As an only child, I’ve noticed that the decision to stop at one child is out of vogue these days. From popular reality shows like “Jon and Kate Plus 8” and “18 Kids and Counting” to the frenzied media coverage of Nadya Suleman, the single mother of 14 children, America has seemingly become obsessed with extra-large families. As a society, we are fascinated by families of 10, 15 or even 20, eager to know how many loads of laundry they do per day and how much their grocery bills add up to. Curious and intrigued, we tend to avoid the most obvious question of them all – when does an extra-large family become too large? How many kids are too many?

Despite census warnings of the “incredible shrinking U.S. family,” instances of high-order multiple births have increased by 400 percent over the past 25 years, due largely to the development of various treatments for infertility. Because of religious beliefs, many parents are unwilling to pursue selective reduction (the termination of a certain number of fetuses during a multifetal pregnancy), as was the case with Suleman, the California single mother who, after already having six children, became the second woman ever to give birth to surviving octuplets in January. The birth accompanied a rekindling of the ethical debate surrounding IVF and its weak regulation, prompting some bioethicists, such as the University of Pennsylvania’s Arthur Caplan, to argue, “Anyone who transfers eight embryos should be arrested for malpractice.”

Ethical issues aside, how practical is it for a family – much less a single mother – to have so many children? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a middle-class family in the United States can expect to spend approximately $10,000 annually on expenses for a child from birth until the age of 18. Multiply that and the costs quickly become staggering.

Suleman, however, has sought to make a fortune with her 15 minutes of fame. She asked for $2 million for her first television interview and has moved out of her parents’ three-bedroom house to a new home in Orange County, Calif. The octuplets will receive around-the-clock care from Angels in Waiting, a nonprofit specializing in neonatal intensive care nurses. The cost, estimated at $135,000 a month, will be subsumed by the organization. Seems like a good deal, doesn’t it?

Similarly, Jon and Kate Gosselin of The Learning Channel’s program “Jon and Kate Plus Eight” have spoken openly about the all-expenses-paid vacations they have received, to Disneyland and Hawaii, in exchange for publicity. Kate even received a free tummy tuck. If only my parents and I had been privy to some of those perks! It seems like an unfair and selfish trade-off: Have a lot of babies, get a lot of free stuff.

Of course, not all pregnancies caused by fertility treatments result in multiple births, and sometimes extra-large families result from natural means. Michelle Duggar, whose family is chronicled on TLC’s “18 Kids and Counting,” has given birth to 18 children in the past 21 years. Devoutly Christian, thrifty and organized, Michelle and her husband Jim Bob home-school all of their children and espouse debt-free living. I’m sure that the Duggars, as well as other parents of similarly large broods, are good parents – but are they really able to provide each child with the amount of individual attention they need to thrive? The Duggars enact a “buddy system,” in which an older child takes care of a younger child. This might make logistical sense, but children should not have to parent children.

ichelle and Jim Bob stopped using contraceptives following a miscarriage. Although they did not anticipate having such a large family, they claim that the Bible is a manual for life, and because the Bible calls children a blessing from God, they accept each blessing in turn. I’m certainly no authority on this matter, but in a world that is increasingly overpopulated (more than 100,000 children are awaiting adoption in the United States alone) I find it decidedly un-Christian to bring so many children into the world. Having too many children seems reckless, selfish and detrimental to society.

I’m not crazy enough to believe in the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, and I would never suggest instituting a system like China’s one-child policy in America. While I do think that it is possible to have too many children, I recognize that there’s little we can do to prevent such irresponsible breeding. To me, it just seems like common sense. When you have more children than are allowed at an accredited daycare center, it’s time to stop.

Ena Dekanic is a sophomore in the College. She can be reached at dekanicthehoya.com. Crying Over Spilled Milk appears every other Tuesday.

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