Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Some thoughts on aliens and the miracle of life

"Did you hear about Sally? How they stabbed a needle right into her spine? And how she sloughed off that brand new ORGAN the size of your face that she grew from scratch just a couple months ago, after which she bled out like a pint of blood? Not to mention that in the midst of all this her pelvis basically split open so that she could push A WHOLE OTHER HUMAN out of her body?"
"Oh, that's nice. Good for her."
Before my wife's pregnancy, I didn't fully understand what it meant to be pregnant or to deliver a baby. I mean, I knew about the birds and the bees, and I'd seen NOVA's The Miracle of Life in middle school, and I theoretically understood what "high risk" meant, but I didn't really GET IT until my own wife came down with the pregnancy bug. When I heard that someone I kinda knew had had a baby, I was like, "Oh, cool. What's on TV?" It just didn't really register in any dramatic sense. It was like hearing that someone had bought a new car, or gone on a trip to Europe or something.

The thing is, despite being one of the most traumatic and jaw-dropping things that can happen to a person or family, childbirth is astonishingly ubiquitous. Around 130 million babies are born each year. About 350,000 every single day. And while I know that worldwide mortality rates vary, wherever I look, I see mostly normal-looking people who were born, or who gave birth, or even both. I mean, the realities of birth are everywhere.

A part of my under-reacting attitude is a result of that ubiquity; people just adapt to things that are common. They normalize them. They even overlook them. But probably an even bigger part of my nonchalance is surely that I am male. Why worry about it if it's not something that could ever happen to me? Sometimes, you see, I can be an idiot.

It wasn't until I knew my own progeny was on the way that I really internalized why that old (made in 1983, the year I was born!) NOVA special talked about miracles. I mean, growing and then pushing a creature out of your body? That stuff's crazy. It's the stuff of horror movies. There's even a name for it: Body Horror. It's Ridley Scott's Alien, you know?

But at the same time that (for this squeamish dude, anyway) birth can be a surreal, frightening experience, it's also amazing. To counter my Xenomorph nightmares, there's the beautiful, heart-breaking film Children of Men, in which mankind struggles to find a reason to hope, to strive, even to live, once they learn that no more children will ever be born. In a scene that started the waterworks for me, the protagonist carries a crying newborn through a vicious firefight, and as each combatant realizes in shock that Clive Owen is holding a miracle in his arms, their fingers pause on their triggers, their shouts cease, and the infant is borne along in a protected pocket of peace and awe. That's the way I wish I reacted.

I still frequently find myself treating birth trivially, and it shames me. Not just because of the way it ignores what mothers endure to bring forth a new life, but because it's a lost opportunity to visit hope, and peace, and innocence, and awe. Wherever "life" ultimately comes from, how amazing is it that we, imperfect blundering creatures, are entrusted with the power to create more of it!

With Mother's Day around the bend, I just want to say a humble thank you to my mother, my wife, and to all women who bear or nurture these little seeds that bring purity and wonder into the world. The "bearing" part is pretty awesome and mind-boggling, but at least as important is the part involving raising these creatures; of sacrificing what you want for what they need; of protecting them so desperately and then encouraging them to spread their wings. These are things that anybody can do, male or female, but I've learned the most about them from the women in my life. So, thanks.

14 comments:

  1. Love this. I feel the same way about women. And I really dug the Children of Men trope-type phrasing.

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    1. Thanks man. I was really struck by that flick. What's funny is that as tough as that film is, it's still bright and cheery compared to The Road, another literary and film piece that's really substantially impacted me.

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  2. A wonderful take on pregnancy and birthing, Neal.

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    1. I try to bounce wildly between terror and awe.

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  3. We want more prose from you, I do at least, I meant as a group, those of us who read your stuff, that is...
    Well done, you write with intelligence and grace and your self-deprecating style is very truthful and funny.

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    1. Thanks, Bill. Truth is, it gets tough to sit down and write a lot of days. But whenever I can spend a bit and even edit a few times, I'm always glad I did.

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  4. I'm late to the show, catching up after a busy week. This is my favorite of your comics, and an excellent narrative to boot. My wife did a water birth and I was in the room the whole time, even when things were getting tricky with our sunny-side-up little contrarian. The memories still stagger me from time to time.

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    1. Thanks, Brian. My wife was really hoping for a smooth delivery that wouldn't require any interventions, and she was thinking about a water birth or at least using the tub a lot. But she ended up with a lot of tough back labor (without knowing what that was) and regressing, and being threatened with C-section, etc. Anyway, some of the birth was tough, and though I'd hoped to not have to have a lot of pressure on me, I still ended up kneeling by her side and talking her through relaxation techniques because she couldn't concentrate on anyone else (not our midwife, or doula, etc.). Lots of learning experiences for all.

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  5. Amazing. Thank you. I love your blog.

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