Family Matters

Family Matters

Defying Nature’s Odds: Life is the grand exception

By David Seaburn

September/October 2014

Although it’s been 30 years, I can still hear my wife calling to me from the upstairs bathroom, her voice sounding frightened, yet struggling to remain calm. I ran up the stairs, telling our daughter, Rachel, 7 at the time, not to follow. My wife and I stood together, numbly staring into the toilet bowl, the water a brownish crimson. How could this be happening? Everything had been fine. No hint of any problem. And now, after nine weeks, this. When I returned to our daughter, I explained that “Mommy has a stomachache and is lying down.”

Fearing the worst, I leafed through one of our many pregnancy books, finding the chapter that, prior to this, I’d felt no need to read. With an almost breezy air, it said, “Miscarriage is very common. At least 1 pregnancy in 10 winds up in spontaneous abortion. If this proportion seems high to you, remember that nature is extravagant. She always starts out with more individuals, whether of flesh, fish, or flowers, than can have any real expectation of survival to maturity.”

I’d never thought about nature’s extravagance, its fecundity, its limitless fertility. Not just an egg at a time, but explosions of life, so remarkable that they can take one’s breath away. In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard writes that the ordinary rock barnacle covering a half mile of rocky shoreline can release “a million million” larvae into the sea. Or even more startlingly, a single aphid reproducing on its own for one year can produce…

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