In this paper, I argue that living with no or few children and low fertility was widespread in pre-industrial societies. After a critical discussion of demographic transition theory and the concept of “natural fertility”, I investigate fertility in early modern Europe. In doing so, I follow the suggestion of “cultural demography” and combine quantitative and qualitative research. I show a great extent and many variations of deliberate birth control before the “fertility decline” took place. This finding should help to see the actual level of fertility as less exceptional and dramatic than it is often claimed.