Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Having a baby changes everything: An evolutionary tale

By Karrie McAllister

I’ve always thought that it takes “guts” to have a baby. Not only do you put your body through the wringer with the expanding belly and delivery, but once the baby is born your life changes dramatically. Sleepless nights, constant feedings, childhood illnesses, and watching multiple episodes of Dora the Explorer to name just a few.
I won’t lie, it’s tough. Any mother can attest to that. And any mother would agree that it takes a certain amount of strength and fearlessness to raise a family—you might even say it takes a good, strong backbone.
Or a really curvy one.
In a recent article published by LiveScience.com, they have reported that over time, women’s spines have evolved to keep from breaking. All in the name of beautiful little babies.
For me, at least, it’s long been a mystery how pregnant women don’t topple over and face-plant when their bellies get to be a certain size. In the world of physics it just doesn’t make sense that nearing our ninth month our noses shouldn’t be bruised from ramming into the ground. But according to this article, three vertebrae in women’s lower spines have a special curvature that allows for excessive weight gain (gee, thanks) and the off-set of balance caused by the bulging belly.
Evolutionarily speaking, the scientists also noted this trait in two-legged, but not four-legged human ancestors, providing another clue in their evolutionary tale.
But as far as evolution goes, I’ve got my own trait that needs fixing.
Perhaps women thousands of years ago were quite happy to not fall over on their two legs, but women of today need more. We need more because we do more and we have more responsibilities. Thousands of years ago, they didn’t have to answer phones and push shopping carts and shop at the same time. They didn’t have to nurse a baby and try to change the television channel while another child tugged at their sleeve to open a pack of crackers.
Mothers of today have a lot of weight to bear compared to mothers of yesteryear. Sure we don’t have to scrub our laundry in a stream out back or haul in water from a well half a mile away, but we do have to juggle piano lessons and story hour and cleaning a big house and making our yard not look like a vacant lot. Really, I don’t think that even Ma on The Little House on the Prairie could successfully coordinate a diaper bag to accommodate snacks for a wait outside dance class and an en route dinner before a school function. And she may have had to churn butter and ring a dinner bell, but it’s nearly impossible to feed a baby and type at the same time. In fact, I’m typing this with one hand and it’s taken me three hours so far…
So the next evolutionary trait that I am proposing is a third arm. Yes it might look a little strange at first, but really, think how wonderful it would be! We could do things like hold the hands of three children while crossing the street. We could stir a pot of chili for ourselves and microwave leftover noodles for our kids at the same time, all the while bouncing a fussy baby on our hip.
Of course we’d have to get an entirely new wardrobe to have room for that third arm, but then again, what woman isn’t going to agree to a mandatory shopping trip?
All in all, I think it’s a wonderful, and “r-evolutionary” idea.

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