Family Planning: The question of how many kids

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When we lived in Senegal, I got to know a lot of people in my age group. Some were traditional dancers, others were fellow students in my masters program, but we all seemed to be living similarly contemporary lives. It surprised me, therefore, when I asked them how many children they wanted to have. "Five," was the average answer. Really, five?? 

 

I've talked about a family size theory with my sister-in-law. Most women we know want to have the same number of children as their mother had. There are some exceptions, but usually it seems that if your mom had two kids, you want two kids, and if your mom had three kids, you want three kids.

 

Perhaps this was the reason why my Senegalese friends wanted large families. But wasn't the reason for large families to hedge against the high probability of losing one or two children to common illnesses? 

 

I was listening to NPR's "On Point" yesterday. They were talking about genetically manipulating species within our eco-system to eliminate some viruses and diseases. This led to a question about whether reducing natural causes of population control will exacerbate the current problem of over-population. Kevin Esvelt, the scientist, said, "We have abundant evidence that lowering mortality rates, especially child mortality rates, causes families to choose birth control . . . if we reduce infant mortality rates, people will have fewer children." 

 

My husband and I have been talking about our children since about two weeks into our relationship. We always wanted two (I am one of two siblings, my husband is one of five; you can see my theory at work here). Then we had our daughter and realized how much energy and resources a child requires. We have sworn at times that we're never having any more children, usually in the end of the day, when the last thing we want to do is to get a crying child ready for bed. 

 

And yet I have still wanted to have another child. Is it hormones? Is it an external cultural expectation? Is it a rational thought that says placing all of our hopes and dreams into a single child is unfair to her? Or is it some biological alert system that warns against the one-in-a-million disease threat? This discussion doesn't even get into the larger quandary about bringing another uber-consuming American into the world. 

 

Parsing out what I want, what I/we can handle versus external messaging from unseen channels is difficult. Luckily we don't have to decide immediately, my biological clock still has at least another decade to produce, but it's something we're thinking about and trying to understand.