An OB/GYN breaks it down.
Here's what she had to say:
ML: Is this woman a medical miracle?
Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz: She started having kids early -- in her early 20s, I believe -- and guess what? Fertility is much higher in younger women!
ML: Why is it so easy for her to get pregnant when other people struggle?
Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz: If she has been essentially continuously pregnant for the last 20-plus years, she must not be exclusively breastfeeding on a long-term basis. [Editor's Note: Thank you to our commenters who pointed out Michelle Duggard did indeed breastfeed. According to this interview, the longest she breastfed one of her children was nine months.] But fertility can be quite high as soon as breastfeeding ceases. Ovulation may resume fairly quickly, especially in someone who has not experienced long-term hormonal suppression that occurs with a term pregnancy and then long-term breastfeeding.
Plus, she is super fertile -- and so is her husband. Luck of the draw, I guess ...
I find the mind-body connection here to be fascinating. Not much proof of this one, but I have observed in many women that the more un-worried they are about conception, the easier it goes. Ironically, I have warned more than one IVF multiples mom to use birth control after those kids are born (breastfeeding or not), only to have them back in my office with an unplanned spontaneous pregnancy within the year. This is NOT to imply that all fertility challenges are due to aged, neurotic worriers! So what does this have to do with the amazing reproducing Mrs. Duggar? She is clearly NOT worried that her biological clock is running out or that she won't have kids and grandkids to enjoy -- her life is pretty busy and maybe even stressful, but she KNOWS she can get pregnant, and I sure hope she is not hyper-focused on having more babies. This is probably part of her secret recipe for baby-making.
ML: Can a person's uterus survive 17 (with twins) pregnancies?
Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz: What we refer to as a Grand Multip (a woman who has six or more term live births under her belt) does risk post-partum hemorrhage due to uterine atony -- the inability of the uterine muscles to effectively clamp down after birth and staunch the flow of blood. This in turn increases the risk of blood loss, transfusions, or even surgery, such as an emergency post-partum hysterectomy or maternal death. In addition, the close spacing of these pregnancies increases risks to mother and fetus of inadequate nutrition for both, and growth problems in the fetus. And the repeated pregnancies increase Michelle's risk of rectus diastasis (the abdominal muscles stretching apart and increasing risk of hernia), pelvic floor dysfunction, urinary incontinence, and uterine prolapse. Each pregnancy can result in vascular changes that promote hemorrhoids, and her poor vagina has seen an awful lot of traffic! Though I know nothing of her actual deliveries, such as the babies' birth weights, etc., I am thinking that her vagina is not getting away without some impact. She is one amazing and brave woman, I tell ya!
|Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz completed her undergraduate education at Wesleyan University and post-baccalaureate pre-med studies at Mills College. She earned her medical degree from the USC School of Medicine and has been in private practice for 8 1/2 years. She lives in Los Angeles and is the mother of two.|