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Video: The Duggars visit the Big Apple

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updated 9/21/2007 3:06:49 PM ET 2007-09-21T19:06:49

For many couples, one perfect child is enough. For others, two or three is ideal. But no matter what the number is, most American parents reach a point at which they say “Enough!”

Not Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. The Arkansas couple just welcomed their 17th natural child and still aren’t ready to declare their family complete.

“I’d like to have more,” Michelle told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer Monday from the family’s 7,000-square-foot home in Tontitown, Ark. Next to Michelle sat her husband of 23 years, Jim Bob Duggar, and arrayed around and behind them were 16 of their children. The newest member of the family, Jennifer, born last Thursday, slept peacefully in her mother’s arms.

The children — all with names beginning with “J” — range in age from 19-year-old Joshua to Jennifer. In between are nine more boys and six girls: John-David, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jedidiah, Jeremiah, Jason, James, Justin, Jackson and Johannah.

There are two sets of twins, so Michelle has gone through 15 pregnancies that ended in 13 natural deliveries and two C-sections. She has been pregnant for a full 25 percent of her 40 years.

According to Michelle, deliveries do not get easier the more often you do them.

“Labor is hard work,” she said.

‘Are they all yours?’
The family gets a lot of comments when others see them for the first time, but most of them boil down to a few themes, said Jim Bob.

“They always ask, ‘Don’t you know what causes this? Are you Catholic or Mormon? Are they all yours? Are you a school group?’”

Video: 17 kids! Meet the Duggar family The Duggars are none of the above. They are members of an evangelical Christian movement called Quiverful, which holds that children are a blessing from God and that husbands and wives should gladly accept all the children they are given.

Couples in the movement also believe that the husband is the head of the household and the wife is submissive to him, while the children are submissive to both. The girls wear long dresses or skirts and tops, while the boys wear slacks and polo shirts.

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When the Duggars were married in 1984 (she was 17 and he was 19), they didn’t want children immediately, feeling they could not afford them. After four years, Michelle stopped taking birth control pills to have their first child, then went back on birth control after giving birth.

When she got pregnant anyway only to suffer a miscarriage, which they attribute to the birth control pills, the couple felt that they had taken a child’s life. They prayed for forgiveness and for as many children as God decided to give them.

Inside of a year, Michelle gave birth to the first of their two sets of twins, and she hasn’t stopped since.

Both Duggars are real estate agents, and both also host Bible-based “Financial Freedom Seminars.” They also own commercial properties. From 1999-2002, Jim Bob served in the Arkansas House of Representatives. He lost a bid for the U.S. Senate in 2002.

Each child is in charge of one “jurisdiction," everything from grocery shopping to violin lessons.

Video: The family of 19 answers e-mails The kids helped build the family’s 7,000-square-foot home, where there are two 1,000-square-foot dormitories, one for the girls and one for the boys. The family even has a Web site, duggarfamily.com, whose introduction is a quote from Verse 3 of the 123rd Psalm: “Children are a heritage of the Lord."

They’ve been the subject of four Discovery Health/TLC documentaries and have appeared on The TODAY Show, The Early Show, The View, MSNBC, Italian Public Television, the Korean Broadcasting System, Discovery Home & Health (U.K. and Australia), Jimmy Kimmel Live, Fox News Network and CNN, and been featured in magazines and newspapers around the world.

“The Duggar Family Album” will air on Discovery Health next month.

Buddy system
With that many children, organization is everything. Each older child has one or two younger “buddies” for whom he or she is responsible. Breakfast is at 8, after which the family “quick-cleans” the house. At 9, home schooling starts, again with the older children helping to tutor the younger ones.

Fifteen-year-old Jill is responsible for preparing lunch, which is served at noon. At 1:30, all the children ages 4 and under break for naps while the older children engage in group studies using materials from the Advanced Training Institute International, an organization that produces Bible-based home instruction materials.

Video: The Duggars take over TODAY At 4, the children work on individual studies while Jana, 17, prepares dinner, which is served at 5. There is free time and shifts at the piano, an instrument being learned by 11 of the children, all of whom also play the violin. At 8, it’s baths followed by “Bible time with Daddy.” Bedtime is 10 p.m.

The family grocery bill is $2,000 a month. Transportation is provided by nine vehicles, including a 21-passenger bus. To get through a week requires 63 loads of laundry, six gallons of milk, 15 dozen eggs, 12 boxes of cereal and 12 rolls of toilet paper.

With so many children, there is a sign-up list in the kitchen for children who feel they need one-on-one time with a parent. But Michelle says that she actually has more one-on-one time and quality time with her children than most because she home-schools them and is with them all day.

The children chorused “no” when Lauer asked if they felt lost in such a large group.

“You’ve always got somebody to play with, you’ve always got somebody to hang out with. It’s a lot of fun,” said Joshua, the oldest. “It’s a very close-knit family.”

“I would love more,” Michelle repeated. “Each one of them is a special gift.”

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