I am truly stunned that humanity has persisted for this long.
Six weeks ago, I gave birth to a lovely and very healthy baby girl. The birth was fairly uneventful and while not easy, I can’t really complain. But that’s only because of the wonders of modern medicine and pain relief. How someone could birth a child without those things just blows my mind. Obviously it happens all the time but just thinking about it makes me want to dedicate my life to raising funds for healthcare centres in the Third World.
But birthing a child is sunshine and ice cream compared to raising one. While I never thought being a parent was easy, I did think that it was at least somewhat intuitive. After all, lots of people who on paper shouldn’t be parents do have kids and many of those kids are healthy and at least somewhat adjusted. And then there’s the fact that modern humans have been around for about 200,000 years, most of those spent without books on child rearing or Sophie the giraffe.
But apart from some really basic things (feed the baby, change the baby, don’t sit on it) parenthood isn’t intuitive at all. I realize that historically new mothers turned to their mothers/mothers-in-law/other female family members for guidance and support but based on the contradictory and sometimes inaccurate advice I’ve come across, I’m truly amazed that pre-21 century infant mortality rates weren’t around 50 per cent.
According to Google, in “early modern England” (1500-1800), infant mortality was approximately 140 out of every 1000 live births. I find this shockingly low considering that in addition to all the dangers we still face (accidents, various genetic problems, SIDS), there was the plague, no antibiotics and practices that we now know are huge no-nos (like feeding a baby honey).
While keeping a new baby alive and healthy is of course goal number one, as a modern, progressive mom, I have many, many other goals, like raising a child that has superior intellectual and emotional intelligent. Achieving those goals without the help of peer-reviewed studies and technology seems extremely daunting. But obviously parents past made due without those things since here we all are, with mini-computers in our pockets and crime rates dropping.
But as much as being a parent and not having Google would well, suck, it would be worse not to have such modern luxuries as in-home washer and dryers, dishwashers, paper towels, you get the idea. The life expectancy for British women from 1500-1800 was 33-40. I’m shocked it’s this high considering how exhausting and difficult it must have been to be a mother during that time period. Again, I know that moms back then often had more people supporting them than moms today but all the helpful family members in the world can’t replace a well-stocked Shoppers Drug Mart and reliable access to hot, clean water. Becoming a new mom has taught me a lot, including a new level of respect for my female ancestors.
And that respects only grows when I think that they looked after an infant without ample swaddling clothes, disposable diapers or a Baby Bjorn. People say you don’t need a lot of stuff to raise a baby and clearly, you don’t but I wouldn’t want to do it that way. No way in hell.
With each passing week, life with my Baby is getting easier but they are not easy. Or logical or natural or any other positive adjective that explains how people have survived this long. I’m now thoroughly convinced that the only reason why humanity is still around is because it’s only recently that women have been able to control their own lives, including their reproductive choices (and that’s hardly universal).
I love my daughter and I’m happy I have her but being a parent prior to oh, maybe the ’80s, seems terrifying. I’m now extra happy that I live in 2015.