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By Kathy Lauer-Williams

RISMEDIA, April 26, 2008-(MCT)-Mornings are always a little crazy for the Fazioli family of Lower Macungie Township, Pa. There are breakfasts to eat, backpacks to pack and three buses to catch for three children who go to three different schools.

“It’s insanity in the morning,” admits Karen Fazioli, mother to Kate, 8, Jake, 5 and John, 4. “It’s hectic, but you learn to go with the flow.”

It’s a snapshot that seems to be becoming more common as more families embrace the idea of having three children.

For many years, the average family had two children, ideally one of each _ a boy and a girl. According to the Center for Disease Control, the average family size has been two children since the 1970s.

But in many areas, like Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, there’s been a subtle change in the past several years. It’s not unusual to see moms leading a string of three, four and even more children.

Is three the new two?

“Three has pretty much become what I’d consider the norm,” Fazioli says. “Most of my girlfriends have three or more.”

There’s no doubt there’s a baby boom in the Lehigh Valley. St. Luke’s Hospital-Fountain Hill and Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest, report record numbers of births in the last year, both up more than 10% from the previous year.

Although some of the increase may be attributed to new families moving into the area, St. Luke’s obstetrician Dr. Ron Kriner says he definitely is seeing larger families.

Kriner, who delivered eight babies on March 30, says two were the fifth and sixth babies in their families.

“By far, we had our busiest year,” says Kriner. “We saw pretty significant increases and a lot of repeat offenders.”

The National Center for Health Statistics reports a 3% increase in births in 2006, the largest number of births in more than 50 years; and for the first time since 1971, the average number of children increased to 2.1-or 2,101 per 1,000 women. This is the first time the fertility rate was above the level at which a generation can replace itself.

According to the statistics, 28% of babies born are the third or higher child in a family.

“For years, two was a great number for everyone-one of each gender,” Kriner says. “The only families you saw having three were those with two of one gender trying to have a third of the opposite gender.”

Kriner believes the national fertility rate is closer to 2.3, because of the two-year lag in reporting statistics.

The face of the Lehigh Valley reflects this. Developments are filled with four-bedroom homes and parking lots host car-seat-filled minivans. Kindergartens are struggling to keep up with burgeoning enrollments and swingsets and trampolines fill the backyards in suburban landscapes.

Only-child Fazioli says she originally planned to have just one.

“I thought I was good after one, but I wasn’t,” she said. “My family just didn’t feel complete.”

Philip Morgan, a professor at Duke University and a population expert, says income and religion are two main factors in families having more children.

“Those families in which religion is very important in life, intend to have more children and do have more children,” he says. “And those couples doing well financially can afford having that third or fourth child.”

He suggests the Lehigh Valley’s baby boom is because families are attracted to the area to raise children and says it may be a result of “homophily” or the tendency of people to be drawn to others like themselves. The Lehigh Valley’s average household income has increased this decade as wealthier families from New Jersey and New York move here.
Morgan says mothers delaying birth until their 30s and 40s tend to have fewer children because of increased difficulties in getting pregnant and that may have contributed to a fertility rate that fell as low as 1.7 in 1980s and 1990s. However, he feels the trend of delaying pregnancy has “run its course.”

Kriner, who has been in practice since 1996, says he’s seen an explosion of babies in the past three years. In his practice, which is so busy it hasn’t accepted new patients for more than a year, he’s seen a 20% increase in new babies over the previous year.
“The pool has stayed the same but deliveries are up,” he says. “It used to be an oddity to see more than four, but now there are plenty with four or five.”

Kriner agrees income is an important factor. “The people who are having four or five aren’t the two-income families just scraping by,” he says.

He adds that the current economy and fears of recession may “send the pendulum swinging in the other direction.”

A study on fertility by the U.S. Census Bureau found that fertility was higher among higher-income women, whether they worked or not, because they could afford child care. According to the bureau, 5.6 million moms stayed at home with their children.

Fazioli says she doubts she would have had three if she couldn’t be a stay-at-home mom. While most of her friends with three or more children don’t work, she says there are some who continued to work and still had three children.

Jessie Lehr of Bethlehem, Pa., isn’t sure she would’ve had three children if she couldn’t stay at home.

“I just didn’t feel done with two,” she says. “I feel out of control with three, but I love it.”
However, Kriner cites an additional factor-the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“After 9/11, I saw a significant change in the mentality toward family planning,” he says. “Everyone was affected. There was a mindset shift and the delay in starting families went by the wayside.”

Julie Gerdeman of Coopersburg, Pa., who had her third child last year, says the attacks changed her focus.

“I saw families being torn apart,” she says. “After Sept. 11, I focused on family. I left New York and got pregnant in November.”

Morgan says the idea that a disaster affects birth patterns isn’t new. He cites a University of Oklahoma study that found birth rates in Oklahoma County increased beginning 10 months after the 1995 terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

As she watches her two older children include their younger brother in a backyard game of soccer, Fazioli says she enjoys the built-in relationships that occur within a larger family.

“I love the sibling interaction,” she says. “We’re not the perfect family, but they help one another and keep each other involved. It’s been good.”

© 2008, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.