"How many children should I have?"
That was the off-topic conversation that intruded into an otherwise formal meeting during one of the downtimes away from the agenda. It's a question that any young person with an eye to the future would ask; what piqued our interest was that the asker was a Filipina scientist holding a chair in one of the most prestigious institutions in Europe. Comforting to know that the answers to some age-old common conundrums still escape the orbit of even the finest minds in the world.
For me, the answer has varied over time. When I was much younger, our grade school education during the Marcos years extolled the virtues of smaller families, so the figure was two. And at some point, it became three, and in joking moments, I said eleven so I could have my own football team. I keed, I keed.
But the answer I've settled on, the one I'm sure is closest to the truth, is this: start with one.
Start with one, because children aren't puppies that you can choose from a pet store display. Children are formed from an act of love, nurtured for the better part of a year in the mother's womb, before they come out screaming and gasping in what I have read is the most physically painful human experience. And after that, of course, comes the hard part of raising them.
It's sheer presumption to think that we can have this child, and then that: that the first one will be a boy, and the next one a girl (and perhaps another boy, for good measure.) To be sure, the medical procedures exist, but those are examples that show that just because they can be done don't necessarily mean that they should be done. The most that any reasonable couple should really hope for is that the child comes out healthy, and will lead a good life; and however they turn out, that they will be loved anyway.
Start with one, or better yet, hope for one, because there's no guarantee that says you'll be blessed with one. Unfair, yes, that but sometimes the universe just works out that way.