Aug. 23, 2011 -- Despite already having 18 biological kids, one Tennessee couple says they are praying for more children.
The Bates family lives in a five-bedroom house outside of Knoxville, Tenn., with their 18 children. Zach is their oldest at age 22, and Judson is their youngest at 11 months.
"We never planned on having 18 children," Gil Bates said.
"I feel like together, in marriage, we began to grow in this direction," his wife Kelly Bates added.
The Bates are evangelical Christians who do not believe in the use of birth control. Kelly, a 44-year-old stay-at-home mom, has been pregnant every year for the past 22 years -- which some might consider to be a medical marvel -- and doesn't shy away from the thought of having more children.
"Whatever the Lord desires," she said. "We decided, a long time ago, to let the Lord decide how many children we would have."
"It would be like saying more blessings," said Gil, a 46-year-old tree surgeon.
Kelly Bates has endured labor and delivery 18 separate times, no twins and no c-sections. To top it off, fourteen of those births were at home, meaning no epidurals or anesthesia.
"Midwives don't usually administer that," she said.
With 20 people living under one roof, the Bates children have to share everything from their parents' attention to their bedrooms. But none of the kids mind -- in fact they like it.
Today, the Bates brood includes Zach, 22; Michaella, 21; Erin, 20; Lawson, 19; Nathan, 18; Alyssa, 16; Tori, 15; Trace, 14; Carlin, 13; Josie, 12; Katie, 10; Jackson, 9; Warden, 8; Isaiah, 6; Addallee, 5; Ellie, 4; Callie, 2; and finally, Judson, 11 months.
"They are all so different," Kelly said. "No two are alike."
Although Gil and Kelly Bates say having any more children is in God's hands, there's no denying that the whole family wants more kids. Between Ellie and Callie (kids number 16 and 17) there was a short stint when Kelly wasn't getting pregnant. Kelly said the kids were scared of the thought of not having any more siblings and turned to prayer.
"The children kept saying, 'Mom, is there another baby yet?' And they were getting so anxious," Kelly said. "A couple of the children said, 'Mom, can we pray that God will give us more children?' And so we said, 'sure, you're welcome to pray, but just know that whatever God's will is, we want to be content.'"
The children wanted to have more babies so badly, Gil said, that they even asked if they could fast.
"Some of them said, 'Can we fast if the Lord would give us more children?'" he said. "They fasted and prayed."
But Kelly's body has changed with age and she is heading into the outer reaches of her child-bearing years. She had two miscarriages before her last two successful births with Callie and Judson. A low progesterone level was making it more difficult to get sustain a pregnancy.
"Conception takes place, but the uterus wall is not softened so the baby can implant," Gil said. "And so it was causing us to lose the baby."
Kelly started a hormone therapy to maximize her chances of carrying to term. They had Callie and then Judson, their youngest. Although they don't believe in using birth control to prevent pregnancy, Kelly said using medicine to help keep a pregnancy was a different matter all together.
"For us, that would be like, that baby is already alive. It is a life," she said. "We don't try to prevent or to promote. We just want to trust God. But at the same time, if there's already a life living, we don't want to deny medical help to a baby that's in trouble."
All 18 births have gone smoothly without complications, except for one: Addallee, baby number 15.
"Addalee is our special little baby because she almost didn't make it," Kelly said. "Addallee stopped breathing and her heart stopped."
Little Addallee was rushed to the hospital after she was born prematurely and spent 17 days there -- a very expensive hospital stay.
"We didn't have insurance," Gil said. "We negotiated with the insurance, with the hospitals, and I said, 'I know insurance companies don't pay full price, could we set up a payment plan based on what you would feel is a justified -- a fair price.' They graciously worked with us."
Today, Addallee, whom everyone calls "Addee" has slight hearing problems but is otherwise healthy and the Bates continue on without any health insurance.
"For the last 10 children, we have not had health insurance," Gil said. "When there's a medical emergency, we just go to the doctor and America's been the greatest health care in the world. When you walk in the emergency room, I don't care what your status of living, they give you the best care possible."
The Bates' pre-natal care is provided free-of-charge at a small Christian clinic, and earlier this year, they got the news they were pregnant with baby number 19.
"Everything looked good. We even saw a heartbeat," Kelly said.
But eight weeks into the pregnancy, the baby died -- a devastating loss for the family. Kelly's two previous miscarriages occurred just a few days after a positive pregnancy test, well before they could see a heart. The couple later named the baby Zion after the hymn, "Marching to Zion."
"I know life begins at conception, even though I don't see it," Gil said. "I know it's a life according to what the Bible teaches, but having seen life -- we'd seen the heartbeat, and we saw the little baby moving -- it becomes so real."
It was six weeks before the couple was able to start trying again, a process that required careful medical guidance from their OB/GYN. Gil and Kelly say their main concern is being able to conceive again.
"I can't think of a better prayer team that I'd rather have praying for us," Kelly said.