A Tale of Two Babies


Flipping through the channels one night not too long ago, I happened upon a rerun of TLC’s juggernaut of the moment, 19 Kids and Counting, and immediately found myself caught up in the storyline.

For those unfamiliar with the (in)famous Duggar clan, Michelle Duggar recently gave birth to number 19 of their brood, a sweet micro-preemie they named Josie, delivered at just 24 weeks gestation.  She’s alive, but she has a ways to go, and for better or worse, they’re capturing it all on camera.

A commercial break jarred me from my reflection on the fact that technology and good medical care can sustain such a tiny life, and I mindlessly flipped through a few channels, stopping on a former favorite.  Now I will be the first to admit, when I was a teenager I loved MTV.  My sisters and I would not have missed an episode of TRL for anything, and I was shamelessly up to date on the goings-on in the Real World house.

I’m no longer a pop-culture consumer, and I’ve since learned a good deal about the marketing strategies and structure of MTV, along with the truth that basically every second of programming they feature is essentially a commercial.  But in most cases, they’re exporting (or distorting) culture, not products.

Nefarious social agenda aside, I was intrigued by the appearance of a spiritedly blonde high school sophomore tanning beach side with her girlfriends, sporting a bulging belly at least 8 months along.  I immediately had two thoughts: “I will never look like that in my third trimester” and “How in the hell does this qualify as entertainment programming?”

I watched in a mixture of horror, fascination and sadness as the main character narrated her life for the camera, introducing the audience to her mother, mom’s live in boyfriend, and the baby daddy himself – a 16 year old punk with a 20 word vocabulary and a serious drinking problem. I watched for about 5 minutes in my suspended state of disbelief before remembering the alternate storyline waiting for me on TLC.

Flash back to Arkansas, where all 21 Duggars are crowded into a hospital room, the smallest of the group encased in a plastic incubator and drawing coos and smiles from her prodigious family. Two women, worlds (and years) apart, both dealing with “complicated” pregnancies… one completely unexpected and the other utterly welcome… it really makes you wonder.

And two tiny lives, both born too soon in a way, one to a child mother, and the other to a mother of many children. Which one really stands a better chance at surviving, though, I wondered… a better chance at thriving?

I flipped back to MTV a few minutes later and watched as mama narrated her frustration with baby Jace’s deadbeat father, screamed at her own mother, and rolled her eyes (understandably) at mom’s nasty looking live in boyfriend who allegorically compared her worth to that of a paper towel, eloquently illustrated by the (you guessed it) paper towel he was waving for emphasis. It was obvious that something had gone terribly, terribly wrong in this young life… and yet, God had allowed it all.

Why hadn’t she had an abortion, some viewers must have been wondering?  Why had she  been allowed by authorities to maintain custody of the baby when she was clearly unprepared to parent ?  And why was she not on birth control of some sort in the first place, preventing such a “tragedy” from ever occurring?

I’m sure plenty of people would ask these very questions, outraged at the circumstances surrounding the ill-timed arrival of her child… but I would argue that those questions are wrong-headed… and misdirected.

Because no matter the circumstances of one’s birth, these alone can never, ever determine one’s ultimate worth.

On the one hand, Little Josie Duggar is no less important – or unique – of a human being than is her oldest brother Josh… the fact that there are 17 other siblings in between them holds no bearing on whether or not she “should” exist.  The point is, she does.

Every life, particularly in this culture, is a victory – however brief – over death.  No matter if Josie Duggar makes it to 6 months or 6 years old, she is here, and she is a part of a plan that cannot and will not be executed without her participation.

The same goes for Jace, the MTV progeny. His mom is an emotionally unstable high schooler. His dad will probably never give him paternal support in any form… but he exists, and his worth is not measurable against the qualities or qualifications of the people who cooperated to create him.

This is what abortion supporters don’t grasp: that either every life is valuable, or no life is valuable.

The moment we rule in judgment against someone’s “right” to exist based upon financial, emotional, social, chronological, genetic, religious, or racial standards; we all cede claims to these same rights. Because we, as finite human beings, can never objectively rule on whether or not someone else has the “right” to be here.

Some would argue that the Duggars are irresponsible in their fecundity, that their children are a drain on society that it isn’t possible to love and adequately nurture such a large family … but they are wrong.

Given the income level and age of his parents, it is perhaps more easily justifiable to argue that baby Jace should have been aborted, that his mom should have been injected or drugged to prevent her from pro-creating… but these also are wrong-headed assertions.  The problem is not that Jace exists, nor that his mom was able to conceive.

In reality, women can get pregnant.  It means that our bodies are doing something right, and it is perhaps the most tremendous responsibility with which we will be entrusted in our lifetimes.  The problem for little Jace, however, goes back further than one night after the Homecoming dance.

This isn’t the way things are designed to function… but when something is broken, you don’t re-organize and restructure the rest of the machine – or civilization – around the busted part.  Our culture, comprised of individual families, is tremendously broken.  And no amount of birth control or social programming is going to fix that.

Pills, patches and welfare checks all treat the symptom, but fail to identify (or even acknowledge) the cause. Abortion is a far more destructive divergence from reality than a knocked up teenager. Now on top of parental neglect, a lack of supervision, and sexual sin… you heap death.

The very real problems I watched playing out on screen were ultimately rooted in a lack of love: love for the young mother, hurting and trying her best to put up a front of bravado, and love for a tiny baby fighting to survive, desperately wanted by her family, but derided by the culture at large for being “too much,” a burden, a waste of resources.

The juxtaposition of these two families, the Duggars and the cast of 16 and Pregnant, was just too perfect, and chilling.  One child welcomed with love and open arms, despite her physical frailty, the other regarded as a loathsome intrusion, despite his perfect health. Disparate in circumstances, but equal in value, these two little people present a clear challenge to the viewer: either every life is valuable, or no life is valuable.


image: Shutterstock

Jenny Uebbing


Jenny Uebbing is a freelance editor and writer for Catholic News Agency. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband Dave and their growing army of toddlers. She writes about marriage, life issues, politics, sociological trends, and traveling with kids here.

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  • Viki63

    May our Lord bless and keep both those babies, and lead them to His love.

  • JMCd

    My great-great grandparents had 22 kids. My family (all seven of us) speaks of it in some kind of awe; yet in their day, that was not unusual. In the old South, a women was expected to give birth *every year,* or she was regarded as “not doing her duty by her husband.” In those days, that kind of fecundity was *necessary;* lacking the technology that makes our work much easier, those children were needed to help with the laborious task of survival. Add to that the child mortality rate in those days, and it’s really a wonder the human race is still here. (The aforementioned ancestors lost half their brood in the 1911 flu pandemic.)
    My parents, married in the 1940s, had five kids. One of our neighbors had seven. Others had more, some had less, but none of them even approached the numbers of my ancestors. All of those parents shook their heads in complete incomprehension at the “birth control” mentality that began in the early 1960s, even as the vast majority of their kids embraced it. By the grace of God, I was not one of them. (As a somewhat humorous aside, my thought was so locked in the “marriage before children” mindset that at one doctor visit in my early twenties, when the receptionist asked me if I had any children, I looked at her in total confusion and said, “I just told you I wasn’t married; how am I supposed to have kids?”)
    Even at the height of the post-war “baby boom” of the ’40s and ’50s, families the size of my ancestors’ were a rarity. That many were simply no longer as necessary as they once had been; I firmly believe that God sends children in the numbers that are right for that particular family, whether in the purely worldly terms of need for offspring and ability to care for them, or whether in the spiritual sense of the simple openness to life and God’s will. While I don’t normally approve of so-called “reality TV” (I find it boring, truth to tell), I praise the Duggars for consenting to this. They are showing their light for the world to see, not hiding it under a basket as the world would prefer such people to do. They are showing what a family can and should be, steadfastly resisting the shame that today’s society heaps on them. Given the fact that the biological odds are actually *against* pregnancy, that family is truly blessed. I thank God for such families. At the same time, we need to pray for Baby Jace and his family. Hopefully God will one day send them a kind soul to show them the path of true Christianity, and then give them the grace to follow it.

  • kelli

    The older I get, the more of these contradictions that I see. I wonder if both families aren’t compromising Christ in some way, shape, or form? What ever happened to the sacredness of a life well lived, in the manner that Christ called himself to. With each miracle performed he said, “and tell no one.” It is amazing the way Christ broke down the walls of these lives to give you a message that was so truthful and honest. Clearly he is at work in your life. But most people don’t have the grace to watch with that goal in mind. I have a real problem with people making millions to show how open to life they are. Just as I have a problem with the welfare mom looking for a buck to document her trashy life. Really what’s the difference? I wonder what Christ would say about reality television? Thanks for the reflection. What a culture we are living in.

  • Laura

    Chastity is a forgotten word in our country.

    The word Fornification is no longer used in our society and isn’t considered a sin anymore.

    It isn’t the babies fault, but there should be some kind of consequence for irresponsible sexual behavior.

    The church supports abstaining from sexual relations in a marriage in order to space their children for financial or health reasons. Natural family family works at least to somer degree for most couples.

    These things are not a fun or easy path, but Christ said the way to eternal life is narrow and few find it though. The church’s teachings are no more harsh or strict than Christ’s was but not all can accept them.

  • QuoVadisAnima

    It does not take that much digging to find that the Duggars are the real deal. They are not glory-hounds seeking their 15 minutes of fame. Nor are they doing this for the money. The Duggars are providing a Christian witness that offers a remedy to the ills such as portrayed in 16 and Pregnant.

    If they were not on tv, where else do you think the vast majority of media-obsessed teens (& others) are going to have the opportunity to see the joy that comes from a Christ-centered life?

    I wonder if you believe that Jesus would refuse media coverage?