Henry County family preparing for child number 15 | Families
MCDONOUGH, Ga. -- Stay-at-home mom LaChelle Adkins is always busy with the kids, which is not surprising when you consider that the 42 year old is pregnant with her 15th child.
Jerome Adkins and his wife LaChelle knew from the very beginning they wanted a large brood. Still, they never expected this.
The deeply religious couple has 14 children between the ages of 19 months and 23 years old. They have had no multiple births and number 15 is due in February 2014.
"It's crazy all of the time," says Mrs. Adkins, who uses a 15-passenger van to transport her children daily to four different schools and other activities.
"We have six girls in a row. The drama for them is different than the boys. We have so many responsibilities because there is so much going on. I am involved in the kids PTA's, extracurricular activities and soccer matches."
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The explanation for their unusually large family is pretty simple. The couple has never used contraception, effectively leaving it up to fate to determine their progeny.
"I totally submitted to God in terms of motherhood and parenting," says Mrs. Adkins of Henry County, who has 12 biological children and two stepchildren.
On a practical level Mrs. Adkins also has good genes and despite twenty years of marriage there is still a lot of passion in their relationship.
Indeed, their mega-family a rarity. The U.S. has higher fertility than other Western countries, yet the average number of children per couple is 2.1 percent, says Dr. Lisa Neidert, a data scientist with the University of Michigan's Population Studies Center.
For non-Hispanic whites the figure is 1.77, for African-Americans 1.92 and for Hispanics 2.23 percent, she adds. In fact, there are approximately 4 million births a year in the U.S. and of these only 2.1 percent are to women who were having their sixth birth or more.
Still, Adkins says she is always taken by surprise when she falls pregnant. "I honestly thought my 19-month-old would be my last."
However, when asked whether her latest bun in the oven completes the family, she admits, "I honestly don't know yet."
"It works" because their marriage is based on agreement, she says. Mrs. Adkins is a stay-at-home mom who has primary responsibility for child-rearing (she also spent about 10 years homeschooling) and her husband is the breadwinner, who works as manager at a Wal-Mart store.
In addition, the older siblings help out with the little ones. It is this unofficial hierarchy that creates a semblance of organized chaos within the hustle and bustle of a large family.
"We get out a lot," says Mrs. Adkins. "It's good to have older kids to watch the younger ones. We want our older kids to be role models and continue to set standards for the younger ones."
Still, the college-sweethearts have had their fair share of ups and downs.
Mrs. Adkins has a marketing major from Indiana University Bloomington and in the early years felt societal and familial pressure to pursue a career alongside having kids. Initially, she tried to juggle but says that "didn't suit my personality."
"That archetype is becoming less and less representative of couples in the U.S. who are more and more focused on being partners rather than dividing labor by traditional sex roles," says Dr. Neidert. "And, among Millennials, a decent fraction doesn't even see children as the main purpose of marriage."
But Mrs. Adkins believes you cannot be a "superwoman" and have it all.
In her opinion "It's harder and more stressful to have a career with kids because you have less control of your schedule. Motherhood is a lifetime commitment that requires me to be a full-time example to my children."
However, after Mrs. Adkins had her 7th child she admits she "lost touch with reality", had a nervous breakdown, was hospitalized and put on medication.
She says it was partly due to living in a busy cosmopolitan area in Indianapolis surrounded by working moms that sparked feelings of isolation.
In fact, the Adkins family, like other larger families, is on their way to extinction. Families have shrunk due to multitude of factors, such a better birth control to increased female participation in the work force that had led many women to delay or have fewer children.
A couple with 15 children is atypical, says Dr. Neidert. "The closest parallel to them is the Duggar family in Arkansas, which has 19 children.
"In fact, both of these couples are almost at the limits of what demographers have used as a representation of the limits of human fertility - the Hutterites. In a smallish sample around 1950, the range of fertility for this non-contracepting population was 2 to 16 children, with an average completed family size of 9.6."
Despite those inevitable ups and downs, Mr. Adkins, who is ex-military, says, "My wife became my best friend when we got married. Ninety-nine percent of our decisions are joint."
Their latest big project together is trying to get a reality-based television show off the ground. They have already shot a pilot and far from the show focusing on the freak factor Mrs. Adkins says "it will inspire other families."
She wants a format that "focuses on practical life skills and the dynamics of how they make it work. I want people to think if they can do it with 15 kids then so can I."
"We always have a way of working things out," says Mrs. Adkins. "My kids have never really wanted for anything."
"We buy functional things (for the kids) and let them earn their right for the rest," says Mr. Adkins.
"We daily sacrifice certain lifestyle decisions so that we can give our children the intangibles that money can't buy," says Mrs. Adkins. "There is no point having a brand name purse with no money inside."