My take on the Today Show interview with the Duggars

I used to think Meredith Vieira was a journalist, but the only explanation for her fawning over the Duggar clan on Tuesday morning’s Today Show interview must be that she is a hired gun from Team Duggar or that she in interviewing for Entertainment Tonight. Or both.

Meredith started the interview by introducing the Duggars as “America’s favorite family.” I do not think that is an accurate statement. It would be fair to say “One of America’s most polarizing families,” but not favorite. There are many people who feel that a carbon foot print as big as theirs is not responsible. There are also many people who feel that children shouldn’t be asked to co-parent.

Meredith threw soft ball after soft ball. We learned that Josie, like most 25 weekers, had a very rocky start. It’s a miracle was mentioned many, many times. We learned about her lactose intolerance and how she still needs oxygen at night, but most of the questions were benign. I was literally on pins and needles waiting to hear about the color of her layette.

And then at the end, Merideth asked the question. Will they have more kids? Apparently Michele and Jim Bob are open to the idea.

Lots of smiles all around and then…commercial. Next segment.

A good journalist would have asked that question first and skipped asking the kids, “What’s it like to have your sister home?”

I wonder if Meredith felt she was limited because of the kids?  I am reminded of the drug seeking patients who bring their young children to their doctor’s appointment, thinking the doctor will be too uncomfortable to discuss drug abuse and just provide a prescription for Vicodin, Norco, or whatever.

That tactic does not work on me. I don’t pull any punches, because patients come to me for good medical care and likewise, I watch the news for journalism. I get that having their 18 or 19 kids (or however many were actually present, because between you and me, I didn’t count) is good for their brand, but as a consumer of news I am not interested in the Duggar brand, I am interested in the news brand. Meaning, are you going to ask the questions that need to be asked or are you just a moving picture version of People Magazine?

If Matt Lauer can go mano a mano with Tom Cruise about his comments on post-partum depression, surely Meredith can ask a couple in Arkansas some real questions? Questions that everyone around the country is wondering and questions that every parent of a preemie is asking.

Questions like:

1) Michelle, you just said that you are open to more children. Do you mean another pregnancy or adoption? If you mean another pregnancy, you have a more than 60% chance of developing severe preeclampisa before 28 weeks. Meaning, in all reality, there is a 60% chance that you will have another extremely premature baby. Do you think it is ethical to have expose a baby to these risks, knowing more than 30% of babies born this early with have a moderate or severe disability?

2) You mentioned many times that God had a role in Josie’s survival. What do you mean by that? Do you think God picks who lives and who dies? Premature babies born in 3rd world countries are more likely to die, so is that part of God’s plan or do you think access to good medical care has any role? You also mentioned it is a miracle. A miracle that you had great health care and health insurance, or simply a miracle?

3) You have stated many times that you do not take government assistance and that you are proud of being financially responsible for your children. But babies who weigh less than 1,200 grams at birth are immediately Medicaid eligible. It is a Federal Law. Your NICU will have billed Medicaid for anything your insurance did not cover, which in most cases is a lot of money. A typical bill for a 25 week baby in the NICU is over $500,000. There is also a lot of essential follow-up medical care not covered by the majority of health insurances, so will you use Josie’s Medicaid to access those services?

4) Most babies born at 25 weeks require extensive physical therapy and occupational therapy as well as countless visits with doctors. How will you find time to do that if you are also home schooling your children? As your older children co-parent, if you get pregnant again do you think a 15 or 16 year old can be trusted to provide the complex needs of a former 25 week baby?

5) If you get pregnant again, the risks to your health are great considering you have a 60% risk of developing severe preeclampsia. This is not a benign disease – preeclampsia is the third most common cause of maternal death in this country. That means 790 women die from preeclampsia for for every 100,000 babies born alive in the United States. Do you think it is ethical to put yourself in this kind of potential harm knowing that the best thing for a child is a healthy mom?

Many moms, myself included, who have an extremely premature baby wrestle daily with the idea of having another child. Could I take another 5 or 6 or 7 months or longer in the NICU? How will I give my older child the intensive attention they need with another baby? What if I am hospitalized on bed rest or have another preemie – who will do the  PT, the OT, change the oxygen tanks, and remember the medications for my child at home? What if I have another preemie and she is severely disabled?

The news story for me was the answers to the hard questions, because I want to know if they are simply promoting their brand (because saying they are open to more kids sure got tons of repeat airtime and set many blogs a blaze) or are they really that blind to the risks? I am not saying that having another baby is right or wrong, but you cannot deny that it may have serious consequences.

For the record, I would field those questions myself any day.

1) I won’t get pregnant again, I don’t feel I can trust my body. I am totally open to adopting a preemie, because our family was meant to be three.

2) I don’t think God had anything to do with my two of my kids surviving and one dying. What kind of god allows a newborn to die in his mother’s arms? I think that state of the art medical care provided by the amazing doctors and nurses at University Hospital is responsible for saving my boys. I think hard work at home helped them to thrive. I think that many babies, despite excellent care, are not as fortunate as my boys, because many other factors, such as birth weight and infection, also affect outcome.

3) My two boys had Medicaid for a year. It would have been impossible for us to pay for all their needs without it. No parent can.

4) Because our boys required so much PT, OT and other services the thought of having another baby did not cross our mind. All we could think about was helping our two boys live their best life. Now that my boys are seven the idea of a third has moved into my conscious mind.

5) As an OB/GYN I have seen women die from preeclampsia. I will never forget a patient whose brain swelling was so severe that a neurosurgeon drilled holes into her skull to try and relieve the pressure. It did not work. The pressure in her head created by the swelling pushed her brain downwards into her spinal cord and she died. I still remember her face.

Of course, if the Duggar’s don’t want to face the hard questions, they certainly don’t have to appear on national television. Then again, a new season on their show was returning that night on TLC.

Ultimately, my issue is with NBC, because everyone tries to get on to the morning shows to promote their brand. It is the job of a television crew to make that into news, not an infomercial. Making the segment a piece of fluff makes prematurity look like “golly gee, it was sure a scary ride, but everything is just fine now.” That is not the reality of an extremely premature baby, and it cheapens prematurity for those of us who have wrestled with these very difficult questions on many a night until the wee hours of the morning.

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25 Responses to My take on the Today Show interview with the Duggars

  1. rlbates says:

    Wonderful! I wish you could have done the interview.

  2. Thanks, Dr Gunter. This is a great post detailing some of the huge errors that exist re: reporting on pediatric health and the real risks that face mothers/families after premature deliveries. I agree; America’s fascination with the Duggars is of course not because they are our “favorite,” rather they are our favorite to ridicule, to try to understand, to try on and compare. They make unusual decisions and state unusual things. They are captivating to the masses, I suppose, because of this. They are not my favorite. I simply can’t imagine the benefits to raising this many children in one household. Particularly with the new motivation to brand their experience and profit from their decisions.
    Thanks for the list of questions and your personal responses. Incredibly informative and helpful, particularly #3 and #5.

  3. Kristin says:

    I have issue with this family as well, or moreso with their logic. As a mother who has had preeclampsia twice (eclampsia once), I am appalled. I understand that they believe that it’s ok for her to have children until her uterus falls out or until it just ruptures, or until God stops blessing her with them. Fine. But as a loving and responsible father and husband, shouldn’t Jim Bob step in and say, ya know what? You’re my wife, and the mother of the gaggle of children we already have, and I’d like you to live to see them all grow up, so I think it’s best that we are done reproducing because with as sick as Josie was, I font want another child that leaves our other children motherless for 6 months, or a child that must struggle to survive. Just a thought?

  4. I used to love the Today Show in the late 90s. I don’t know if I’ve gotten older and wiser, they’ve gotten cheaper and shallower, or both. Have you ever seen the documentary Little Man? The reality (at least as portrayed in that film) kept me on the edge of my seat more than any Today Show interview.

  5. Meredith says:

    Haha! To even assume national tv is journalism is hilarious!!!! I gave up years ago about the time Meredith v showed up. This is a great post and as a mother to a recent 24 week preemie I agree with every thing you have stated. Is it just me or do the Duggars (or their tv show) present micro prematurity as just a flip of the hand and not a big deal. It all just seems too fake or above the surface.
    Thanks for posting.

  6. Holly B says:

    I wrote a little about the Duggar clan today on my blog too. Mine wasn’t quite as journalistic as yours.

  7. Greg Smith MD says:

    Jen

    This was superb. The picture is poignant, your writing is excellent and the subject is compelling. You should interview them and then blog about it.

  8. Portia B. says:

    I have yet to see an interview with the Duggars that has been anything more that “fluff.”

    I appreciate your commentary, especially about the struggle to have another baby after preclampsia and premature birth. After my struggle with my preemie daughter, my husband and I made the decision not to get pregnant again. Our little girl had a fairly easy and uneventful stay in the NICU, but to us another pregnancy was too risky. Two years later, we adopted a beautiful baby boy – who happened to be a 28-week preemie. We are so thankful for both of our children and their unique stories of how they came to be ours.

  9. I too had some issues with this interview. This was such a GREAT opportunity to educate the nation on the special needs of babies born early but instead they spread mis-information when supporting the comment made by the Dad that the baby would catch up before she was 2. So much could have been said about infection control (RSV/ handwashing), the importance of Early Intervention, the impact a preterm birth has on an entire family (financial and emotional) and the stress on all family members with an NICU experience (how did they calm the fears of their older children, deal with the separation of the family, adjust once the baby came home). So many teachable moments were lost to fluff. Very disappointing- which is tough for me to say considering I was a frequent guest on this show during the ’90s. Hopefully they will get it right next time.

  10. Catherine Lightfoot (Taillon) says:

    Fantastic story Jen! My brothers son was born at about 16 weeks and was 1lb 4 oz..he is now a thriving 11 year old thans to great medical care at Health Science Centre in Wpg. They were fortunate their second child was right on time.
    I love reading your articles.

  11. Erika Landon says:

    I, too, take issue with the surreal interviews I see with the Duggars. Although I wish them all the happiness in the world with all of their children, but I wish they would take a step back and show concern for Mrs. Duggars health, and that of any more children they wish to have. I do not believe it was “God’s will” for one of my children to die, not was it His plan for the other two to deal with the complications they had to. But it was reality due to their prematurity, and no matter how badly I wish to have another child, the risk of prematurity is not worth it. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

  12. shirley Turner RNR says:

    Thank You: This is the truth of the matter of the Duggar family: THAY HAVE A LONG HEALTH road infront of them.It is time to be a mother to all the family. Mother M had Josie in a stoller-the smallest Baby came up & was going to touch Josie. The mother stated NO/No don’t touch baby. I felt so sorry for that little girl. She grew up with her sisters co-parenting. Taught her how to walk. No mother to hug her and talk to her like a mother. It was sad.Yes Dr. you told it as it is.Thank you for being honest.

  13. Teresa Albrecht, RN says:

    I’m so glad I didn’t see this yet-again-fluff-piece on the complex issue of extreme prematurity. I hope the Duggar show stays on the air long enough to show the world what life is going to be like for them. . most likely on-going medical appts, therapies, missing milestones, diagnoses of disability/ies, braces, possible wheelchair, maybe seizures, NLD, autism. .the list, of course, goes on.

  14. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only ob-gyn physician who attempted to warn the Duggar family about the perils of prematurity and excessive childbearing. http://drlindagalloway.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/a-message-to-the-supporters-of-michelle-duggar/ The hate mail I received from Duggar supporters was incredible. I’m an adoptive mom. If the Duggar family wants more children, I pray that they adopt

  15. Erin says:

    Thanks for the post. I didn’t know that about medicaid was provided to babies under a certain weight. I had wondered how premature infants don’t hit the “lifetime max” on insurance, so that makes sense.
    My son was not premature, but he suffered severe birth injuries (was brow presentation that was unknown) and was born a few months before Josie. My son has had several surgeries this past year and will have more in the future. I can’t imagine knowing there was a 60% chance of having another child under the same circumstances. I would not want to put another child through what he as been through (and us too) and would adopt. Especially if I already had 18 children to care for!

  16. Selena says:

    I just have to say that I think that Meredith didn’t ask those question because it would have been rude to ask them if they are on medicaid or not. We don’t go around asking all of the welfare recipients that have 5 or 10 kids if they are on medicaid or not, even though its obvious that they are. Is that question going to prevent them from having more children? I think not. And it is each person’s personal business what kind of financial assistance they receive. I do think that the Duggar’s should be commended for the fact that even ‘if’ they did use medicaid with Josie, they never did with the other 18 children that they had. They paid for all of this on their own and without any financial assistance. This is their religion. If they want to continue to have children until God doesn’t allow them to have anymore, then that is their decision! I think there is underlying anger here because of the loss of your child, which I completely understand…because I have been through the same thing. But, in reality…it is God’s decision if a child lives or dies. I know that maybe we don’t understand the ‘whys’ but there is a reason for everything. And the true test is if we allow this to consume us and allow our faith in God to decipate, or if we continue to be faithful and believe that ‘Everything has its own time, and there is a specific time for everything under heaven.’ I still believe that more people like the Duggars should have children because these children are being brought up in a moral, christian home where they are being taught the best values and ethics, and these are the kind of adults we want to have more of in society.

  17. Jennifer Gunter says:

    I disagree. I don’t think it is rude for a reporter to ask hard questions. That’s what reporting is. The Duggar’s claim not to take any State or Federal money so it is up for question. If they don’t want to be subject to difficult questions they don’t have to talk about how they don’t take government money or even appear on Tv for that matter.

  18. Angie_stl says:

    Dr Jen, I think this was a wonderfully written article. I don’t know that there is anyone more qualified to write this since you have been on both sides of this issue as a doctor and as a mother of preemies. Thank you for helping those of us that can never completely understand having a preemie get a small look into what it’s like.

  19. kerry says:

    What is the basis for the assertion that she has a 60% chance of developing severe pre-eclampsia before 28 weeks in another pregnancy? Is that based on her pregnancy with Josie, or her age, or ???

  20. Jennifer Gunter says:

    Dr. Sibia, considered by most acadmics to be one of the world experts in preeclampsia. He quotes a 60% recurrence rate for women who have severe preeclampsia before 28 weeks. This is no assertion, itis fact from well written medical studies.

  21. kerry says:

    Thanks for the info. I was curious because I had pre-eclampsia myself (although not severe, and not before 28 weeks) and my doctors had never mentioned this. I see that it was due to the severity and timing.

    Not everyone who reads your blog (or who was directed here by another blog, like myself) is a medical expert and would know this was a fact, as it wasn’t cited or sourced in the original post.

  22. Holly B says:

    Although I didn’t say it as eloquently as you did, I think you know my thoughts on this Duggar clan from your visit to my blog.
    Thanks for stopping by!

    http://midwesternmamah.blogspot.com/2010/08/palin-bieber-bundchen-and-asshole.html

  23. Nikki says:

    so basically you wanted them to butcher the family and what theyre all about on national live tv? you dont see him like you have a lot of faith in God, quite honestly. its sad. do i think it would be the healthiest thing for her to have another child? no. but im curious to know what you think about 34+ year olds who have just one or two children already, having more children too. as a dr you should know they are automatically considered high risk as well. another thing is you kept pressing the issue of medicaid…uh how about you start worrying about people in low poverty areas who pop out 5 kids, who are on welfare and assistance for YEARS, if not their entire life…and have no morals. or try doing something about the teenage pregnancy rate. maybe its time to redirect your focus into something you CAN change/make a difference in….hate to tell you this darlin but no matter what you say, aint changin nothin about the Duggars or families like them!

    God Bless :)

  24. Brian Rasmussen says:

    What kind of god would allow a newborn to die in the mother’s arms? Who are you to question God? Job questioned God. Here is part of God’s answer to Job (the answer was much longer, I’m just quoting a small part of it.

    4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
    5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
    6 On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
    7 while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?

    8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
    when it burst forth from the womb,
    9 when I made the clouds its garment
    and wrapped it in thick darkness,
    10 when I fixed limits for it
    and set its doors and bars in place,
    11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
    here is where your proud waves halt’?

    12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
    or shown the dawn its place,
    13 that it might take the earth by the edges
    and shake the wicked out of it?
    14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
    its features stand out like those of a garment.
    15 The wicked are denied their light,
    and their upraised arm is broken.

  25. Pingback: OT The Duggers are expecting baby #20! - Page 8 - BabyandBump

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