How Has Humanity Survived This Long?

OK, so baby ear protection is a bit of overkill but still, it takes a lot of resources to raise a healthy, happy person
OK, so baby ear protection is a bit of overkill but still, it takes a lot of resources to raise a healthy, happy person

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.




2 thoughts on “How Has Humanity Survived This Long?

  1. dan kershaw

    hey lindsay! exciting to learn of your mom-hood, and loved this post. what you said about pain medicine reminds of pretty much the exact same conversation cath & i had after polly was born, to wit (and i’m paraphasing cath here): “wait, human beings (in particular, those with two x chromosomes) have had all this evolutionary time to work the kinks out* – why is a relatively problem-free birth so friggin painful that, in spite of what you know, you’re screaming “C-section! now!” within a couple of hours of going into labour?!” we went to the pre-natal classes and learned a bunch of pain management techniques (for the dude: stand face-to-face with your partner, make deep eye contact, breath with her, hands on shoulders etc) & when i tried any of those things cath was like “get the hell out of my face!”. Oh, & then problems latching, paranoia the baby wasn’t getting nourishment (old school pedriatician, with some impatience: “look – pull you’s baby’s lip down – see that saliva? she’s fine”), mastitis, etc. So….happy camping! . Joking aside, looking back on it, one can’t help but worry’s about stuff that it turns out you don’t need to worry about, and the more relaxed we became, Polly (daughter) relaxed too, and then it was just a mix of boring and wonder. the best part (for me) was the world becoming new again, because i was seeing it thru the lens of my little girl. (SO glad we had a daughter).

    *i can’t remember if this came from a reputable source, but i recall reading something about human cranial development outpacing other evolutionary changes, and, as a consequence, relatively more painful childbirths for humans.

  2. Hi Dan, good to hear from you! Glad to hear that you and your wife had the same thoughts (and yes, I’ve also read the theory about how babies now have bigger skulls leading to more issues with deliveries). Hope all is well with you and your family.

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