Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Larger Families Kill You Quicker

Just before my lovely wife and I became parents, everyone kept saying the same cliché regarding our impending parenthood: "Your life is going to change!" This statement would be said with a wink of the eye and a tone suggesting they were being witty and wise, and I heard it as much as two or three times a week in the months leading up to our son's birth. Each time I heard it I wanted to raise my hand and utter, "Duh! Of course my life will change. Don't you think I realize this?", but I would instead give a tight smile and nod as if they'd just enlightened me. I still hate that saying.

But now I think they just didn't say what they meant. I think what they REALLY meant to say was, "You think your life is hard now? Just wait! In a few months you'll be begging for sleep and thinking that squishy baby will be the death of you!" And that's exactly what happened. I underestimated the physiologic toll that caring for a baby can exact. Within a week we were walking zombies and looked like we had ridden a carnival ride a few too many hundreds of times. Thank goodness my wife and I had each other to help.

And then came our second baby, our daughter, a mere 11 months after our son was born. Surprise! As much as I loved them both, some days I wondered how I could possibly continue functioning on as little as three hours of interrupted sleep a night and overwhelmed with responsibilities and chores (diapers, bottles, spit-up) on top of a full-time job and the usual life hurtles. "They'll be the death of me!" I would mutter.

Well, a study released this month suggests I wasn't far from the truth:

Summary: http://www.unews.utah.edu/p/?r=122806-2

Full Paper: http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/0609301103v1

This study, conducted using the birth and death records of tens of thousands of Utah parents and hundreds of thousands of their children in the late 1800's, showed a significantly higher mortality rate of parents, especially mothers, with increasing numbers of children. In other words, the more kids you have, the faster you die! Boy, do I believe it. I guess everyone has their comfort limits. Maybe you would be happy with a gaggle of kids, but two is enough for me. Any more and I'm likely to keel over from fatigue (last night, for instance, my little daughter spent at least an hour screaming and crying around 2AM). The study showed children were also more likely to die with increasing numbers of siblings, especially the later kids. Surprisingly, economic status was not a factor.

The study went on to suggest that menopause may be nature's way of saying, "Whoa there, Bertha! That's enough kids. You're a human, not a rabbit." By developing menopause, the authors suggest, women are more likely to raise their offspring to adulthood.

According to the authors: "Researchers note that natural selection does not necessarily favor maximal reproduction because reproduction 'imposes fitness costs, reducing parental survival and offspring quality.'" One important critique of mine, though: These data were collected from people who lived more than a hundred years ago. How relevant is this study to modern living?

But when do you stop having children? Like I said, we all have our comfort limits, but I think most of us would agree that having more than, say, 6 children, is considered extreme these days. So I've made a top-ten list to help you know if you need to stop reproducing, in the name of extending your life:

YOU KNOW YOU'VE HAD TOO MANY CHILDREN WHEN:

10. Family road trips require a bus

9. Your family formed its own baseball team

8. You have children younger than your oldest grandchild

7. You no longer notice when babies cry

6. Your house is often mistaken for a dormitory

5. Airlines offer your family special charter flights

4. Your breasts are as perky as pancakes

3. Root canals are a chance to "relax"

2. Your family eats in shifts

and

1. Your uterus doubles as a laundry basket

3 comments:

Maggie said...

You practically have twins too!

Some days it does feel like they'll be the death of us.

Did you see that program on TV about the couple who had 16 children? Crazy people.

Angry Lab Rat said...

I know a couple who have 31 children (2 by birth, the rest by adoption - not fostering)! Eek! Most are grown and moved out, but quite a few are young or even babies living at home.

Maggie said...

Now see, that one I have more empathy for. They are caring for the kids already brought into this world. Its the people willing to overpopulate and require government aid to raise their own that get me a little. Now I'm not saying people aren't free to do what they want, I just want them to be responsible for the choices they make with their freedom.