[Our first three children] have been diagnosed with mental retardation and autism," she says. "Our next three are completely normal. We were advised by everyone around us, family and friends and doctors, not to have more children. Because of our beliefs, we had the courage to go on."
During her fourth pregnancy, Kay says she prayed that this baby would be normal.
"I felt as though I had been through a trial similar to that of Job of the Bible. I intended and firmly believed in having all the children God wanted to bless us with but now I was facing this. Should I abandon my beliefs? Did I really truly believe them when faced with a situation like this?"
Kay says her mother has criticized her for the "immoral" decision to have more children.
"I was told how unfair it was to these younger three," she explains. "But they are learning one of the most important values you can teach a human being. They have learned to be selfless and love their fellow human beings."
Louise Strelow faced her great challenge when her seventh child was born with a heart murmur.
"Joy was born at home," says Louise. "We have a pediatrician friend who came and checked on her shortly after she was born and found a heart murmur."
At a little over a year old, Joy had open-heart surgery.
"During many of the days we thought we would have to say good-bye to her on earth," Louise remembers. "There was one particular night she was not doing well and I whispered to her, it's okay to go to Jesus, mommy will be okay. Amazingly within days the doctors decided to do her next surgery and she made a quick recovery. I think when we really released her to God, God extended her loan to us."
Louise was pregnant again during the time that Joy had her surgeries.
"When we brought Joy home, I was eight months pregnant," she says. "While taking Joy in for a post-op check-up, I began to hemorrhage in the doctor's office. While we were somewhat prepared to let Joy go we never imagined it would be our next precious baby that we would say good-bye to. Our precious little Hope was born perfect, but perfectly still. She was stillborn because of placenta abruption."
Louise says that her experience of almost hemorrhaging to death has deepened her compassion for other quiver-full families struggling with their conviction.
"Having almost died when we lost our stillborn baby, I think we have a different view of how important Mom's life is," she says. "If a pregnancy was critical to my life, would we take precautions? Probably. This I would say is a very personal decision each family has to come to themselves. [It's] between them and God. God may lead us in different ways."
"I think the scripture is clear that the Lord is the one who opens and closes the womb and we shouldn't interfere with that," says Anne Peterson. "I know that sometimes a mother can be faced with a serious illness and may require treatment that would leave her sterile but I would say that's for each family to bring before the throne to the One that has all the answers."
"Family size needs to be a choice made by each family," says Paula Dunham. "Not all families are meant to have ten children and not all families are meant to have two children. Here in America people have freedom of religion and the freedom to choose to allow God to give them as many blessings as he sees fit."
Whether or not Andrea Yates should have had more children is not a question most quiver-full families wanted to answer.
"It seems to me with the whole Yates case that the children are [indirectly] being blamed," says Katherine Evanston, mother of six. "They keep focusing on the fact that she shouldn't have had any more or should have sent them off to school [and that if] it weren't for the children she would not have snapped. I disagree! Maybe the children added stress but she is responsible because she did not treat her depression."
Kay Lind says she has not really followed the Yates case but that she has experience with depression.
"I was disappointed that life had not turned out the way I had pictured it. It seemed as if all I had hoped for was lost. I shut off all my emotions and decided to no longer feel anymore because I was tired of being sad. ... The turning point was when I had decided to turn back to the Lord. I asked Him to help me and help my family. ... I took to heart the verse from the Bible that says to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ."
"I don't know much about [Andrea Yates]," Anne Peterson says. "But I do know that she should have had some others involved in her life that would have seen that coming or been there to help. She couldn't have possibly been really walking with Jesus; why didn't someone in her church see that ahead of time?"
Bruce Hallman, the father of seven adopted children who works "full time for the Lord as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ," agrees.
"Andrea Yates is just another victim of the present-day apostate church," he says. "She had no strength in the Lord because she truly didn't know the Lord. A right relationship - truly worshipping Him in spirit and in truth - would have given her the overcoming power she needed to resist the Devil during her period of testing."