Subject: Opening Chapter You'll Never See in a Pregnancy/Childbirth Book Newsgroups: talk.origins Date: May 14, 2002 Message-ID: email@example.com
(with apologies to the late Douglas Adams and all at "Hitchhiker's Guide")
Humans are bad at giving birth.
Very, very bad. The only way to truly appreciate how ill-done-by our species has been in this respect is to watch other mammals go at it. Dogs? Except for the breeds that humans have artificially distorted into odd shapes, the puppies practically fall out of the mother's womb. Same thing with cats. Baby chimpanzees are practically pulling themselves out by the mother's leg hair as soon as they get their heads and arms out of the birth canal. Horses? The long legs can be tricky, but again the foal nine times out of ten just slides right out. And let's not get started on the dodge that the marsupial branch of the family has developed. Lazy bastards. They deliver babies the size of jelly beans and let them do the rest of their growing once they're safely on the other side of the mother's pelvic arch.
While in the past it was traditional to blame this glaring design error on God, modern thought is very much in favor of blaming it on the late Charles Darwin. One of the advantages of this change is that Dr. Darwin, being  only human and  stone dead, rarely strikes down critics with bolts of lightning if his feelings are hurt.
Humans, we are told, got into this mess by trying to pull off two complicated body modifications at once: walking upright, and having huge brains. Unfortunately, nobody figured out that these two bright ideas clashed until it was rather too late to do anything about it. Walking, as practiced by humans, requires a pelvis of a certain shape -- the narrower the better, generally. Having large brains, on the other hand, requires large heads -- including large heads for babies. Which then have to be born by passing through an opening in the pelvis -- that narrow pelvis we were just talking about. Oops. (It is apparently too late to apologize to the marsupials and ask to borrow their method, please.)
The "selfish gene" equivalents of hackers have been tinkering with the system ever since, trying to get it to work incrementally better. A certain amount of progress has been made. Human babies today are born at (by general mammalian standards) an extreme level of prematurity, which allows the brain to do quite a lot of its growth spurt after it has safely left the mother. (Maybe we managed to plagiarize the marsupials a bit after all.) The 'soft spot' in a newborn baby's head (actually there are two) allows parts of the baby's skull to literally squeeze in while making the best of its tight exit. And sexual dimorphism -- the wider pelvis in the adult female -- is certainly some help. Nonetheless, the whole process is still very much at the stage where a certain percentage of both mothers and babies would die in labor if the system were left to muddle through on its own.
For that reason, humans never have left it to muddle through on its own. As far back as history records, and no doubt much earlier, humans have applied those dangerously large brains to the problem of dealing with a birth process which is (a) necessary (b) painful (c) deadly dangerous to varying degrees and above all (d) necessary. This basic fact about our anatomy has shaped the culture, beliefs, and medical practices of all human societies including ours.
Louann, whose brain does this sort of thing at 4:30 am but who feels better now.
-- Over the last few weeks, Yahoo! has completely turned its public image around from "respected net resource" to "hateful money-grubbing spam merchants." Funny goal for a company to have.
[Note: The above represents the signature file of the author of this post; it is a statement of individual, personal opinion only and should not be construed as representing the views of the Talk.Origins Archive. Offer void where prohibited, cash value 1/10th cent. --Ed.]
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