The Miracle of Birth? Not Really

This is one of life’s great misplaced expressions. There is nothing at all miraculous about giving birth. Just about any woman can do it, and it’s happening every second of every day. Birth is a natural function of the body, and is thus really no more miraculous than the organismal feats of turning food into energy, or using oxygen as a catalyst for life. Yet no one speaks of “the miracle of breathing,” as mystifying as that process actually is, because it is completely commonplace and explicable by science — just like birth. Sorry to be harsh, but there ain’t nothing special about getting knocked up. In most cases, it’s easier than getting a driver’s license.

The miracle, if you ask me, comes afterwards. The miracle isn’t in the act of birth, but in the commitment of parenting — the heroic promise you’ve made to ride this thing out until either you or your kid is dead, no matter what. Parenting goes against every one of our naturally selfish instincts to maximize pleasure and minimize stress. It defies lots of science’s rules, but we do it anyway. In spite of all the unpredictable, unfixable, unthinkable things that happen in this world, parents forge ahead and sacrifice over and over, driven by a genuine desire to make today better than yesterday for this very needy, demanding little person that costs a fortune. That’s way more incredible, right?

Not only that, but somehow, after the doctors just let you walk out of the hospital with your infant, most of us find a way to make it work. That’s a miracle too. The average person can’t assemble an Ikea coffee table without instructions, but we instinctively know how to raise a baby into adulthood without totally screwing up our lives or theirs. Parenting not only comes naturally, but most of us actually desire this tremendous undertaking. That’s the kind of strange divine gift that science can’t explain, and a miracle we should celebrate more often.

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© 2012, Ian Mathias