Why shouldn't the Duggars grieve a miscarriage?

As the family loses child No. 20, the Internet rises up and casts wrathful judgment

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published December 9, 2011 9:12PM (EST)

The Duggar family                            (Beth Hall/Discovery)
The Duggar family (Beth Hall/Discovery)

Here's a quick quiz: If you heard that a couple, as they approached the second trimester of a wished-for pregnancy, learned that the child had no heartbeat, how would you react?

Would you say, "God is trying to tell you something; maybe you should listen." Would you ponder, "It probably just fell out… ick." Would you, when you heard that the family had named the baby and were grieving for it, say, "I feel sorry for their kids, not her. She did this to herself."  You likely wouldn't, because I'm guessing you're not some heartless troll. But what if the couple in question were Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar? The family announced this week that "We discovered during a routine 19-week ultrasound that our 20th child, who was due in April 2012, passed away recently." Oh! Then have at it, Internet!

Of course, the super-size family – and its breeding habits – practically invite our judgments. The Duggars have always been open about their long-ago miscarriage – which occurred when, Michelle says, she went back on the pill after her first child, got pregnant and "ended up losing the baby." They suggest the birth control caused "one of our own babies to be destroyed." Eighteen kids later, they couldn't be accused of using birth control. So what might they think of God's plan for them now?

Similarly, the Duggars went into this pregnancy knowing that it was risky. Michelle is a 45-year-old grandmother with 19 kids already, one whose last pregnancy featured a life-threatening bout of preeclampsia and the premature birth of daughter Josie. For the couple, who say that "children are a reward" from God, this possibility must surely have occurred to them.

So they've got plenty of kids already. This one was a long shot. They've ascribed a prior miscarriage to birth control. They have it coming, don't they? Who wouldn't call them "ridiculous" and "insane" for even attempting a 20th baby in the first place? Or at least, among those with a softer touch, decide that "Bless her, but personally I think 19 children is enough" and say, "This is a terrible thing but happens to many people across the world every day." Compassion: now with qualifications!

Of course, there are commenters out there with more sympathy – generally those who've been through it themselves. "Having miscarried three times myself, I know the pain she is feeling and my heart goes out to her," wrote a woman on Yahoo. A commenter on People observed, "As a mother of three beautiful little girls I have suffered through two miscarriages that left me both sad and broken and longing to know what if."

Michelle Duggar is currently resting at home. Until recently, she was likely feeling the tumbles and kicks of her newest child. Now, she carries her lifeless baby inside her body as she waits to miscarry. "Our doctor said it was wise to let this miscarriage happen naturally," she told People this week. Duggar added that "I feel like my heart broke telling my children."

You probably wouldn't make the same reproductive choices the Duggars have. Most of us wouldn't. But anyone who has either endured a miscarriage or loved someone who has knows what a physically and emotionally grueling ordeal it is. What is to the world someone never even met or experienced is, to the family, a person who was going be part of it. Little fingers to be kissed, chubby legs that would have, in time, run around the house creating chaos. And then, suddenly, that dream is gone. That is not something easily brushed off – it's a permanent loss. Your kids don't all run together after the first five or six; you aren't issued a "get out of grief" pass when you lose a pregnancy after several successful births. Life doesn't work that way. The human heart sure doesn't, regardless of whether it's the first baby or the 21st. Because it's that hoped for baby, that unique, irreplaceable life, that demands to be considered. A life to be celebrated when it begins. And to be mourned when it ends.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

MORE FROM Mary Elizabeth Williams

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Parenting Reality Tv The Duggar Family