Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Two by two


When Noah's ark departed, there were two examples of each living creature, according to biblical legend. As a child I wondered how Noah could have found all the pairs possible in the world, but I loved the story nonetheless. We still live in a world which honors two by two; unmarried singles may either accept their condition or search for just that right partner to accompany them in the Noah's ark of our lives. One thing for sure is that we are all afloat.

Because of the recent brouhaha over the birth of octuplets to an unmarried woman who already had six children, I have been thinking about some of the precepts I grew up with and fervently followed regarding the "overpopulation" of our planet, certainly since the time of Noah and the biblical admonition to go forth and multiply. I have been surprised recently by the mention of a "new" scientific dictum that says we should only replicate ourselves to create zero population growth.

Heck, that was really a big issue in the '60s. My generation was urged to have no more than two children apiece. We read a great deal about "zero population" and fervently believed that it was our responsibility to limit the number of our offspring so that we would not leave them a world crowded by people the earth could no longer sustain. My cousin, who was on the Los Angeles School District board, had five children and was roundly criticized in the media for his "selfish" ways. It didn't matter that he produced intelligent, productive and positive members of society; the attitude was that he had violated a fundamental rule of coexistence with the greater world. If others acted as he did, their offspring would produce, exponentially, way more people than we would have space to accommodate.

The '60s and '70s, of course, were times of great change. The pill was, I think, one of the most profound, revolutionizing means of contraception. Somehow this new freedom combined with an incumbent responsibility many of us developed: to not have children who might face an overpopulated earth. We called this idea of zero population growth "only two from two." So the other day when I heard about this "new idea" I ruefully remembered that my then-husband, the father of my only two children, and I seriously discussed the choice to have a small family.


Because I was adopted, I thought that maybe we could produce two babies ourselves, but open our homes to others without parents. That way we could have the big family I had always envisioned. Indeed, after our first daughter was born, we began the long process of searching for a child through adoption. The Friday before our scheduled "home visit," our residence of only three weeks was burned down in a massive Malibu brush fire. On Monday I called the adoption worker and told her there was no house to visit, and that our plans would have to be put on hold until we figured out financial and emotional issues. We didn't even have anything for our current baby. As life would have it, I returned to teaching, we said goodbye to all the possessions we had ever known and I became pregnant with our second child just a few months later. We never got around to adopting a child. I have often wondered, during one of my poignant recollections, what would have happened if the house hadn't burned down. The adoption worker told us that a boy was about to be born who would probably be ours. If he had been in our lives, would I still have become pregnant with my daughter, who is getting married this Saturday and starting her own family journey? It is one of those questions about fate that one finally has to stop pondering. Que será, será.

Statisticians have estimated that even if the current birth rate of 1.18 in the U.S. remains stable, the country's population will mulitiply about 6.3 times in the next century and grow from 310 million people to about 2 billion. If, say, we followed a policy of seven children per family, the population would multiply by about 19,600 times. We would have a little more than 6 trillion people in the U.S. alone.

As the technology of reproduction becomes even more sophisticated and the idea of zero population growth becomes even more urgent, the prospect of adding to one's family by adoption is even more compelling.

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