I suppose all the viewers have realized by now that the Briney family is not returning for the second season of Seeking Sister Wife, and I just wanted to say a few words about that. Of course, as a polygamist myself, I will have a somewhat different view on things than most others.
Different people will want different things from a show about polygamy. Some will want simple entertainment; the novelty of seeing a glimpse into the lives of real-life polygamous families is in itself a compelling reason to watch. Others might find it educational. They might be interested in how a polygamous family works, how do they manage their time, raise their children, what are their living arrangements like, sleeping schedules, etc. Others will look forward to seeing drama and bickering. The misery of others can be cruel sport. There will even be some who watch with hopes of seeing plural families fail in a public way. This will add further justification to their negative views and stereotypes relating to polygamy, and fuel their support of (and efforts to reinforce) political, social, and legal barriers to those families. As for myself and the rest of the polygamy community, I think we all hope that shows like this will be good publicity, good PR, and will generally show the positive, functional, and healthy side of this kind of family. We hope that they will help to change the largely negative public perception of plural families. Yes, every family, indeed every individual, has problems and struggles, but last season of Seeking Sister Wife was, frankly speaking, a disappointing train wreck.
This is not all the fault of the Brineys, of course, but I know they have a similar feeling about their own showing last season. Here are some quotes about it from their family blog, The Briney Family.
I see bitter bickering and failure to abide by basic Christian principles that leaves me feeling inexpressibly sad and extremely regretful that we, as a family, set such a bad example of our lifestyle on national tv. Worst. Disappointment. Of. My. Life. – Drew (We See What We Want to See)
I’m truly heartbroken we’ve set such a bad example of our lifestyle that we fed that culture to whatever degree we did. – Drew (We See What We Want to See)
As a family (including April), we were all devastated at how poorly our family represented our Mormon fundamentalist friends and peers. We’d hoped to show how most polygamist families were normal, good people. – Drew (April’s Apology regarding Season 1)
April herself has told my wives and me in person that she has regret about the way things turned out on the show. Before anyone thinks I am picking on the Briney family, I want to say also that the family represented on TV was not a representation of their usual family life! The Brineys are also in agreement with this point.
These types of viewers notice that we’re “real” because we allowed ourselves to show our bad side on camera so people can see what the lifestyle is “really like.” I swallow hard when I hear that one. Our first season doesn’t show what our lifestyle is “really like.” It shows us experiencing our worst train wreck as a family! – Drew (We See What We Want to See)
We’d hoped to show how most polygamist families were normal, good people. Instead, unforeseen challenges led us to be a poor example of our lifestyle, our culture, and our peers. – Drew (April’s Apology Regarding Season 1)
I personally believe that their sudden television exposure, with its accompanying change of living arrangements (all moving in together in the same house), was a HUGE stressor to their family that they would not have been exposed to otherwise. It is not uncommon for families to end up broken after large, traumatic life changes (one spouse gets a serious disease – even if they are later cured, a child dies, a child is born, career changes, becoming empty nesters, etc). It happens, and it is tragic.
What happened with the Briney family was a tragedy as well. I love them all and still and count them as friends. April has been to my house several times since then and Drew and the rest of his family are welcome to visit as well.
Having said all that, I want to thank TLC! I know that many people have expressed dismay that the Brineys did not come back, but not me. Personally, I am glad of it, and I think TLC made the right decision. I know that even the Brineys (Drew, Auralee, and Angela) wanted the story of their family breaking up to air, but things are probably better this way. I think it would have been bad for everyone (all the members of the Briney family and the larger plural community as well), to have to live their personal family drama thrice. Once as it happened; once again when it was edited, distilled to its most potent form, and aired on national TV; and again when dissected and criticized ad nauseam by all the insensitive onlookers on social media. How can that be good for anyone? What person or relationship could thrive under those circumstances? It would wither anyone.
I hope, now that the pressure and stress of being in the public eye is largely gone, that the Briney family can rest, recuperate, reflect, and put all the pain and drama behind them. Who knows, maybe they’ll even be back for a future season after taking a break for a while.
Forgetting is actually an important part of our mental function and mental health. Forgetting helps us to live our lives in relative peace and be able to focus on the present. Having old offenses repeatedly dug up and examined (which is what would have happened had the juicy story aired) will not help us to live abundantly in the now. Forgetting offenses is an important part of forgiveness. The scriptures testify repeatedly that God will not only forgive our sins, but also forget them. They will be blotted out. He will mention them to us no more!
God bless the Briney family.
See here for some ideas if you are interested in helping the Briney Family.
I’m excited that the next season of Seeking Sister Wife has premiered! I was pretty surprised to learn that the Brineys weren’t going to be on this season. I knew April was living in Utah again but I assumed that her leaving Oregon would end up being nice juicy gossip for the TV show to capitalize on. Well, despite the Brineys not being on it looks like the show will have no shortage of interesting material.
I don’t have cable TV so on Sunday night I was trying to figure out how to watch. Luckily Amazon video has it, altho Season 2 costs a lot more than Season 1 did. I guess that’s how it goes when a show is more established. Either that or it’s the 13 episodes we’re expecting versus the 7 episodes we got in Season 1.
This season has our familiar Snowdens and Alldredges and we also get to meet the McGees and the Winders. I don’t personally know the Snowdens or the McGees at all. I know the Winders from Facebook but we’ve never met in person. I personally know the Alldredges as well as the Brineys. Last season I thought knowing both those families would be an advantage when it came to writing my blog, but as it turned out, I always felt the need to censor myself for the sake of our friendships. In fact, one time when Joshua wrote his opinion about a Briney situation, he ended up writing a follow-up apology post for the sake of his friendship with Drew.
This episode had plenty of interesting things to talk about. I made 4 pages of notes while watching, and I only had time to turn a fraction of them into a blog post before the next episode aired. Here are some of the thoughts I had about it while watching.
The McGees call themselves “Hebrew” or “Messianic.”
I find this interesting because we are somewhat in that category as well. We are a unique blend of Messianic and Mormonism so I’ve taken to calling us “Messianic Mormons.” We believe the Bible cover to cover, as Bernie McGee says they do, but we also believe the Mormon scriptures cover to cover.
How sad that the McGees’ house burned!
We once had a house fire, altho not nearly as devastating. Ours was 100% my fault. I left a batch of beef bones boiling on the stove while we went camping for several days! Obviously the water boiled away long before our return, and the bones smoldered, causing what’s called a “protein fire.” The professional from the disaster clean up company had been doing his job for decades and told me it was the worst protein fire he’d ever cleaned up after.
We came back from our camping trip and walked in the house and it smelled like a thousand burnt dinners. I realized immediately what had happened and I ran over to the stove, carried the pot outside, and set it down on the cement pad in the backyard. I removed the lid and what was left of the bones burst into flames! The lid had fit so tightly on the pot that no oxygen was able to access the bones. If we had been less fortunate, very likely our house could have burned to the ground while we were out of phone service. I have always said my guardian angel was sitting on the lid, keeping it tight-fitting enough to keep any air from accessing the smoldering bones.
Some of the cleanup included cleaning everything (and I mean every single book and toy and other items), replacing the countertops, repainting the entire house, “ozoning” all of our clothes and every room, and replacing items that were too close to the stove or stubbornly refused to give up their stench.
I can scarcely begin to describe the smell that permeated our home and everything in it. I used to hate the smell of smoke. I would avoid campfire smoke, and the minute we arrived home from a camping trip, I kept everyone from relaxing on couches or beds (because they would contaminate them) and instead they had to strip down in the laundry room (without their clothes even being dropped on the carpet) and get right in the bath or shower. But the smell of our protein fire was so much worse (not just stronger but much more terrible) that, I kid you not, campfire smoke now smells pleasant to me.
Not only did the protein fire smell awful, but it permeated everything like you wouldn’t believe. When we got home, we were in the house for half an hour with the doors and windows open and fans turned on, imagining that the house would air out and the smell would eventually dissipate, but instead the smell only grew stronger in our nostrils. We realized we couldn’t sleep there that night and we arranged to go to my parents’ house for the night.
When we arrived at my parents’ house, we learned that simply from being in the smelly house for a short while, we had picked up the offensive smell. I had brought some unworn clothes from our closets, planning to launder them in my parents’ washing machine before wearing them, but the smell traveled from the laundry room up to the kitchen and I was asked to move the clothes outside until washing.
The smell that got transferred from our contaminated bodies to our car during the hour-long drive took weeks to disappear. A rubber ball that had marinated in the fumes ended up getting taken to my parents’ house by one of our children. It was kicked around my parents’ backyard for a year, never losing its disgusting odor, before someone gave up on it and finally threw it away.
The experience was educational and in many ways it could have been worse. When we first bought the house, we had opted for a $10,000 deductible on our homeowners’ insurance, mostly out of habit, since we had liability-only car insurance and high-deductible health insurance. Some time later, my parents’ bedroom ceiling caved in due to unseen water damage, and I realized that even tho we might use doctors and car insurance less than the average person, our chance of needing to make a homeowner’s insurance claim was not lower than average, and when the time came that we needed to use it, we would be sorry about having such a high deductible. So, we called the insurance company and lowered our deductible to $1,000. Not long afterwards, the protein fire happened, and the cleanup required 2 weeks’ professional help, hotel stays, and replacing personal items. I don’t remember what the total bill was, but it was probably close to $10,000. Luckily we were only responsible for the first $1000.
However, I am quite impressed that she is willing to live in a camper while looking for a sisterwife, for the benefit of being flexible enough to move if that’s what the potential wife wants. In the cases of polygamy I have seen, the new wife joins the family and in doing so chooses to join the family culture and whatever setup the family has. When Enoch Foster married Lydia (a little of their courtship was shown on Three Wives, One Husband), she got to become a part of an amazing family with organization and resources that had been in the process of being set up for 2 decades. In her case I could see the real benefits of being the 3rd wife! I’ve never heard of an established family being willing to join the new wife, rather than the other way around. That part of this episode was pretty interesting to me.
I loved hearing the story of Paige’s conversion to polygamy. I want conversions to come from something inside or from God, not from another person using logic or scriptures to convince us.
The McGee boys are extremely charming. I love the conversation they have where younger brother Kyle says he’s looking forward to having another mom, and older brother John tries to figure out what that role is called.
Very often we hear about wives’ jealousy over their husbands. Much less talked about is the jealousy over their children. Paige McGee says it could possibly be hard for her to see her sons develop that relationship with her sisterwife.
In a country where so many children are raised by only one parent, I think it’s beautiful and extraordinary for a child to actually have more than two parental figures that love them and are invested in them and help raise them. I believe this has the potential to be a powerful advantage in the children’s lives. I would hope any jealousy over that issue wouldn’t keep a wife from pursuing polygamy. Moms ideally do what’s best for their children, consistently, whether they enjoy it or not.
Vanessa’s molar pregnancy is mentioned. I wrote about it in this post, which includes ultrasound images and details about Vanessa’s experience. If you’re interested in what happened, go ahead and read it over there.
The Alldredges discuss their “dream” home and the lodge they’re finishing.
They ideally want each wife to have their own bedroom wing (to “provide for some privacy”) but to share the main living spaces.
This is one example of many possible housing situations. The Winders have another housing situation of living in completely different towns. Our current house has separate living spaces but they’re connected on the inside, so family members can freely move about and be where they want to be, but the wives still get to be queens of their own castles. Personally, I prefer this and so do Melissa and Joshua. (We lived in different counties for 5 years before moving in together last year.) Joshua discusses housing arrangements in this post about the Brineys’ living situation in Season 1.
We don’t entirely fit into that category (for several reasons, but partly because of the whole “Messianic” thing mentioned above), but we have enough in common with Independent Mormon Fundamentalists (IMFs) to have some close friendships with people who consider themselves IMFs. “Mormon Fundamentalists” describes the belief system and “Independent” simply means they’re not a member of any organized group.
I find Colton’s story interesting — I’m paraphrasing but he basically said that since the early LDS Church believed in polygamy, it didn’t make sense to change that belief, so he had to either give up on the Church or really embrace the fundamentals. Colton goes into more detail about the different flavors of Mormonism and his family’s beliefs on the Winder family blog in this post and this post, the second of which includes some nice Winder family photos (including Colton with a beard).
Tami’s story is interesting as well, how she believed in plural marriage but thought it was something she wouldn’t get to practice until heaven. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a story of a couple who found out after marriage that they both believed in polygamy, were pleasantly surprised, and then started living it.
In the episode, as Colton’s second wife Sophie approaches, Colton says to his daughter Sadie, “Is that Aunt Sophie?”
The Snowdens have a conversation about what happened “last time.” Joshua wrote a post about it.
There were many other things I wanted to comment on, such as Vanessa propping her phone up to take a family photo, even tho they were surrounded by professional cameramen. And the charming comment Tami Winder gave about how she was initially attracted to Colton for “his looks, obviously.” And the sad fact that our friends the Alldredges ditched us and moved to South Dakota. :’-( And Bernie’s overly optimistic statement that he doesn’t want to see hurt in his wife’s eyes again. And how I love that Ashley Snowden was nursing uncovered and then was wearing her baby on her back. I was also planning to give some observations about the obvious video editing that ended up making things awkward and unrealistic.
Well, I only had time to write up about a tenth of what I planned to. Such is life, but I want to move on to the next episode, so I’m going to go ahead and publish this post, incomplete as it is. See you in the next one.
Out of interest, here is the total amount of screentime each family had in this first episode (not counting the teasers like “Coming Up”).
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster
which doth mock the meat it feeds on.
(Othello, Act 3, Scene 3)
In the first episode of the second season of Seeking Sister Wife we are introduced to some new people. The lovely McGee family (Bernie and Paige). They seem like a very tightly-knit and loving family, and the interaction between their two boys brings an involuntary smile to my face. They are very likable people, and I’m looking forward to watching how things work out for them.
However, we do get several glimpses into their past attempts to add a wife to their family, and it seems that Paige’s jealousy is going to be a serious and recurring issue. And naturally so! There is nothing wrong with jealousy! After all, Jealousy is God’s middle name. Okay, okay, I’m not sure if that is entirely true, but it is one of his names at least:
For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:
See! There you go, jealousy must not be such a bad thing after all!
To be clear, I believe, that none of our fundamental natural desires or impulses are, of themselves, bad things. The sin always comes from the perversion of our desires. The desires themselves are God-given and innate. Wrongs comes from the excesses and the misapplications. We want things at the wrong time, or in the wrong way, or in the wrong amounts, and don’t always consider how our efforts to achieve our desires appear to God or to our fellow beings.
For those who know the reference, our desires are like a red lizard sitting on our shoulder and whispering in our ears; arguing for us to give selfish and vile expression to our natural inclinations (for those who don’t know the reference, it is The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis). They are a serious hindrance if unbridled and allowed to run free. Appetites and passions are to be kept within the bounds the Lord has set. Food is good; we are even commanded to work for it (Gen 3:19, 2Thess 3:10), but too much of it and we are gluttons. Wine is something to look forward to (Isa 25:6), but drunkenness is a thing to be avoided. Human sexuality is a blessed and pleasurable thing, but is also the greatest snare and temptation of many people’s lives. Money has definite value, and using it facilitates our exchanges for goods and services, but making it the object of our affection is the root of many evils. You get the idea.
On the other hand, if bridled, trained, controlled, and allowed to give their proper vent, our natural inclinations can become our blessing, our strength, and our happiness. This transformation may not be an easy one, but will be well worth the trade for anyone concerned enough to make it!
Back to jealousy. It can be good. It has a purpose. The key is to find out what it is for and when it should be felt. If we can figure out our own selves, and our own emotions (even if it is an incremental process), we will simplify our lives and the lives of everyone around us.
First we must understand what jealousy is. Of course we all know what jealousy feels like, but I think it will be useful to discriminate between it and a very similar emotion, envy. In many cases these two words may be very close in their usage. They can both indicate a longing to posses something. However, the word jealous carries the particular sense of “vigilant (or zealous) in guarding a possession”. Jealousy also carries the connotation of a suspicious fear of losing something. In other words, properly applied, jealousy ought to be used to describe feelings of protectiveness for things that are our own; for things that already belong to us (our own advantages, attachments, relationships, and possessions). Thus, God is jealous for his people, for we are his!
We cross a line into envy when we begin to have similar emotions, but for things that are not ours. Another word for envy is covetousness. It is feeling possessive of things that we do not posses; it is feeling entitled to things to which we do not have a right. This of course, needs to be suppressed, and not allowed to take root.
Here then is the purpose of jealousy: it is one natural mechanism to preserve the romantic bond between spouses. It functions to encourage fidelity between parents (or potential parents). The jealous anger of one partner being both a deterrent to the infidelity of the other, and also a self-motivator for the person experiencing it to fight for the restoration of the bond. This (a strong bond between spouses) of course leads to a multitude of benefits for their children (or potential children), and their subsequent reproductive success.
Predictably, men and women feel jealousy in different ways, and for different (but significant!) reasons. To quote clinical psychologist, Dr. Vinita Mehta:
“Romantic jealously is widely understood to be different for men and women because each gender has a different level of investment in reproduction. For a man to provide for genetically distant children decreases his reproductive success—and because men are uncertain whether they really are the father of said children, they are most susceptible to [experiencing jealousy over] sexual infidelity. By contrast, women can rest assured that they are the mother of their own children; however, they are more dependent on men for resources, making them more sensitive to [experiencing jealousy over] emotional infidelity, since it could threaten the supply of resources for herself and her child.”
Generally speaking, women are concerned (on a basic, visceral level) that their partner’s affection for another woman will lead to a weaker emotional connection, and therefore less desire to care for them, or even that the emotional connection will be altogether severed, causing the man to abandon them for the other woman.
This all goes back to the scriptural, God-given roles and responsibilities for men and women in marriage. This is the Biblical marriage covenant in a nutshell. To quantify this difference, a large study, published in 2014 (this is not the only study confirming these results), reported that men were significantly more likely than women to be upset by sexual infidelity (54% vs. 35%), and significantly less likely than women to be upset by emotional infidelity (46% vs. 65%).
There are many things that could be said about the result of this study, but I want to mention two. First, this does not mean that women don’t feel jealousy over sexual infidelity, or that men don’t feel jealousy over emotional infidelity; rather, it means that their primary causes of jealousy are generally different, and this has significant effects on the way that men and women think and act. The other thing to mention about this finding is that it has nothing to do with age groups, income levels, history of being cheated on, history of being unfaithful, relationship type, relationship length, cultural differences, etc. Like it or not, this difference is an innate, biological difference.
So, how does knowing any of this help the Paige McGees of the world? I think there are at least two useful lessons that can be gleaned from the above.
1) Jealousy is natural, and can even be good, but care must be taken that it does not spill over into envy or covetousness. In order to keep jealousy within a righteous bound, we need to be certain of what is ours to be jealous over. In marriage, wives have a right to financial support for themselves and their children. They have full claim on their husband for that purpose. However, they do not have exclusive rights to him sexually. This is important to know because it can keep you from worrying over things that are not yours to worry about. To put it another way, you shouldn’t feel jealous over things that aren’t yours.
2) Understand that the source of your jealousy may largely (even unconsciously) come from a fear of being abandoned (emotional infidelity). This is certainly a rational fear, as we all know; this scenario has played out many times before. Many monogamous relationships have been broken by an unfaithful man tragically abandoning his wife and children for another woman. However, if you can realize that, in the case of polygamy, your husband is not at all interested in trading you for another woman, but rather wants to keep you both (or however many wives there may be), then that ought to restore your confidence that you are not being abandoned! At least it ought to increase the confidence in your mind – there may still be a battle with emotions, but what’s new about that? If he is a godly man then he still wants you to be his wife as much as ever, his emotions towards you are as strong as ever, and he still wants to keep his commitment to you and your children as much as ever.
So, to Paige, and to all the other plural (and potentially plural) wives out there I say: Have confidence in your husband and in your relationship, keep working on maintaining and improving your own relationship with your husband, and don’t worry too much about things that are not your business to worry about.
In the final episode of Seeking Sister Wife‘s first season, the Briney family is getting ready to move out of state, but there was a difference in point of view about whether all the wives should continue to live together or not. In the final scenes Auralee is an absolute saint. She extends the olive branch in an amazing way to her sister wife, April. Angela chimes in as well, and they all end up coming together in a beautiful way for the good of the family in both practical and emotional ways.
As may be expected, working out where everyone lives is a very common dilemma facing plural families, and it can be handled in a variety of ways. Some families live in a single dwelling, sharing the same kitchen and living room (like the Alldredges do). Some families may live in a single dwelling with separate apartments like my house or like the Fosters or Morrisons. Some families have separate houses for the wives, but they are all in close proximity to one another, on the same property (or in the same cul-de-sac, like the Brown family currently does). Some families may have separate houses for each wife, and those houses may be in separate cities or states. I even know one family where the wives are in separate countries halfway around the world from each other (although they are working toward living all together).
Furthermore, many plural families are somewhere in between these various solutions, or in transition between them. For example, I know a family with three wives. Two of them lived together in a single dwelling while the third (who was reportedly more difficult to live with) lived in a separate city. Later on, the third, separate-city wife moved to a separate house next door to the other two, and lived there for a while. Now they are all living together under one roof! Ultimately, the solution to this problem will be different for each family, and lies in finding the correct balance between the practical and the emotional. Both are very real issues, and need to be addressed.
The practical side of the question deals with resources like time and expense. It is certainly more expensive to live apart: There are multiple rents or mortgages to pay, separate utility bills will add up to greater expense than a combined bill, more property taxes, more home insurance, more time and expense for home maintenance, added expense for owning duplicates of many items, and additional time and expense is involved in travel between homes. These, and a great many other things, are practical factors that must be considered. I think a general consideration of practical factors will favor living together.
The emotional side of the question deals with feelings, perceptions, and jealousies. Some wives may not be able to stand seeing their husband show affection for another wife, may not be able to abide sharing a kitchen or other living areas, or may have or want different rules for their children. Kody Brown once said, “I have two wives who think sharing a kitchen is abusive”. This is in contrast to the Darger family whose philosophy is: If you can’t share a kitchen, what business do you have sharing a husband? Of course, the Dargers are somewhat of a special case as the wives are already close relatives (which I am sure has been a blessing to their family). I mean, how different could their kitchen management styles be? They all have the same grandma. They probably all have the same book of family recipes.
One plural wife I spoke with told me it can be harder to share a kitchen than to share a husband. So, if you are adding an extra master bedroom to your house to accommodate a new sister wife, you may want to consider adding another kitchen too. Each family will have to find what works best for them.
Children further complicate emotional considerations. Children from different wives may have rivalries (especially if they are from previous marriages) or resentments. In addition, there may be worries about societal perceptions. (What will the neighbors think? What will my friends think? What will our extended families think?) Finally, some people may just be plain old difficult to live with — there are personality conflicts of all kinds. These, and a great many other things, are emotional factors that must be given consideration. I think a general consideration of emotional factors will favor living apart.
From my point of view, I think most (perhaps all) polygamist men want to have their families together as much and as close as possible. If a plural family is not living together, it is very often because of difficulties between wives, or children from different wives (think of Sarah and Hagar, and Isaac and Ishmael, for example). I was once talking with my grandpa about the scriptures when the subject of Abraham’s wives came up. He said it was a shame that Abraham had married Hagar (because it led to difficulties that separated his family) and that he shouldn’t have done it in the first place. I told him the shame was not that they married, but that they didn’t stay together and try to work out their problems. Well, I’m not trying to pass any judgment on Abram, or his views on marriage and family, but I do think it is generally better to work on problems while problems can be worked on – even if some separation is warranted while the problems are being resolved (it may take years in some cases). Anything worth having is worth working for.
Why would plural husbands generally want their family together? There are certainly the financial pieces, which I mentioned above, and this weighs heavily on most husbands’ minds. In addition, a husband will be able to more effectively portion his time between the members of his family and his other household duties. Another important factor is the way that close-living facilitates family activities, family teaching, and family worship. Finally, there is a desire among men, even if subconscious, to have their wives and children close for the sake of protecting them.
From a Biblical perspective, during the time when a couple was engaged to be married, the bridegroom would go away for a time and busy himself preparing a home for his new bride to live in. If the man had more than one wife, he would have prepared a home for each of them in turn. The home(s) would be built on the ancestral lands of the bridegroom’s father. The bride-to-be fully expected to receive her own home to live in (whether this was a separate dwelling, or an extension of the existing family dwelling, would depend on the particular family and circumstance), and providing one for her was part of the future husband’s duties toward her. When the home was made ready, the bridegroom would return for his bride, receive her to himself, and lead her to her new home which would become her responsibility to tend and care for.
In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. – John 14:2,3
In the first episode of Seeking Sister Wife we are introduced to the Snowden family, Dimitri and Ashley. A little after 7 minutes in Dimitri tells us that after dating for 2 years they, “Committed [themselves] to each other.” Additionally, on TLC’s, Meet The Families of Seeking Sister Wife, page we learn they have purposefully abstained from a legal marriage under the eyes of the law in order to ensure equality with their future wife. They consider one another spouses, they have 3 children together, they share finances and many other things, and they also let us know that they have no marriage license from the state of Georgia (or any other state).
In light of the several comments and questions my posts have generated (see here and here) about the nature of marriage – especially in the Snowden family, but also in the Alldredge and Briney families as well (and all other plural families too), I have decided to write a post on my views about what constitutes a marriage.
A few years ago (November 2015) some friends of mine decided to rededicate their marriage. They threw a big party and asked if I would “officiate” at their ceremony. It was a relatively informal event; I said a few words, and they renewed their vows with each other. It was a beautiful thing, but the reason they were doing it was a bit disappointing. You see, they had just left the LDS Church (the reason why is unimportant to this post), and the validity of their Church marriage (specifically their sealing – more about this later) was being called into question by some of their acquaintances. This is sadly not an uncommon occurrence. When the Church kicked us out we had the same experience. Concerns were expressed to us that we had broken our covenants and now we were adulterers, had lost all our blessings, no longer had the Holy Ghost with us, etc.
This post, and my future post about the Mormon concept of Sealing, are adaptations of the words I prepared for that marriage rededication ceremony. Here it goes:
In 1774, Thomas Jefferson said these words, “A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.” This was two years before the Declaration of Independence. At the time these were radical words – treasonous words even.
The common model of government at the time was that no rights existed for the common people – except those granted to them by the King. The King owned all the land, the people were subject to his mandates, and any privileges the people had were granted to them by their Sovereign Lord. He in turn received all his power from God by virtue of the Divine Right of Kings. Alas, there are many unfortunate parallels between government and religious authorities.
As powerful as they think they may be, governments are run by men – mortals all. Governments do not possess any powers unless those powers have been delegated to it by the people who are governed.
The preamble to the Declaration of Independence correctly proclaims this fact. It reads in part:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Eleven years later these ideas were crystallized in the Constitution of the United States of America. It was the fulfillment of the promise made in the Declaration of Independence. And yet, despite the Constitution being the founding document of our nation’s government, our Constitution is widely misunderstood; and here is the misunderstanding:
The Constitution does not grant you the right to free speech. It does not give you the right to print what you please, or to choose your own religion. The Constitution does not grant you the right to carry arms for your defense, to assemble or associate with whom you please, or any of the other things we have imagined it to grant to us.
If you will take the Bill of Rights, and actually read it, you will discover that in every case, the rights mentioned are not granted. It does not say anything to the effect that, “the citizens of the United States are hereby granted the right to worship as they choose…” No, No! On the contrary, it says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” It does not say anything like, “you may carry arms for your defense.” Rather it says, “the right shall not be infringed”, and on and on.
Indeed, the government cannot grant us anything we do not already have – we, in fact, are the ones that have granted powers to the government – the government does not have anything the people have not given to it. Rather than being granted, all the rights mentioned are protected. They are not extensions of our privileges, they are limits and restraints upon the government!
Well, what does all this talk about government and rights have to do with marriage?
The truth is: if the government has any authority at all, to marry anyone, then they have received that power from the people, and their receiving of that power from the people in no way diminishes the rights of the people (unless we let it). The powers are delegated, yet still retained by the people – because they are inalienable. They cannot be separated from us. They are inherent both to our being and to our existence.
The sanctity of marriage is reduced by getting the government to protect it. Orthodox Christian theologian Davd J. Dunn writes,
“Today’s Christian conservatives seem to be worshiping America, or at least a certain idea of it, when they ask the government to protect the ‘sanctity’ of marriage. In doing this, they have vested the state with the power to sanctify…Christians who demand the state take up the task of defending marital sanctity are effectively making the state their god. They seem to think that their local capitol can perform miracles when [in reality] only the Holy Spirit has the power to sanctify.”
Well, there are some, no doubt, who do not feel the same way about things. They are upset with anyone who does something out of the ordinary. And in particular with anyone who exercises their rights while ignoring the religious or civil authorities. There are many who feel that marriages are illegitimate without the approval of the government, or the Church, or both.
But it has not always been that way.
Marriage in the scriptures, and for most of human history, has simply consisted of a man and woman (usually with the consent of the woman’s father), living together and attempting procreation. No priest, no license, and no registration. These are all recent innovations within the last 500 years. The Catholic Church did not require marriages to be officiated by a priest until 1563. The Anglican Church did not get around to making this requirement until 1753. For most of human history, marriage has simply been an agreement (contract), recognized or arranged by the immediate families, for a man and woman to live together.
He calls her wife, she calls him husband. They share a home, they share a bed. They have and raise children together, and they have cast their lots together for good or ill. They are married. Are the Snowdens married? Absolutely yes!
Does that mean that any two people can just live together and call it marriage? The answer is no; that’s just called shacking up. The other elements are required also, namely the commitment to live as husband and wife – with all the duties and privileges that are connected thereto. Shacking up, without commitment – without the man taking the woman as wife, is sin.
You could classify marriages into three sorts: social marriage, religious marriage, and civil (or government) marriage. Social marriage is rooted in the ideas of Common Law and Natural Rights, which I have discussed somewhat above. It has probably been the most common type of marriage thruout the history of mankind, and perhaps the oldest as well (tho this is debatable I am sure). Either way, it is certain that of the three, civil marriage is by far the late comer to the party.
What about all this business with government issued marriage licenses then? When did that become a thing, and why? First, let us take a look at the legal definition of the word “License”. From Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd edition, published in 1910) we have:
“A permission, accorded by a competent authority, conferring the right to do some act which without such authorization would be illegal.”
In other words, a license is permission to do something which would otherwise be illegal. The problem is that the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that marriage is a fundamental right for all. And even without the Court’s decisions, marriage (both monogamous and polygamous) has existed for thousands of years as a fundamental aspect of human life and society which stems from our rights to associate and to contract. Marriage predates all our modern laws, governments, and licensing requirements. How then can getting married be illegal? Of course the answer to this question has everything to do with polygamy. Licensing of marriage by governments had its origins in efforts to stamp out plural marriage among the early Mormon people (and also to prevent interracial marriage – which is beyond the scope of this post).
In closing, here are some questions you may want to ask yourself (or your friends and family – if you like those stimulating sort of conversations).
If my right to marry is fundamental, why do I need permission from the government before I can get married?
If I get a marriage license, what does that marriage license give me permission to do that I could not do before I got the marriage license?
Who is giving me that permission?
Where did they get the power to give me that permission?
And perhaps the most important question,
If I get married without a marriage license, is my marriage still lawful?
When there is no structure available to you, then make your own. There is no approval needed from any man, or government, or religious institution to get married. And despite the disapproval that may be shown by some, it is our God-given, and natural right to do so.
Morning sickness during pregnancy is very common, especially in the first trimester. There is an extreme form of morning sickness called hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). Women with HG have a lot of nausea and vomiting and often have difficulty keeping anything down at all. HG can persist all the way through the pregnancy rather than only the first few months. Some of these women lose weight rather than gain weight; some are hospitalized because they can’t keep enough fluids down to stay hydrated.
My cousin gets HG so badly in all of her pregnancies that she can’t even take care of herself, much less her children; she has to live with her parents or her in-laws when she’s pregnant so she can have constant help.
My first 3 pregnancies were easy compared to my 4th pregnancy. But that last one was a doozy. I had HG and vomited all the way up to my due date. I was usually at my sickest in the evening, when I ought to have been singing to my kids and snuggling with them as they were being put to bed. Instead, my then-9-year-old daughter basically ended up putting her siblings to bed on a fairly regular basis, no bedtime songs and cuddles with Mama because she was lying on the floor with her face over a bowl.
I didn’t have HG as badly as some other women I know of. I was able to gain a normal amount of weight in my pregnancy, and I only had IV fluids once. However, I used many, many remedies to keep myself reasonably functional, including all the natural remedies such as peppermint and ginger and frequent snacks. A prescription of Zofran (from a certain CNM named Karla Jo Bennett) wasn’t helpful. What did help me was taking Unisom — the one with 25 mg of the active ingredient doxylamine succinate — twice a day (three times a day helped with the nausea/vomiting even more but it made me way too sleepy), taking loads of vitamin B-6 (micro-doses all day and a slow-release dose at bedtime), completely stopping my consumption of all grains, and most helpful of all, getting a shot of b-vitamins every day or two.
The first midwife I went to for b-vitamin shots was Karla Jo, but eventually my regular midwife taught me how to give myself shots, which was far less expensive and far more convenient than driving to the midwife’s office and paying her to do it every time.
I got tested for H. pylori (a bacteria in the stomach that is one cause of HG) and the test came back negative. Karla Jo was the midwife who was lucky enough to keep my stool sample in her freezer until the the lab came by to pick it up.
Karla Jo is a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM), which is the kind of midwife with the most education and privileges (such as writing prescriptions). Since she has more privileges than my regular midwife, the two of them worked together to meet my needs for medical care. (I saw several other types of medical professionals to try to get some answers about my HG, but in the end, no one could solve the puzzle, and eventually I gave birth and the problem ended on its own.)
Karla Jo is not just my CNM but she’s also my mom’s first cousin. I was close friends with her kids (my second cousins) when I was younger. We went on homeschool field trips together; I played Foosball in their basement; and her daughter and I wrote sticker-covered letters back and forth. I remember having dinner at their house once when they ordered plain cheese pizzas and added their own toppings after the pizzas were delivered (that was so foreign to me). I attended the baby shower of one of her daughters and drove across Los Angeles to visit her other daughter, who was on a layover.
I was surprised when I saw Karla Jo in the sneak peek of Seeking Sister Wife, and I excitedly texted her and said, “You’re my friend Vanessa’s midwife! I saw you on TV!” and we laughed about it and she told me about her experience with the TLC film crew.
Karla Jo was the midwife who performed Vanessa’s ultrasound in episode 5 of Seeking Sister Wife. She had to give Jeff and Vanessa the sad news that Vanessa actually wasn’t carrying a baby, and the further bad news that she probably had a molar pregnancy. It turns out she was correct, even though in 20 years of caring for women and babies, this was the first time Karla Jo had seen a molar pregnancy.
Molar pregnancies occur in roughly 1 out of 1000 pregnancies. This means it’s highly unlikely you will have one, but it’s likely that you know someone who’s had one. Karla Jo’s sister had one. So did my mother-in-law. My regular midwife has seen 3 in her career.
In a normal pregnancy the hormone hCG (which is responsible for morning sickness) appears at implantation, increases to a peak between 8-11 weeks of gestation, and then decreases. The levels of hCG going down after the first few months is the reason why the symptoms of morning sickness typically lessen at that point.
The hCG hormone is measured in milli-international units per milliliter (mIU/mL). Normal levels approach 300,000 mIU/mL at the peak. In a molar pregnancy they go much higher, so even though the woman isn’t carrying a baby, she feels sicker than someone having a normal pregnancy. She also has positive pregnancy tests despite there not being a baby, because hCG is what’s being tested with pee-on-a-stick pregnancy tests.
When you watch the early episodes of Seeking Sister Wife, and Vanessa is so sick, you can bet there’s a good reason she was experiencing the worst morning sickness out of all of her pregnancies. When Vanessa’s hCG level was tested it was 1,200,000 mIU/mL!
When Vanessa’s regular midwife Sherri Price couldn’t hear a baby with her doppler (as shown in episode 4), she asked her good friend and fellow midwife Karla Jo if they could come to her office (which is at her house in Pleasant Grove, Utah — not in Genola, Utah like SSW implies) and have Karla Jo take a look with her ultrasound machine.
After Karla Jo said yes, Sherri mentioned that, oh by the way, a camera crew is coming.
Karla Jo hadn’t planned in advance on being filmed that evening, and she didn’t get home until just before the film crew wanted to start filming. She had had a full day and the film crew and everyone else beat her to the house. Her husband fed them ice cream and entertained them for an hour. (At one of my appointments with Karla Jo, her husband took my kids into their backyard and let them collect the eggs from their chickens.)
Most midwives don’t have their own ultrasound machine (they’re a pretty expensive piece of equipment to just use occasionally), but Karla Jo has one. So she is kind of the go-to when another midwife wants her client to have an ultrasound done.
Karla Jo says it was an interesting experience to have a film crew present while she did her work. Normally she would have dimmed the lights in order to see the ultrasound screen better, but the film crew needed the lights bright.
She didn’t get told anything that happened after everyone left that day. She didn’t know for sure if she would end up in the final cut; she didn’t get a copy of the episode; she didn’t get told when it was airing.
As far as the filming and editing of the show, Karla Jo say the editing was done in a deceiving manner. For instance, the audio is edited enough so that at times she is shown saying the exact opposite of what she actually said (for instance, the word “don’t” got cut out of one of her statements). She also thinks the scenes she’s in that were posed (like when she was standing outside with Sherri) felt very fake.
Technically Karla Jo can’t use an ultrasound to diagnose a molar pregnancy, but you’ll notice that she was able to give a better idea of what was happening than the first midwife was, and she gave good advice to go ahead and get checked out by a radiologist.
I have seen people on social media criticize Vanessa for going to another midwife instead of the emergency room. The show said Vanessa’s problem was “possibly life-threatening,” but that doesn’t necessarily make it an emergency. Cancer is life-threatening as well, but no one calls an ambulance. Vanessa wasn’t bleeding or even cramping; the situation wasn’t so urgent that they needed the emergency room, and going to the ER wouldn’t have changed the outcome. Please, let’s leave the ER for true emergencies, rather than clogging them up with important but less-urgent medical situations.
As I said, at the time of Vanessa’s first prenatal with Sherri, she wasn’t bleeding. However, early in Vanessa’s pregnancy, after taking a positive at-home pregnancy test, she was spotting quite a bit and even bleeding a lot at one point, so she thought maybe she was having a miscarriage. She got an ultrasound, which appeared to show a very early embryonic sac. She also got blood work done twice showing that her hCG hormone levels were rising at an expected rate. So according to all that she was definitely pregnant. She figured that she was either going to miscarry or not, but that it was out of her hands.
The bleeding eventually slowed and she continued to be pregnant (as far as she could tell), so she just figured things were progressing normally. There seemed to be no other reason for concern, and she planned her first prenatal for 12 weeks gestation as usual.
Her first prenatal is shown in episode 4, and the follow-up appointments and surgery are depicted in episode 5. What the TV show doesn’t tell you is what happened after Vanessa’s surgery.
The pathology report fortunately came back negative for cancer from the mass that was growing inside her, and for a short time she thought Oh good, surgery went well and now I’ll just recover.
But Vanessa ended up with a painful complication. Her high levels of hCG hormone triggered something called theca-lutein cysts, which are a type of ovarian cyst most commonly associated with molar pregnancies.
After Vanessa’s surgery, her ovaries looked fine, but within days the cysts grew as a result of those heightened levels of hormone. Her abdomen was filled with these ovarian cysts, as shown in the below ultrasound images. She had so many and they were so large that she looked 8 months pregnant!
She literally could not lie down or hardly even recline because she couldn’t breathe. She also couldn’t eat because her stomach was so crowded. It was several weeks after her surgery before she was recovered enough from those horrendous theca-lutein cysts to start feeling normalish again, and it took almost 2 months before her hormone levels were back to healthy levels.
Now, months after Vanessa’s surgery (a high-risk D&C), her hormones levels are good and her belly is back to its proper size, but she is still constantly on the lookout to detect further problems. Any cells remaining in her uterus could begin to grow, or worse, metastasize into other parts of the body. The way to determine if that’s happening is with pregnancy tests, so she has to avoid getting pregnant but take tests every 2 weeks to be sure the hCG levels aren’t rising. If she gets a positive pregnancy test then she will have to hurry in to the doctor to determine what’s going on.
Although her experience was difficult and traumatic, Vanessa feels like it was divinely timed and directed, and she is at peace about it. She is glad the viewers of the show got to see thru real events how loving and supportive her amazing family is.
But she’s still nervous about the future. Once she’s physically and emotionally ready to get pregnant again, her odds of having another molar pregnancy are significantly greater than before: about 1 in 20.
Vanessa appreciated having supportive midwives to help her through her experience. She loves Sherri and also speaks very highly of Karla Jo. She reports: “Karla Jo was really great! I would consider her as a midwife if I was still in the area. I didn’t spend tons of time with her but she came VERY highly recommended by Sherri and I really liked her presence and personality. I felt very safe with her.”
Karla Jo Bennett serves Utah County, Salt Lake County, and surrounding areas. Her midwifery website is www.gentlebirthandwomenshealth.com. (Sherri Price is retired now, so if you were interested in hiring her, you’re out of luck.)
Note: Vanessa Alldredge’s story and medical details shared with permission.
What do you think? Have you ever had hyperemesis gravidarum? If so, what was your best remedy? Do you use a midwife or a doctor, and why? Have you ever heard of anyone having a rare molar pregnancy? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
When I was a new missionary for the LDS Church, and living at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, UT (this was back in 1998), I had a Branch President that I quite admired. He was a very wise man. Here is one piece of universal wisdom which he gave, and which I have never forgotten (tho perhaps not always lived):
“The scriptures say that Sampson killed a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, and every day at least that number of relationships are damaged with the same weapon… You don’t have to say everything that comes to your mind.”
Plural marriage puts you in impossible situations sometimes; situations where it is impossible to please everyone, or even most of the people. This is most often true for plural husbands. While the difficulties between the Briney women continued to play out in this most recent episode (Seeking Sister Wife, season 1, episode 6), I must say that I was pleased with the involvement that Drew displayed.
Furthermore, I have to offer an apology to Drew. In my last post I did not take into account the very likely truth that TLC is either behind much of the drama portrayed in their family, whipping it up to more than it need be, or else cleverly editing the video clips to show stern looks and eye rolls out of context, as well as leaving out parts of the story that wouldn’t fit the network’s vision for the show. Drew and all good plural husbands are much more involved in settling disputes, and counseling with their wives, than could ever be shown on television.