It seemed to be an evening devoted to babies. Well, not entirely, but they kept popping up on the radar– or rather the television screen. There was a rerun of a once popular detective program, with the classy, lollypop-addicted detective Kojak, played by Telly Savalas. It wasn’t about babies, but if you remember, he often used the expression, “Hey, baby!” The baby theme continued with a baby lotion commercial wherein we were treated to watching a mother lovingly smooth lotion over the plump tummy of a gurgling baby.
Then came a really strange insurance commercial that started out with some guy hosing down a giant baby sitting in his driveway. Or did it start with the shot of the guy running to grab a run-away grocery cart that was about to crash into the baby? Never mind, we got the message that a man’s car is his baby. Now writer Barry Lopez claimed that a man’s car was his horse, but maybe there’s not that much difference when it comes to the way men think about things with internal combustion engines and wheels.
Then came the local news with a report that public health officials were trying to figure out why babies born in a certain relatively small area of the nation had an unusually high percentage of low birth weights. These were not premature babies. They were full term but still too small to be considered a healthy weight by today’s standards. I didn’t catch all the details, but I assume these babies, being full term, had organs that were just as fully developed as full term babies of average birth weight, and that the only reason for concern was their small size. Now, I’m all for smaller birth weight if there’s no problem connected to it. My first baby weighed in at a healthy seven and a half pounds; the next one added a bit over a pound to that. By the third, another pound and a half convinced me that smaller was better. Now, I was glad to have such strong, healthy babies to take home with me. Tiny little preemies really scared me, and I must admit that, when the nurse came to inform me that my baby had rolled over all by himself on his second day, I was just a little bit proud of myself for having manufactured such a fine, robust specimen. A few years later, I was starting to dread baby number four. How big was too big? I needn’t have worried. She turned out to be a compact seven pounds even. Because of back problems, I’d really worked to keep my weight down during that pregnancy, and I suppose that may have been at least partly responsible for her smaller size, but she was shorter than the boys and, I thought, daintier, as girls should be.
It seems to me that evolution has made a lot of improvements in the human race since the first experimental models came on the scene. When a glitch in the design causes a problem, those with the worst weaknesses don’t survive for long and the stronger ones thrive and reproduce– passing along their superior genes to the following generations. That’s called the survival of the fittest. Whether or not you believe it is part of a plan or just a coincidence doesn’t really matter; that’s just the way it happens. So, what if Mother Nature or whoever is in charge has decided that we are better able to care for our young than previous generations were, and have given us the gift of smaller birth weight as a sort of reward for being good at caring for newborns? And believe me– anyone who’s given birth would agree that a smaller, healthy baby is a gift.
I don’t expect to see a dramatic reduction in the size of babies during my lifetime. So far as I know, the trend is being studied in just one small area of this planet, but then, evolution doesn’t happen in a day. To get a handle on how long these things take, we can consider James C. Rettie’s fable of the 750-million-year movie made by the inhabitants of a mythical neighboring planet. The film covers most of the history of our earth using a time-lapse camera that took just one frame per year. The finished film takes one whole year to view from start to finish. If you had watched the film beginning at midnight at the beginning of the year, it wouldn’t be until about noon on Dec. 31, that you would see the first man-like creature. What we consider the dawn of civilization (featuring the Egyptians, Greeks and Babylonians) comes about five or six minutes before the end of the movie, and the Declaration of Independence was signed just seven seconds before the end.
The next thing we need to consider is that, just because the movie ends, the process of change won’t come to a halt. Things will keep right on changing, adapting to changes in the planet, including changes in the atmosphere, mountains and seas, all life forms, both plants and animals. All species will adjust to these changes or become extinct. Things are bound to change. I hope smaller babies is one of the first successful changes humans make. It’s about time.