Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Rambling post on family size

In early 2003, I was worn out. Darwin and I were barely scraping by, we lived in a small and excessively expensive one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, and we were trying to make do on one income so I could stay at home with Noogs. To top it off, I felt terrible -- achy, exhausted, sick.

Finally I decided to consult the doctor, but I knew the first question he would ask would be "Are you pregnant?" Of course I knew I wasn't, but I went into the lab and took a pregnancy test just so I could give him the negative result. That afternoon I called up the lab and asked for for the result.
"It's positive," said the nurse.
"Positive?" I croaked, once my heart started beating again.
"Is that bad news?" asked the concerned nurse.
"No... no...," I croaked. "It's just that I already have an eight-month-old."

And so, on Sept. 4, 2003, Julia was born. She hasn't changed much from the early days -- she's still sudden and prone to unexpected entrances and heart-stopping stunts -- but she's the best suprise I've ever had. Happy birthday to my favorite three-year-old!

And on the note of one child showing up hard on the heels of another, Bearing Blog had up a post recently about a woman who had 22 children, and I've been thinking about it all weekend.
Lucille Miller of Waseca, Minn., who bore 15 girls and seven boys and raised them on a farm with the help of her organizational skills and the buddy system, died Monday in Waseca. She was 83.

Miller was 17 when she had her first child and 43 when she had her last.

"We didn't intend to have this many children," she said in an April 17, 2000, Star Tribune article by Chuck Haga. "But it's been wonderful to have them and watch them grow. They're all individuals."
Lucille Miller is truly a good and holy example of extreme motherhood. May she rest in well-deserved peace.

Reading about Mrs. Miller's achievements, I realized: it's already too late for me to have 22 children. I started at 23, not 17, so she already had six years on me there. Plus she bore children at the rate of about one a year, and I've already skipped two years between Babs and baby. What gives me pause is realizing that had I emulated Mrs. Miller, I'd already have, at 27, nine children. Now there's a trip through the Total Perspective Vortex for you.

Now many days I feel overwhelmed with three children, though I wonder if that's less a matter of the number of children as of the fact that the older two are four and three, and rather boisterous. (In fact, I have this sneaking suspicion that behind my back, my friends shake their heads and say, "Those Darwin girls... they just do whatever comes into their heads..." Actually, that's not even a suspicion, because someone told me that in front of my back.) I don't want 22 children, or twelve or eight. Some days I'm not sure I want more than the three I already have. And recently I feel it's not even productive to speculate on future future family size when the baby is only six months old. I want her to stay the baby for a while, with her amiable personality and little teeth popping out and sweet gurgles and wrinkled nose and careful sitting. Once this one is old enough to sneak a package of pasta into the bathroom and spread it around the floor (or perhaps more importantly, when Noogs is old enough to prevent her from doing such things), then I'll be able to think more clearly about adding the next Darwin girl.

On the other hand, I think it's kind of silly when people obsess over how hard it must be to raise a large family. (I wish I had a dollar for every time some stranger has said to me, "My, you have your hands full, don't you?") Children grow and change and mature and assist -- rarely is anyone raising eight two-year-olds. The popular conception of parenting this immense unit of five children is very different from the reality of raising five individuals who are Elizabeth and John and Anna and William and Nathanael, who all have different needs and gifts and abilities.

Though I have to admit I'm rather relieved that bearing 22 children isn't really an option for me...


PB said...

The societal perception of childbearing tends to irritate me. Now expecting our second, a coworker asked if I was hoping for a girl. While I said a girl would be wonderful, we were actually hoping for another boy. The look of shock across this persons face was actually quite funny, her shallow attitude was that since we already had a boy, we MUST want a girl, that way we can stop having children, since all “perfect” families consist of one of each you see… It was funny, you know, in a sort of a way where you laugh at sports bloopers where the receiver runs into the goalpost, a little funny, mostly sad, but your body forces you to laugh off the discomfort.

Anonymous said...

22 would be a bit daunting to me, I admit..the biggest family I know personally have 11, and I can't quite imagine having twice that many.
A blessed birthday to Julia, two days late...
Thank you again for all of your prayers and kind words.

LogEyed Roman said...

pb's comment reminds me of some of my own observations--it seems many people these days exptect some sort of simplistic predictable formula in families; in pb's case, that somehow if you have just one boy and one girl, somehow that will automatically be better than some other mix or number. I can't help wonder if it's because so many people in fact have grown up with very sparse parenting, not only in their own upbringing but in their circle of acquaintance, and thus are susceptible to simplistic stereotypes.

And let me point out how, oddly, raising a very large family has come to be considered this terrible oppressive burden--but you don't hear comparable wailing and gnashing of teeth over careers or businesses that take 100 or more hours a week of a woman's time, with often uneven rewards.

Changing the subject: I can't resist some low wit here: Mrs. Darwin, don't give up hope. There's always multiple births. Why, three sets of triplets in a row and you could be well on your way to exceeding the 22 mark.

Mrs. Darwin is a personal acquaintance, and I'm sure she'll pay me back someday--I mean, understand that I'm just kidding.

Amber said...

Happy belated birthday to Julia!

I must admit I'm rather glad that I'm too far behind to come anywhere near having 22 children (unless I start having triplets several times in a row or something - now there's a daunting thought!) but still the whole general attitude towards family size in the US is rather annoying.

I do sometimes find myself thinking - but how would it be if I had another little one I was taking care of right now (especially since Emma is going through a rather *ahem* trying phase right now)? But since I'm not looking to open a day care center, I won't be taking care of another little one *right now*. By the time the next one is born my two will be older and, theoretically at least, more able to help or at the very least not require quite so much correcting and constant observation. (I can hope, right??)

Foxfier said...

For what it's worth, if I say "you've got your hands full!" it's so that I don't go "Aaaaawwww!!!! Babies! Munchkins! Awwwww....."

Three little kids *are* a handful. So's one, or five. (My cousin and his lovely wife have five. They're both giant, and it's awesome to watch them at work.)

Myth said...

I've always wished to get married and have a large family. Though I'm a bit beyond the possibility of 22 at this point also. I keep telling my family 8.

I did find your blog. It just took me this long to comment.. sorry!

mrsdarwin said...

I myself question whether anyone actually wants to have 22 children, or whether it just happens in those rare cases in which it happens.

PB, I have to agree that people seem to think it odd when we said that we enjoy having all girls and were happy to have another one. Anyway, we're starting to despair of our chances of turning out a male.

I found, when I was unexpectedly pregnant, that I tended to feel overwhelmed if I focused on how frickin' hard it would be to have two small children 16 months apart. But when I looked at it from other angles -- I already had two children; it would be easier to have a baby than to be pregnant; anyway, there was nothing to be done about it now so might as well just adjust -- it didn't seem that hard. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? And I'm not dead yet.

LogEyed Roman said...

Regarding people who think they know what you should like: My Judo instructor and his wife now have 5 children. The first 4 were boys. Frequently people would seem to assume Mrs. Judo was disappointed at 4 boys in a row. She would answer that she and her husband did not consider the sex of a child to be fundamentally important. Sometimes she would also mention that they left that up to God, and people would get even more confused.

If you know her better, she will smile and confide that she had six sisters an no brothers, and while she adores her sisters, having a large numbers of boys is in fact a refreshing change.

...When their fifth child was born, and turned out to be a girl, the anesthetist, who knew about the four brothers, all learning Judo, remarked that the new girl would be getting her first date when she was around thirty...

LogEyed Roman

Kiwi Nomad said...

One of my sisters went to live with a family who had five children.(We had been orphaned.)The family subsequently had three more children. They were always such a welcoming family to visit. Sure, there were times when the mother was exhausted, especially when there were little ones. But there was a whole different dynamic in the family. The older children had plenty of playmates within the family, so they could invent the most amazing games, without the need of an adult.

PB said...

Speaking of large families I am inclined to share that of my Great-Grandmother and her nine children. Grandma is the ½ oldest of nine, her and her twin brother were first, then only 12 months later came the second set of twins, immediately following that came the first solo pregnancy, he was born before my grandmother and her twin brother even turned 3! So my great-grandmother had her work cut out for her, 5 kids under the age of 3. With four more kids eventually coming, they were a big happy family. Now at 97 her memory is going and going fast, but as soon as my 2 year old son walks in the room, she lights up and immediately starts playing games with him, clapping her hands and singing songs, probably the same things she did to her own children when they were young. It is nice to see her perk up from time to time.