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This week I finally got around to reading Abigail Pogrebin’s “One and the Same: My Life as an Identical Twin and What I’ve Learned About Everyone’s Struggle to Be Singular” after having first read about it in an article about a year ago. I devoured it in two days, fascinated at the insights she offered through her own experience, her interviews with other identical twins and her research and talks with experts.

I’m not here to offer a book review or summary. Rather, Pogrebin’s book got me thinking on a tangential topic, that of the number of children in a family and how that affects the children.

I’m an only child. Many people who also know that I was born in China assume that this is because of China’s one-child policy, which has been in effect since 1978 (applied first in 1979), just two years after my eldest cousin was born, and is still in effect today, although its strict implementation has been relaxed somewhat.

And yes, in some manners, the one-child policy was part of the reason why I am an only child. But see, technically, all of my cousins on my father’s side of the family, and myself, could have had a sibling. The oldest two, born in 1976 and 1978, could have had siblings simply because they were born before China’s family planning policy went into effect. However, no matter what year any of us were born, all of our families could have had another child because we are technically minorities.

You see, in China, everyone has to have a “hukou,” or household registration book. It lists things like your birth date, your parents, your spouse if you have one,  your birth place, the hometown of your paternal ancestors, etc. The key fact listed is where you have your “hukou,” or, where you are a resident of. That helps determine where you are allowed live, work, etc. Of course, rules have been relaxed now that domestic migration is more common in China, albeit not anywhere to the extent that it occurs here in the States. Another thing on your “hukou” is your nationality, or ethnic group. [China has 56 nationalities, with a 90%+ majority being Han.]

You’re only allowed to list one nationality on your “hukou.” Mine is Han because I am 75% Han. My father, who is 50% Han and 50% Manchu, therefore had the choice to be either, or rather, his parents did. He was listed as Han as my grandfather is Han, but that can also be changed. And under the one-child policy, any couple that consists of at least one person who is an ethnic minority may have more than one child, the exact number depending on your location. As urbanites in Beijing, my family would’ve been able to have two kids – all that had to happen was my dad had to change his nationality to Manchu. The same applied to all my father’s siblings.

But that didn’t happen. I can’t tell you why my parents decided not to do so. I have asked them before – they don’t know either. Nor do I know why they ultimately decided against having another child once we moved to the U.S. I know dealing with immigration, a new culture, and other related issues had an effect, but who knows. Sometimes I love being an only child, other times I hate it. After all, when you’re the only one, you get all the love AND all the burden of expectations. And sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have a sibling or a twin.

This old photo, a result of double exposure, is the closest I'll ever get to having a twin. On another note, this picture makes me look incredibly dark, even though I was an extremely fair child.

Pogrebin’s book got me thinking about not only twins, but also higher-number multiples: the triplets, quadruplets, etc. that are ever-increasing in occurrence due to IVF (in vitro fertilization), as well as incredibly large families. And then a flash thought came to me that almost scared me — that perhaps China’s family planning policy wasn’t too far off, just simply a bit extreme.

I say it scared me because the one-child policy has been the blame of so many things – only children who will never have siblings to depend on, female infanticides, forced abortions, the little emperor syndrome (I’d like to note that my closest age cohorts did not get to enjoy any of those advantages), and such.

Yet if you think about it, the policy makes sense. Look at some celebrity mega-families. Jon & Kate Plus Eight no longer include Jon, and the children often seem unhappy to be on camera. The Duggars now have 19 children – 19! Their youngest child Josie was born with the complications of being three months premature (it is highly probable that it was due to the mother being 43 at the time), yet they still want more. For everyone else, just how many single moms are out there with four or five children they really can’t afford to raise and end up mooching off welfare (not to say that they all do this)? Famous example here is Octomom Nadya Suleman, who couldn’t even afford to raise her first six children but had another eight anyway. Now as she’s on welfare, guess who’s paying for her and her 14 children? Oh, right, you and I.

I don’t advocate family planning in terms of China’s one-child policy — it definitely isn’t anywhere near perfect, although in China’s overpopulation situation that might have been a rational decision, but I do believe that children are not simply shiny new toys you play with for a while and then discard. It doesn’t have to be a number limit, but there should be action toward creating families where children are loved without distraction. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be a law; where are the PSAs on this?

Having lots of children used to be necessary due to high infant mortality rates, but with today’s medical advances, it’s no longer necessary for a family to have 19 children just to have four or five survive to adulthood. Instead, the maximum should be the number of children you can afford to raise, both in terms of money and time. And if the kids are starting to have health issues because either parent is getting too old or otherwise, then stop having more! Contraceptives should be made more widely available to prevent unwanted and excessive pregnancies and fertility doctors should stop worrying about success rates and start limiting the number of embryos they put back, enforced either by their conscience or the law, not their wallets.

Children are the future. Plan to provide them a wonderful life instead of saddling both them and society with all the burdens of your irresponsibility.

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