26 April 2012


I am studying childbirth. While female apes more or less pop out their offspring, humanity made life difficult by electing to walk erect and altering its skeleton as a result. Pushing a baby through a female human pelvis makes for a tight squeeze, and the baby, propelled by the mother, has to perform complicated acrobatics to make it out. The baby must be oriented properly, with its head lower than its feet and its back pressed against the inside of the mother's belly. Once inside the birth canal, its head is whipped side to side and its head to and fro in a very particular sequence. Once its head emerges, the anterior shoulder comes free, followed by the other shoulder. If all goes well (and it usually does) a baby arrives in the world.

To become more familiar with the steps, I reenacted birth from the standpoint of the fetus, curling up in the fetal position on the floor and contorting my body as I navigated the descent. The sequence is complex and difficult to memorize. It's pretty spectacular.

One of our professors urged us to hold on to our sense of wonderment. He showed us a picture of a fertilized egg.

"Don't be afraid to be amazed by what you study," he told us. "Inside this tiny egg are all of the instructions needed to make a human being--the heart that beats billions of times, the eyes, and feet, everything. It is absolutely miraculous."