Just Thinking: Discussion of births is, well, pretty natural

Margo Bartlett
Guest columnist

I came across two different stories recently.

One was about a panda who gave birth in April at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and the other was an essay about reproduction in which the writer described her own childbirth experience – her daughter’s collarbone was broken in the birth canal when three people had to “pry her out” – and said humans have more trouble giving birth than other mammals because we have big brains and narrow pelvises.

Margo Bartlett

The pelvises help us to stand upright, and the big brains help us to invent stuff like epidurals. Supposedly, it all evens out.

I’m going to talk about my personal childbirth experiences now. Of course I am.

Put a group of women together – say, in a workplace when a colleague on maternity leave visits with her newborn. The women will put aside their spreadsheets, scalpels or jackhammers and gather around to admire the baby and share their own birth stories as if they were competing for prizes.

My first daughter was small. A grocery clerk was amazed a week after she was born when I showed up with a baby to buy apples and yogurt.

The clerk, who only recently had realized I was pregnant, looked at me suspiciously, as if I’d won a baby from a 25-cent claw machine. I’d already run into a small boy on the sidewalk, who looked at my tiny daughter, asleep in a front-carry pack, and asked, “Are its eyes open yet?”

I’ll resist the urge to discuss my first obstetrician, who was known to scold patients who gained more weight than he thought necessary. Instead, I’ll say my second daughter was a different story. She weighed only 7 pounds, 6 ounces, but compared to her sister’s 5 pounds, 13 ounces, the difference was, shall we say, noticeable.

This brings us back to the panda, a 200-pound animal whose babies, according to the National Zoo, are the size of a stick of butter.

“A giant panda cub is helpless, and it takes considerable effort on the mother's part to raise it,” the zoo’s website said.

My response was that raising it would not be a panda mother’s first problem. Finding it would be the problem.

Giant pandas are by definition large, after all. Keeping track of a baby the size of a quarter pound of Land O’ Lakes no doubt involves a lot of feeling around and patting places – tummy, thighs, various folds – where a tiny baby might get lost.

Now, I ask: Does this seem fair? And are you as surprised as I am that adult pandas weigh only 200 pounds? They must be like angora rabbits, more fluff than mass. Still, you’d think panda babies would weigh a pound or two, at least.

Or, to put it another way, you’d think human babies might weigh a healthy 16 ounces at birth and add weight once they’re on this side of the womb. I suppose it all comes back to our big brains again. My daughter spent 2 1/2 days in labor to birth a son who could beat me at checkers when he was 5.

All right, so never mind the birth process. But wouldn’t it be nice if toddlers instinctively started using the potty at 18 months, the way cats use a litter box? One day you’d change your child’s diapers as usual, and the next he’d start taking himself to the bathroom with fastidious regularity.

“Good news! Today was Gregor’s Potty Day,” you’d tell the grandparents. And for the rest of Gregor’s life, he’d get gifts and money on that date, similar to birthdays. Potty Day would be at least as worthy of celebration as National Moldy Cheese Day, which was Oct. 9.

Here’s another idea: Hair that can’t snarl. Human follicles might have a natural conditioning agent that’s activated when water is applied. Shampoo with any old soap – laundry flakes, if that’s what’s around – and when you step out of the shower, your hair is organically docile and manageable.

Think of the money we’d save on products, to say nothing of the time we wouldn’t spend trying to comb through the matted locks of weeping, struggling 4-year-olds.

But I’m a realist. I know if we did have a potty gene and automatically pliant hair, I’d be complaining about something else.

"How come we can’t turn our heads 360 degrees, like owls?" I’d be saying.

So never mind me.

Write to columnist Margo Bartlett at margo.bartlett@gmail.com.