What's a normal litter for human beings?

Without restraint, dogs will have dozens of kids and cats will have a couple hundred. But what, without restraint, is normal for our kind?

More than you might imagine.

I have been reading a biography on Harry Truman, which details several Missouri families in the middle of the last century. That was a time when about the only birth control was prudishness and headaches. And if you had been one of the women of that era, you would have developed a lot of both as a matter of self defense because those families had an unbelievable number of children.

Twelve to 18 seemed to be normal in that part of Missouri. And that was just the mothers. If your first wife died not an unlikely possibility, given that kind of production and you remarried, 25 children were not unusual for a man.

But the lack of birth control wasn't the whole reason. And it wasn't the lack of radio and television and other competing forms of entertainment. In addition to the absence of today's restraints on having kids, there was economic and social pressure to produce as many children as you could.

If you were a farmer and in that time most people were children were a financial asset, every bit as much as a mule or a cow. And most kids were more fun to talk to than a mule or a cow.

Kids were the farmhands of that era and the more of them you had, the more land you could work. Under the best of circumstances, a kid could produce more than he ate, an astonishing accomplishment given the appetites of kids.

What a far cry that is from the two-legged pizza disposals of today. Today, there are few kids who bring in more money than they eat. And I don't say that as an insult. Indeed, almost any kid in a family today knows he is there because his parents are fond of kids and not because they needed another horse.

In that earlier time, most people were at least as fond of their children as people are today, but the truth is people had kids whether they liked kids or not. You couldn't farm without them.

Consequently, many families of that era gave into the their glands and produced whatever Nature allowed.

Nature allowed a lot. We know from those times that it is biologically normal for our kind to produce something more than a dozen children. Compared with cats, that's pathetic. But compared with the number of kids we have today, that's terrifying.

However, it is not necessarily natural for our kind to have more than a dozen children on the premises at any given time. The hard truth is that people once bravely produced children in large numbers, knowing that they wouldn't all live. The routine death of children was once a cruel constant in human lives.

In Nature, two of the principal means of preserving a species are durability and numbers. For instance, if you plant 100 oak trees and 100 birch trees, 10 years from now you will probably still have only about 95 birch trees. You certainly won't have them all.

But you will probably have, given normal care, somewhere between 99 and 100 oak trees.

That's why birch trees grow in dense groves. That's how their kind survives. They outnumber death.

Oak trees are loners, preserving their species through individual strength.

Humans are birches. But we are birches who learned to treat our own ailments. We now have medically trained birches among us who know how to kill the bugs who bore into our bark. They repair our limbs, help us retain our leaves and cure us of crotch rot.

So today, our survival rate approaches that of oaks.

Consequently, we have started reducing our rate of reproduction. Our groves are smaller and less dense. And we have more loners among us.

We have become oaks and we must find the individual strength to manage. That isn't easy.

On the other hand, we should count our blessings that we don't have to provide pizza for 15 kids. You'd have to work like a son of a birch to do that.