11/10/19

Half Way There – A Vancouverite Baby Boomer’s Almanac

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

The Serenity Prayer – Reinhold Niebuhr

Chapter One

Since I’m perhaps nearing my end I thought I’d start at the beginning.

Some of the oldest human relics that have ever been found were fertility figurines carved from stones over fifty-thousand years ago. They depicted women with a figure of big bum, big belly and breasts. Perhaps not understanding yet that sex produces children, the men were no doubt in awe of what a woman could do that they could not. Women on the other hand were attracted to men who were confident, athletic, brave, a good provider, respected among the tribe, and handsome, with nice eyes. This was because women were selective as to which sperm they wanted, and because such men protected and provided for them. Thus, in nature and in human tribal cultures untouched by modern western ideology, males predominately do the wooing. There’s a perfectly logical reason for this, eggs are more valuable than the dime a dozen sperm. Most females are limited by how many eggs they have at birth, while males are only limited by the numbers of females they can have sex with. For example, for some women today, a pregnancy can simply be a too costly and time consuming responsibility to take on, especially if one is single, and if a decision is made to become pregnant, she at least should be selective as to whose sperm she wants, whether the survival of the species depends on it or not, unlike a Bonobo chimpanzee.

The Bonobo, kin to the other chimpanzees who lived on the other side of the river as it were, spend much of their time fondling, rubbing, and engaging in intercourse. Primatologist Frans de Waal described the difference between chimpanzees and bonobos as being, “Chimps use violence to get sex, while bonobos use sex to avoid violence.”

After studying them for years, Vanessa Woods describes the bonobo’s world as being where all your relatives “think sex is like a handshake”. And if left alone, they live high quality, nearly stress-free lives. Their world is one where everyone takes care of each other, especially the young, and where both males and females, share the babysitting duties, and don’t necessarily care who the father was. When having sex they cuddle, kiss, hold hands and gaze into one another’s eyes, perhaps even fluttering their eye lashes. While jealousy, is considered an ugly trait. Even before eating, instead of prayers, they all have a quickie before sitting down and empathically passing the food around smiling at each other. Then afterwards no doubt all take a nap. I would.

It’s perhaps not so surprising that for bonobos, chimps, humans and dolphins, all of whom might be the smartest of all mammals, promiscuity is the norm. Regardless, because whether by love, lust or instinct, when a male animal and a female animal have sex and do not use protection, there is a good chance a baby may be conceived.

In early 1958, somewhere in the Fraser Valley, British Columbia, my father’s performance reached its crescendo when the floodgates were thrown aside allowing nearly one hundred million sperm cells, the smallest cells in a human, to be ejected as semen, along with a part of his soul, and perhaps a quick pang of sadness that so often happens. Similar perhaps to how the vast majority of women have feelings of sadness or the “baby blues” after giving birth because maybe it’s that feeling that a human that grew inside her belly is now gone. In the there and then, the race was on, as the frantic sperm started swimming like crack addicted tadpoles, bobbing and weaving forward, with their long tails flowing behind. Others undoubtedly swam around like chickens with their heads cut off. Each one affected, or not, by how stressed out the father was, which could impact their future behaviour, just as a mother’s stress at fertilization can affect the egg.

Within five minutes, the hardier sperm made their way from my mother’s vagina, through to her cervix where, because it had been a couple of weeks since her last period, she happened to be ovulating. So her body had made the mucus in her cervix become more fluid and more elastic, allowing the sperm to pass through like going through a slippy-slide, and enter the uterus even more rapidly, as they wiggled their way forward in a mad frenzy bouncing off the walls and each other.

In the 17th century, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, was the first to observe sperm in action using a microscope. He called them “animalcules” or little animals, because of his belief that each sperm contained a fully formed but very tiny human being.

Once past the uterus, the horde of sperm still left dwindled dramatically. Similar perhaps to animal kingdoms, and early human tribes, where the weak, lost and stupid are usually the first to go – the survival of the fittest for the survival of the species.

Of the millions, perhaps only a very few were left to swim into the funnel-shaped ends of two Fallopian tubes. Door number one was a dead end, while behind door number two an egg (ovum) my mother’s ovaries had released, lay in wait. The largest cell in a human body, the egg, can be fertilized for twelve to twenty-four hours after it is released. It then makes its way down the Fallopian tube where it waits for a sperm to come walking through the door. As per chance, one of my father’s sperm picked door number two and sperm and egg would meet.

Picking the right door was easy, but only because of sheer luck, while the hard part came when confronting the egg that happened to be there. Back in my father’s scrotum, rumours among the sperm had run rampant that the egg was a tough nut to crack. If unable to gain entry after throwing all one has at it, relentlessly squirming like mad, a sperm runs out of juice after five days and are eventually expelled, as is the egg if it finds no suitors or anyone capable of entering. If one or sometimes two or more sperm make entry into the egg, the combination of such cells is a process that’s known as fertilization or conception. The whole process is undoubtedly nature’s way of ensuring only the healthiest sperm fertilizes an egg, through a sort of equality of opportunity over equality of outcome situation, to provide the best chances of having a healthy baby.

Once inside, the sperm’s twenty-three chromosomes paired up with the egg’s twenty-three chromosomes, and ta-da a human cell called a zygote. Within this newly formed cell are genes that had been passed down over untold generations from both parents lineage. Twenty-two of these pairs, called autosomes, look the same in both males and females, while the twenty-third pair is the sex chromosomes. Since all eggs have an X chromosome, the sperm’s contribution was a Y chromosome, thus I became a boy. If my father had shot off an X chromosome, I would have been a girl. In very few cases, or about as common as someone having red hair, some are born intersex. Meaning someone born with any of several variations in sex characteristics, including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. While the well used adage, “a woman born into a man’s body or a man born into a woman’s body” is false, for human sexuality is binary. Gender identity on the other hand are thoughts and feelings of our emotional system that do not match with one’s assigned sex, which are not hard-wired within us, they are developed.

Lining the Fallopian tube, tiny silk-like hairs, swaying back and forth like a bed of kelp in a current, move the fertilized zygote through the tube toward the uterus. A journey which took about three to five days, all the while the cells of the zygote began to divide repeatedly like an out of control virus. Upon reaching the uterus, the cells continued to divide, becoming a hollow ball of cells called a blastocyst. In two to three days the blastocyst implants itself into the lining of the uterus, usually near the top, side, front or back. The wall of the blastocyst is only one cell thick except in one area where it is three to four cells thick, and over the next few days the cells in the thicker part develops into an embryo, while the thinner outer cells burrow into the wall of the uterus and develop into the placenta. As the placenta develops, wire-like vessels, including two arteries and one vein, will branch out from its surface, much like the wires from a car battery, and entwine together to eventually form a 55 to 60 centimetre long umbilical cord which is plugged into us through our belly-button. The cord will supply us with everything we need, such as nutrient uptake, thermo-regulation, waste elimination, and gas exchange via the mother’s blood supply, to fight against internal infection, and to produce hormones which support pregnancy. Placentas are a defining characteristic of placental mammals, from mice to elephants, to whales and apes.

Most organs begin to form in the ever growing embryo, now the size of a pea, three weeks after fertilization/conception, which equals five weeks of pregnancy, because doctors date pregnancy from the first day of the woman’s last menstrual period, which is typically two weeks before conception. Sticking with “since conception” henceforth, the heart and major blood vessels had already begun developing, around the 16th day. And by the 21st day someone flips on a light switch and the heart starts beating and pumping fluid through blood vessels. The first red blood cells appear the next day, while blood vessels continue to develop in both the embryo and placenta.

By the fourth week the embryo elongates, the first suggestion off a human shape, while the lungs continue to mature, as they do right up to nearly the time of delivery. Along the dorsal side of the embryo the cells had already begun to form a neuroectoderm, basically a neural plate of cells which looks like a flap of skin which transforms into a neural groove or fold, then eventually into a neural tube. This is where the central nervous system and the spinal cord will reside, topped off with a chemical electrical brain. Other cells start to arrange themselves around where the spinal cord and developing brain will emerge, mainly the face, nose, ears and eyes. All important because they all are where the brain will receive its information to operate. And still other cells will form into the skeletal structure needed to protect such vital areas. By the end of the week the heart and other organs continue to form, and the structures necessary to the development of the eyes and ears develop, while small buds show where the arms and legs are going to be. The embryo begins to take on a C-shaped curvature, like a little dolphin without the beak or dorsal fin, but soon sharing similar bone structures in our hands and their flippers.

Once the neural tube is formed, it slowly fills with cerebrospinal fluid. Its walls contain neural stem cells, which drive brain growth as they divide multiple times. Over the many weeks, some of the cells will gradually stop dividing and differentiate into neurons and glial cells, which are the main cellular components of the central nervous system. Neurons are generated from neural stem cells and progenitor cells, through the process of neurogenesis. These neurons will never divide again for the lifetime of the organism, and migrate to different parts of the developing brain to self-organize into different brain structures. Once the neurons have reached their regional positions, they extend nerve fibres, tiny antennas as it were, which allow them to communicate with other neurons via synapses, which are small gaps separating the neurons, basically they’re neurotransmitters containing mitochondria and other cell organelles. The first sparks of life begin to flash in synaptic communication between each other, which eventually will lead to the establishment of functional neural circuits that mediate sensory and motor processing, and make up one’s future behaviour.

As it develops over the next few months, the brain also divides into three sections, the hind-brain, the mid-brain, and the fore-brain. These simple sacks would eventually enlarge and further divide into other future sections, such as the cerebral cortex, thalamus, cerebellum and medulla, according to what XX or XY chromosome one has. On average and not in all cases, other changes in the brain include that males typically have a larger amygdala which is the centre for aggression and physical action, while females will typically have a larger and faster maturing prefrontal cortex which is responsible for inhibiting aggression, and is closer linked to verbal functions. But although females are slower to act out in anger physically, their verbal response is often just as hard-hitting, deep cutting, and harder to stop. And while a male’s brain circuits use more testosterone and vasopressin, the female brain uses more estrogen and oxytocin, which affects each other’s behaviour in their future.

By six weeks after conception the embryo has grown to the size of a kidney bean. Depressions that will give rise to nostrils become visible, and the beginnings of the retinas form. Lower limb buds that will become legs appear, and the arm buds that sprouted last week now take on the shape of paddles. Fingers began to form, and small swellings outlined the future shell-shaped parts of the ears, and the eyes become ever more obvious. The upper lip and nose have formed. The trunk and neck begin to straighten. By the end of this week, the embryo is only about 11 to 14 millimetres long, about half the diameter of a quarter.

Seven weeks after conception, the arms grow enough to where elbows appear. Toes are visible and welts where eyelids will appear form. The head is large but doesn’t have much of a chin. By the eight week the head has become more round, and we can bend our elbows. Toes and fingers lose their webbing and become longer. The eyelids and external ears continue to develop. The umbilical cord is now clearly visible, while the embryo from head to tail is less than 18 milometers long, about the diameter of a penny.

At the end of the eighth week after conception, the embryo becomes a fetus. It’s at this point that the chance of a miscarriage or birth defect was at its highest. Eight to ten of the fetus’ main organs are already formed. The exceptions are the brain and spinal cord, which continue to form and develop throughout the pregnancy. Ankles, wrists, and fingers begin forming, bones appear, and the genitals and inner ear begin to develop. The heartbeat can be seen via ultrasound, and the fetus begins to make involuntary movements.

Nine weeks after conception our heads make up about half the length of the fetus, but the body will soon catch up. Our faces become broader, widely separating the eyes, our eyelashes are still fused to our heads, with ears set low. We slowly begin to take on the features of our parents, and their parents, and their parent’s parents and so on and so on, who knows how far back in time, their genes continuing to combine and to create, passing on traits, abilities, and perhaps even the memories of souls, going back thousands of years.

In our closed mouths, buds for future teeth appear. Red blood cells are beginning to form in the liver, and by the end of the week our external genitalia begin to go either one of two ways; a penis and a pair of testicles or a clitoris and labia majora to protect the vulva. The intestines begin to form in our abdomen, while our skin is almost transparent. The average fetus at this point is about 61 millimetres long or the length of the short side of an old Canadian dollar bill or the size of a small peach, and fills the entire uterus, leaving it to slowly be pushed outward as the fetus grows.

More than ninety per cent of abortions in Canada and the US are carried out on embryos at six to fourteen weeks, with six per cent between fourteen and twenty weeks, and two per cent at a later stage. Of the abortions carried out beyond twenty weeks, most are due to a direct threat to the mother’s life or the detection of a very serious birth defect. Even though way before this stage and no matter from rape, incest, syringe or test-tube, women today also have the options of the “morning-after” pill and other chemical means. The majority of abortions are carried out because of economic reasons, because often there is no husband or partner.

In Canada, before it became legal in 1969, abortion could be legally performed only to save the life of the woman, to do so for any other reason was illegal. Former Chief Coroner of Ontario, Morton Shulman, recalls that, “while the pregnant daughters of the rich were sent to reliable physicians who did abortions for cash, with some of them performing twenty to thirty abortions a week, everyone else’s options were either performing the abortion on themselves or be assisted by a nurse abortionist.” The preferred method over others too ghastly to mention, was pumping Lysol into the mother’s womb. The mortality rate was high and the infection rate over 50 per cent. A doctor in Chicago was said to have performed over 70,000 abortions over his 40 year career.

Today abortion in Canada is legal at all stages of pregnancy as long as a committee of doctor’s sign off that it was necessary for the physical or mental well-being of the mother. While some non-legal obstacles exist, Canada is one of only a few nations with no legal restrictions on abortion, with regulations and accessibility varying between provinces, much the same as in the US with their states. Today the majority of women who do have an abortion have at least two, with many having three over their lifetime. In many developed nations a woman, on average, will have just less than one abortion over their lifetime. But, overall, abortion rates are dropping. Notably, abortion rates are similar in countries where abortion is highly restricted and where it is broadly legal: The abortion rate is 37 per 1,000 women in countries where abortion is prohibited or permitted only to save the life of the woman, and 34 per 1,000 women in countries where abortion is not restricted. As such, legal restrictions do not eliminate the numbers of abortions.

In early 2019, New York State passed a law, joining four other states, where an abortion is allowed right up to the ninth month, and a doctor is no longer needed to perform the procedure, but instead can be performed by a nurse or clinic employee. Additional states are currently hoping to pass laws where an abortion may be performed, not only up to natural dilation, but further – even after the baby is born, where the woman and doctor, after first making the baby “comfortable” can then decide to abort. Performing what was once called infanticide. At the same time other states are trying to outlaw abortions entirely.

I personally have no problem with abortions that are medically and morally necessary, but I am against using such a medical procedure as birth control, for stem cell misuse or for whatever mood one happens to be in at that time. And the fact that up to the present day, fathers are not included in the decision making, but then sadly and more often than not, there is no father in the picture anymore. And of course the instilled and accepted belief that it’s none of a man’s business what a women wants to do with her body. So I shall now shut up, and if this is the case of “my body my choice”, and all things being equal, then it is also my mind my choice, my business my choice, and my money my choice.

Moving through our eleventh week, our eyebrows, eyelashes, fingernails, and the neck all form, while the skin has a wrinkled appearance. The arms and legs can bend, the kidneys start working and produce urine, and the fetus can swallow. Although electrical brain activity is first detected between the third and fifth week, it is considered primitive neural activity rather than the beginning of conscious thought. But the sparks really start going off at around 15 weeks, then begin to multiply ever more quickly around week 28, as it accumulates new cells throughout the pregnancy and continues, for the first year of life after birth.

By the halfway mark of a pregnancy, in the 18th week after conception (20th week of the pregnancy), a first-time mother may feel the first fluttering movements of kicking, squirming or turning, known as the “quickening”. This has got to be an amazing moment which a man could not understand where you feel a human growing inside you and it reacts to your touch. The fellow in the Aliens movie, who had that creature tear itself out of his chest, had to have felt something was growing inside him. Maybe he thought it was just a bad case of gas. But I digress. More interestingly, women who have been pregnant before, typically feel movements about two weeks earlier than women who are pregnant for the first time. Coincidentally perhaps, the same time the quickening is going on the fetus starts to hear sound vibrations. maybe we are already movin’ to the groovin’? Now eight to twelve centimetres long, an ultra-sound is able to reveal our sex, and take a picture of us so our parents can magnet it to their fridge.

One hundred and fifty days in we open our eyes for the first time. Eyes that people will later say look just like our mother’s or father’s or even grandparents. And though we become ever more active, chasing dragons no doubt, we also begin to sleep and waken on a more regular cycle. Lanugo, a fine hair, and a waxy coating called vernix, cover and protect our thin fetal skin.

At twenty-six weeks after conception, we have a 90 per cent chance of survival outside the uterus if provided with high-quality medical care, because though our lungs are completely formed, they don’t function yet. As such, these premature births are the leading cause of death for children under the age of five.

We are now able to hiccup, and are more sensitive to sound, and respond to noises and voices heard, which at this time, is mostly the sounds of our mother’s body. These include her beating heart, the air moving in and out of her lungs, her growling stomach, food being digested and expelled, and even the sound of blood moving through the umbilical cord. Recordings taken in the uterus reveal that noises from outside of the womb are muted by about half. Mostly because, there’s no open air in the uterus only amniotic fluid and it’s inside our mother’s body, making most noises muffled. The most significant sound we hear in the womb is our mother’s voice. Soon we will recognize it from other sounds, and in many cases when the father is speaking to the womb through the entire pregnancy; his voice will also be recognized. Recordings have also shown that when the mother or father is speaking, we are more alert and attentive; we cock an ear as it were.

Through the next few weeks we really start packing on the weight. Bones harden, except for the skull, which remains soft and flexible to make delivery easier. Whatever gender, our bones would grow similarly, except for sometimes longer lengths, bone densities, and the skull shape of a male and the pelvis of the female. If the average person ever found a human skeleton in the woods which had its pelvis and skull missing, they would be hard-pressed to distinguish whether the skeleton was male or female.

From about the 34th week after conception to birth in the 38th week, we continue to put on weight, and start preparing for what is to come, by ever so slowly turning into a head-down position. Our lungs are now fully mature and they prepare themselves for functioning on their own. During the later stages of the pregnancy our mothers gratefully give us our first buzz by infusing us with an increase in abundance of oxytocin, a hormone that brings feelings of contentment, reductions in anxiety, and feelings of calmness and security.

While my father was dutifully caring, providing for, and protecting my mother, she physically and mentally experienced all that is being pregnant. And astoundingly, do it three more times over the next four years. Take a break, and then in 1967 do it again, with the baby of the family arriving in 1973 to make it a six-pack.

In the first few months of pregnancy the hormonal changes, such as rising levels of estrogen and chorionic gonadotrophin brings on waves of nausea and vomiting. And despite its name, morning sickness can occur any time of day. The hormone progesterone increased sleepiness, and as her uterus grew and pressed on her bladder, trips to the bathroom were frequent. Her breasts more tender and swollen, her areolas, the skin around each nipple, darkened and enlarged. Her digestive system slowed down to increase the absorption of beneficial nutrients. But such reduced digestive system motility, caused heartburn, constipation, bloating and gas. Her heart worked harder by increasing its beat to pump more blood to the uterus which supplied it to the fetus, and gave her face a rosier complexion. Maybe this is where the craving for ice-cream came in. As well as the physical changes throughout the pregnancy, she would have experienced emotional highs and lows with mood swings running the gamut, from loving the world to wanting to kill somebody.

With her enlarged uterus pushing against her diaphragm, in the final trimester of pregnancy, she was possibly short of breath with less room for the lungs to expand. Her ankles, hands, feet and face may have swelled as she retained more fluids, while her blood circulation slowed. She may have also had more backaches and hip pain as these joints relax in preparation for delivery, and never ever able to get comfortable. Her face might have developed dark patches of skin, and stretch marks may appear on her belly, thighs, breasts and backside. She may also notice varicose veins on her legs. Her breasts may have experienced some leakage of colostrum, a yellow liquid, as they get ready for breastfeeding.

Nearing the big moment, we the fetus usually drop lower in our mother’s abdomen and become suspended upside down. False labor, known as Braxton-Hicks contractions, may have begun to occur as it got closer to our due date. During the final weeks of pregnancy it would have become harder to find a comfortable sleeping position, so mothers are usually extremely tired. As delivery approaches, some women love the whole experience of being pregnant and waddle around proudly, while others may feel like enough already, get on with this.

Then at a certain time, a very tiny unheard alarm bell goes off somewhere and the door is thrown aside and the dam bursts. The only womb we had ever known empties. Our mother begins to feel abdominal cramps or back pain that last around half a minute and occur every ten to thirty minutes. The cramps become stronger and closer together, while the mother’s cervix begins to rapidly dilate up to about five centimetres.

As our warm aquarium of pulsating organs and muffled noises empties itself, our soft skull is sucked by the flow down to a drain at the bottom, and the entrance to the birth canal. The sides of which slowly start to knead, squeeze and relax, pushing and pulling us through, like an anaconda swallowing a deer.

The contractions get strong enough where the mother has to bear down and “puussh” through them, in between either cursing their man, madly chewing ice cubes or chomping down on a stick. This stage could last anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours. And though most babies are born head first, about four per cent are born feet or butt first, and are known as breech births, or born face first facing up which is called posterior. In such cases, the obstetrician may need to recommend a Caesarean or C-section, or the use of forceps (for posterior births), as the best means of delivery. This is done by making an incision in the mother’s abdomen and uterus, so the baby can be taken directly out instead of travelling through the birth canal. A truly out of body experience. Caesarean sections are done most often when the mother has had a previous baby by Caesarean delivery or the baby’s health might suffer if born vaginally. The two out of three women who do undergo vaginal births instead of caesarean, of course, avoid having major surgery and its associated risks, such as severe bleeding, scarring, infections, reactions to anesthesia and more longer-lasting pain, and have a much longer hospital stay and recovery time.

The biggest disappointment in caesarean births is the millions of immune cells (types of white blood cells) in the mother which slowly make their way to the birth canal during the later stages of pregnancy. In some form of celebration of the birth, they line the route, as it were, and lie in wait while expanding their size. As the baby passes through they make contact and cling on, and slowly enter the skin, and make their way to the baby’s bone marrow, and join other immune cells already there. It is where cells of the immune system originate from, and some mature. The “muscles” of the newborn’s immune system then migrate to guard the peripheral tissues, and circulate in the blood and in a specialized system of vessels called the lymphatic system. Ever ready to attack any foreign bodies they can use their plasma membrane to engulf any bacteria or large particle, then ingest or degrade it. Caesarean births not only miss out on such a benefit, but destroy the hopes of millions of immune cells because the headliner didn’t show up.

As we get squeezed down the ever expanding birth canal each time our mother bears down and pushes, typically our head is facing either hip of our mother, but we slowly begin to rotate and face her bottom. We then intuitively hold our arms to our sides bow our head and rest our chin on our chest and humbly ready ourselves for our grand entrance into the world. Still hiding behind the curtain and waiting for the lights to come on. This position will allow the crown of our skull to go through the birth canal first, until that is when the back of our neck presses against our mother’s pubic bone. Here we genetically know to extend our neck, as if we are looking up at something and without even an excuse or a pardon me, slide by the bone by dropping one of our shoulders. By this time, the cervix has reached its full dilation of ten centimetres, the approximate diameter of a bagel, or a coffee can.

Once again we turn our head to restore its normal relationship with the shoulders, which are still at an angle, as if we are escaping from a straight jacket. Our shoulders repeat the corkscrew movements of our head, which can be seen in the final movements of the fetal head just before we emerge, by those attentively watching and ready to catch us. Undoubtedly the most painful part for the mother, who may experience an intense stretching and burning, is when our head pops out in the act of crowning. This final stage, where our head is out but our body isn’t, can take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. A lifetime for the mother perhaps, with the final birth of her baby the greatest moment in life, possibly erasing any pain just endured.

We are then thrust into the spotlight and have to breathe air for the first time, with an umbilical cord trailing behind us, still attached to the placenta, which hasn’t arrived yet as it usually emerges about 10 to 12 minutes later. Luckily, being human and somebody grabbed us as we came out and not just dropped to the ground then licked clean by the mother as other animals do, we instantly have to learn how to adjust to temperature changes, to suck and swallow, though pooh and pee already comes naturally. The next few days are all about shock and awe, and radical adjustment. With the only thing needed to be kept warm and fed. Henceforth, all things learned are based on needs, experiences, then later by trial and error. And contrary to the popular belief of many today, being born does not ensure morality, good intentions or credibility.

Most medical authorities today suggest the infant be placed skin-to-skin on the mother’s chest for an hour or two immediately after birth. Any initial observations of the baby can be done while the baby remains close to the mother. Babies born in hospitals used to be removed from their mothers’ shortly after birth and brought in only at feeding times. The idea was that newborns would be safer in the nursery and that the separation would offer the mother more time to rest. This is what my mother experienced. Studies about immediate nakedidity between mother and babe have shown that such timely touching promotes neuro-behaviors and results in deeper and more fulfilling bonds with satisfaction of basic biological needs, especially feeding. The World Health Organization states that “the process of childbirth is not finished until the baby has safely transferred from placental to mammary nutrition.”

It is said that even a brief separation before the baby has had its first feeding from his or her mother’s breast can disturb the bonding process. Most newborns may be interested in breastfeeding within one hour after birth or even immediately, and will need to feed every three to four hours, even though the maternal milk production doesn’t really begin to flow until two to three days after birth. In the interim, the mother produces colostrum, a type of milk with high concentrations of nutrients and antibodies. Over the first few days, we poop what all mammalian infants poop, a greenish-black, tarry, sticky substance resembling thick extremely compressed motor oil, and which even has a name, meconium. It is composed of everything the fetus, now infant, ingested during the time spent in the uterus, such as intestinal skin cells, amniotic fluid, bile, and water.

Our first health-care evaluation is the Apgar evaluation, usually carried out one minute after birth and then again, five minutes later. They check our heart rate, breathing, muscle tone, reflexes and skin color, and score each of them from zero to ten to get a baseline. At the five minute mark, the same evaluation is taken. In more than 98 per cent of births, the Apgar score reaches seven out of ten. The other cases either need further medical care or at the least close monitoring.

Over the next 24 hours, the trials and tribulations of further “newborn screening” begin. We get washed, our weight and length is measured, and we are administered eye drops. Back in my day silver nitrate was used routinely, but burned a baby’s eyes while trying to prevent infection. Now erythromycin is commonly used. An antibiotic used for the treatment of a number of bacterial infections, including respiratory tract infections, skin infections, Chlamydia infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, and syphilis. In fact, sexually transmitted diseases are the main causes of newborn eye infections.

Rumour has it that as newborns we have poor vision with eyes that can’t focus or look far. The difference between boy’s and girl’s eyes, as in other mammals, is that typically male retinas are thicker, and have more magnocellular cells, which are distributed across the entire retina and are responsible for tracking the movement of an object, whether prey or the throwing of a rock. While the female retina is thinner and has more parvocellular cells, which are concentrated around the center of the retina, and responsible for identifying objects and analyzing texture and color. It is said that this is why females take more interest in people’s faces, while males are attracted to anything that moves. This also shows up in recent studies where males typically have much quicker auditory and visual reaction times than females. Could this be why men play video games and women snapchat?

As already mentioned, many of the behavioural distinctions between male and female come from our hormonal differences and how parts of our brains are used differently during development. One interesting, quirky difference is when we move around in our environments. Females use the cerebral cortex, the part responsible for thinking, perceiving and understanding language, and can get around by using landmarks, while men use the hippocampus, the area of the brain that is pre-wired for spatial navigation, and think in terms of how many blocks or kilometres and how far from here to there.

Our brain consists of about 73 per cent water, with dense sponges of white and grey matter, both of which are major components of the central nervous system. White matter forms the deepest parts of our brains, and is entwined throughout the spinal cord. It is composed of bundles which connect various gray matter areas (nerve cell bodies) to each other. White matter affects our learning, and coordinates communication between different brain regions. It’s like a large relay switch, modulating and connecting all the brain’s different signals of nerve impulses between neurons, then distributing them accordingly. Grey matter on the other hand, is found throughout the brain, brain stem, cerebellum, and spinal cord. It consists of cell bodies such as glial cells, the babysitters of neurons who protect and feed them oxygen, and the already mentioned synapses which permit a neuron to pass an electrical or chemical signal to another neuron, and finally, capillaries to supply the blood to the brain. Grey matter includes regions of the brain involved in muscle control, and sensory perception, such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control.

Upon maturity our brains will weigh on average 1.3 kilograms and contain about one hundred billion neurons. And though only around two per cent of our total body weight, the brain uses 20 per cent of our oxygen and calories, thus like any other organ, the brain is affected by our lifestyle, diet, and the amount that we exercise. Putting aside the old wives tale about us only using ten per cent of our brains, modern science and medical imaging show the majority of the brain is almost always active. Our brains have evolved to use its entirety, in order to use the least amount of energy while correlating and processing the most information possible.

The sensory and motor regions of the brain mature first, followed by other cortical regions. The frontal and parietal cortices mature around the age of twelve years, the temporal lobes around sixteen years, and the superior temporal cortex being the last to mature. Female’s brains reach maturity usually a year earlier than those of males the same age. But it doesn’t end there, the brain’s maturation continues, where males tend to exhibit grey matter of increased volume but lower density than that of females. As it is, the latest research shows that the brain doesn’t fully mature until it is around twenty-six years old, if one is lucky.

Both males and females will also develop two emotional systems, based on the chemistry going on in our bodies: the mirror neuron system (MNS) and the temporal-parietal junction system (TPJ). The MNS is responsible for emotional empathy for others, while the TPJ guides cognitive empathy and the ability to distance oneself from another person’s emotions by focusing analytically on solving a problem. Both sexes start their empathy process in the MNS, but the male brain quickly switches over to the TPJ. These emotional differences will unfortunately play out later when a woman tells her man about a problem she has and is in need of emotional support and comforting. If he doesn’t see a solution to her problem, he doesn’t see the need to talk about it any longer. But then, we are supposed to be logical and not emotional, yet we are, because we’re often chosen as leaders of communities, societies, and countries, including our own families, while being too emotional is often deemed as a weakness. No matter our emotions, we are each born to have the balance needed for the survival of our species. But not all humans are well balanced, hence, survival of the fittest.

About 1.7 per cent of people born will have emotional systems which will make them either gay men or lesbian women. This has been occurring over the history of our species. I grew up having a gay uncle who was one of my most important mentors through to my teens, and who taught me much about being a man.

If one were to add bisexuality and transgender, which are both not biological but psychological, the current LBGTQ community in some Western countries is about 4.5 per cent of the population. As to the transgender movement, there are arguments being made today that it is an attempt to make it a civil right to have a mental illness, much like there is discussion lately that perhaps pedophilia should be listed as a sexual preference.

Our basic emotions are actually not a thing at all, and there are only four of them, arousal, pleasant, unpleasant, and calm. And since we are electromagnetic and electrical organisms, these basic emotions operate on their own separate frequency. Though unable to travel through solid objects, such frequencies are felt when we interact with one another. They are the vibes we get from one another from the sparkling giddiness of romance to the undertone of unease and danger, “love is in the air” and “cutting the air in the room like a knife”. The frequencies are also based on our five physical sensors: of taste, sight, hearing, touch, and smell, which along with the senses of balance, pain, hunger, thirst, and temperature contributes to our experience of our surroundings, and only shows us a three-dimensional universe. Our behaviour on the other hand will come from inherited traits, while our perceptions of things, comes from information received, experiences, and our consciousness. When such fields are in balance we are healthy, when they are not, we experience disease – physically, mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. Insidiously modern technology, particularly 5G (fifth generation cellular network technology), can manipulate these frequencies, scrambling them to induce feelings of arousal, conviviality, meanness, friendliness, anger, and even experience extreme pain, without our awareness. The previous four generations of cellular transmitters used between one to five gigahertz (GHz), 5G on the other hand operates from 24 to 90 GHz and uses millimetre waves, not cellular. These waves have a shorter range than microwaves so their antennas will have to be everywhere. A typical urban street will have to have them atop every fourth or so light pole. The 5G waves also cannot travel through solid objects, such as trees, so in many urban areas they will have to be the first to go. To date, cases of both people and insects alike getting sick due to nearby 5G towers is already on the rise. But they do have quicker internet.

Further to the differential qualities of men and women, brain scans, controlled studies, basic biology, chemistry, evolutionary psychology, and anthropology, all demonstrate that men and women are physically and mentally different. We absorb, process, and deliver information differently. And though we are all one consciousness but having different experiences, we also evolved with different priorities, and are immersed in different combinations of hormones. This leads to a varied interpretation and perception of reality, which is the root of the problems between male and female, within our families, and in the lives of our children. To remedy it, all one has to do is embrace the differences empathically, where equality only exists in compromising. Accept the reality that often and in many ways, men and women have pre-determined biological and psychological roles. Our differences are not always mutually exclusive, but we must face the fact that in some evolutionary way we complement each other so very much, and must not allow such a symbiotic nature of man and woman to be destroyed.

Back to the poking and prodding of male and female babies, it is currently possible to collect two types of stem cells during childbirth: amniotic stem cells and umbilical cord blood stem cells. Amniotic stem cells can be taken when we are still in the womb, from the amniotic fluid which surrounds us, and can be obtained through routine prenatal testing without the need for abortion or fetal biopsy. Umbilical cord blood stem cells on the other hand, are collected from the blood of the placenta and the attached umbilical cord, but are also found in various maternal tissues and organs including blood, bone marrow, skin and liver.

The use of fetal cells has been highly controversial because firstly, on many levels it’s an ethical issue. The tissue is known to often be obtained from the fetus following induced abortion. And because the supposedly “best” stem cells are from a fetus’s or newborn’s spine, not from their blood, they are very valuable, thus are often misused for anti-aging purposes or private medical matters by those who can afford it. And though both embryonic and adult derived stem cells from ethical sources, are being studied as possible treatments of a number of conditions including hematopoietic and genetic disorders, in many countries it is still deemed unethical. Canada, the UK and Japan derive stem cells from bone marrow, while the US and their prominently evangelical led Food and Drug Agency (FDA) are against stem cell use and consider it an illegal drug, but certain states do allow adult stem cell use. And though several applications to begin human trials of embryonic stem cell-based therapies have been approved, there are many steps required for such approval. Yet in Panama, stem cell therapy has been done for 16 years and has had excellent results. But if embryonic stem cell harvesting continues it could still be many years before therapies based on embryonic stem cells are widely available.

In adults, stem cells are found throughout the body. They are the handy repairmen, running around fixing anything that needs it and each having the potential to develop into many different types of cells in the body. They are especially attracted to inflammation which they immediately attempt to lessen. They also modulate the immune system, and stimulate regeneration, thus most stem cell therapy today is used to battle auto-immune diseases, and inflammation of joints. Adult stem cells have also been found to be able to replace neurons damaged by spinal cord injury, stroke, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease or other neurological problems, possibly produce insulin in the treatment of diabetes. Imagine having the ability to replace or restore any tissue or organ in the human body.

As to how useful stem cells may be in the future, consider that by 65 years of age we’ve lost approximately 90 per cent of our adult stem cells. But is eternal life possible or desirable? Some say it is, especially those who can afford the “best” stem cell therapy available. Then consider that in January 2019, 97 year old Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II of England, and who had just had recent hip surgery, supposedly pulled out from a driveway in his Land Rover Freelander and was t-boned by a small KIA car. The collision was enough to send his vehicle rolling across the road, or as a bystander described, it “somersaulted across the road”. In the KIA, a woman broke her arm and the driver had cuts to her knees, while thankfully the ten-month old baby in the back seat was alright. Prince Philip’s vehicle ended up lying on its driver’s side, where a passerby, after first checking on the occupants of the KIA, pulled Prince Philip out of his vehicle, totally unscathed. He blew negative on the breathalyser and said the sun was in his eyes. Checked over and sent home. On a similar note, one of the many who have travelled to places such as Panama where stem cell therapy is allowed was a 92 year old who needed a wheelchair to get around, had problems with his prostrate, lungs, kidneys, hips, heart, had trouble talking, and orthopedic problems. He was injected with ethically obtained adult stem cells and over the next few months and following years he was soon walking, his ailments healing, pain dissipated, his speech and eyesight improved, and his cognition improved. He’s now 99 years old, and supposedly even has his libido back. In both cases they both may have looked a thousand years old, wrinkled and nearly dead, but inside they undoubtedly were not. Similarly, just watch Mick Jagger prowling about upon a stage wailing his heart out, singing songs he has been singing for over fifty years, and how is it, no disrespect, that Keith Richards is still alive.

Back to us wee ones in the neo-natal nursery, another procedure and another reason to cry, is because we are often given an injection of vitamin K. This started when forceps deliveries were common, to help prevent bleeding in the brain due to the extra trauma to the baby’s head from using basically pliers to pull us out. But, despite the fact that forceps deliveries have changed, and occur less frequently, vitamin K is still given to prevent bleeding problems. Some countries have newer policies of when to provide vitamin K as opposed to doing it routinely.

The onslaught continues, while I can’t imagine what was done in previous centuries and eons to keep us alive, especially when in the past the infant mortality rate was atrocious. Ever onward, a small blood sample is taken by poking us in the bottom of the foot to screen for some serious, but often very rare metabolic diseases, including Phenylketonuria (PKU) a genetic disorder. What exactly is being tested for varies by state or province. We are pricked within the first twenty-four hours and then often need to return in a week for an addition test.

Then there is the universal immunization against Hepatitis B, even if our mothers test negative for it. Hepatitis B is a viral infection that can lead to chronic liver infections, as well as such things as cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Some ask why babies are given vaccines for Hepatitis-B, when it is picked up through unprotected sex and needle use. Then by the time they are teens they no longer have protection when they do become sexually active. Upon birth a baby is given 250 macro-grams of the neuro-toxin aluminum. The highest daily adult dosage is 50 macro-grams. This vaccine is mandatory where available and is given either at birth or at the two month check up. In California, a child who is vaccinated for Hepatitis-B can go to school, but a child that does not cannot.

It is strongly advised that children get vaccinated starting at two months of age and that the recommended schedule be followed. The pharmaceutical companies that come up with these vaccines promise they protect children against diseases that can cause serious illness, long-term disability and death. All together from birth to six years old we receive fourteen vaccination shots. Playing the field so to speak, just in case and you never know, Chickenpox, Diphtheria, Haemophilus influenzae type b, Hepatitis B, Influenza, Measles, Meningococcal, Mumps, Pertussis (whooping cough), Pneumococcal, Polio, Rotavirus, Rubella and Tetanus. Today the big Pharma lobbyists are pushing their respective governments to call for mass medication “prevention” programs, and claim they will improve the health of citizens, while also pushing for heavy medication upon children and teens, while their brains are still developing. As of 2018, vaccine manufacturers, specifically Merck, share in the over $85 billion of the “outsourced healthcare logistics market”. This is expected to increase to $105 billion by 2021. Merck is also interestingly enough, a major backer of the transgender movement.

Not all vaccinations are bad, but they do disrupt and/or degrade our immune system. Though eating a healthy balanced diet builds a healthy immune system, few are able to accomplish this today. And in our toxic world one needs a fortified immune system. As it is, people with allergies, infections, cancers, asthma, suicide, anxiety, depression and autism are all on the rise, with vaccine auto-immunity causing chronic health problems. In a recent report of which 3,345 cases were studied, 715 were not vaccinated; there was only one case of autism. Another report showed that people who were on a vaccine-friendly plan (choosing certain vaccinations) only one out of 440 patients was autistic. Yet the American Center for Disease Control, states there is one case of autism for every 45 people not vaccinated. In the 1980s medical students were not even taught about autism. Personally, growing up I do not recall ever meeting or seeing an autistic person. In the 1990s it started to become an issue, mostly because vaccinated children are sicker than non-vaccinated children.

And finally most of us are given a hearing test using wee little headphones or microphones, to see how we react to sounds. But before being released out into the world, some of us boys were taken aside, and for either cultural, religious, or social reasons, had our foreskins cut off.

The practice of circumcision is thought to be at least fifteen thousand years old. Today circumcision is probably the most common surgical procedure on children worldwide, yet it is not a medically necessary procedure. It’s most common in the US, parts of Africa and the Middle East, while less common in Europe and other countries. The most common reasons for removing the foreskin off the head of penises are religious traditions and trends. The religious laws of both Judaism and Islam require that boys be circumcised. Jewish boys get to go through the experience when they are eight years old, for Muslim boys between seven and nine. Other reasons to circumcise include, the myth that it will reduce the likelihood of developing herpes or syphilis or other medical conditions or infections, the desire of some fathers to have their sons look like them, personal choice, and aesthetic preference. And in Canada, at least in BC, such a procedure is not free either. As for the later I know a fellow who had to have a circumcision for a medical issue, when he was twenty-seven. He said he cursed his parents every morning when he would awake with a morning need to go pee hard-on, which kept tearing the stitches. I’ve heard and read other stories where having a foreskin adds to the sexual experience for the man, yet not having one is more attractive to females.

The procedure is most often performed from twenty-four to seventy-two hours after birth. We boys are splayed out on our backs, with arms and legs secured, like being readied for dismemberment or beheading, by the English in the 13th century. An anesthetic is given via injection or cream, to numb the penis, the foreskin is opened, adhesions are removed, and the foreskin is separated from the glans (the bulb). After that, a circumcision device may be placed over the bulb and the foreskin is cut off. There are three different types of such devices commonly used and all look like devices invented and used during the European inquisitions around the same 13th and 14th centuries to torture people. They include the “Gomco clamp”, the “Plastibell device”, and the ever popular, “Mogen clamp”. Each device works by cutting off circulation to the foreskin to prevent bleeding when the doctor cuts the foreskin. The entire procedure takes about fifteen to thirty minutes. Afterwards, bewildered by the pain and trauma, our mothers are told to expect us to be “fussy” over the seven to ten days it takes to heal.

For females there is no reason whatsoever for any circumcision to be performed, though today in the Western world the cutting has been replaced with piercings, tattoos and such. Unless of course you happen to live east to west from Somalia to Senegal, and north to south from Egypt to Tanzania, in Africa, which covers twenty-seven countries, as well as Indonesia, Iraqi Kurdistan and Yemen, and many immigrant communities in North America, Europe and the Commonwealth, where female genital mutilation is prevalent and customary. Recent estimates show that about two hundred million women have undergone the procedures. Girls are most commonly cut shortly after birth to age fifteen, with most cut when they turn five.

The procedures are generally performed by a traditional circumciser or “cutter”, in the girls’ homes with or without anaesthesia. The cutter is usually in no way a medical professional, but often an older woman, town barber or butcher, or cleric who uses non-sterile devices, including knives, razors, scissors, glass, sharpened rocks and fingernails, which they often use multiple times without cleaning between jobs. While procedures differ according to the country or ethnic group, they include removal of the clitoral hood and clitoral glans; removal of the inner labia; removal of the inner and outer labia, and the closure of the vulva. In this last procedure, known as infibulation, a small hole is left for the passage of urine and menstrual fluid. Later the vagina is opened for intercourse and opened further if needed for childbirth.

Back once again to our births, and perhaps wanting to forget what was just read by slowly uncurling our toes and exhaling, twenty-four to forty-eight hours after a vaginal birth, with no complications from mother or baby, we get to go home. For a caesarean birth, if no complications, it’s a forty-eight to seventy-two hours wait until discharge. According to our biology, anatomy, and chromosomes we will be designated either a boy or a girl, and later according to psychological and chemical differences, a very few will be boys who feel like girls and girls who feel like boys. Only later will society dictate one’s gender according to a set of expectations, standards, and characteristics about how men and women are supposed to act.

I was born at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, and weighed in at seven pounds six ounces, to a twenty year old 11th generation Scottish American/Canadian mother and a twenty-two year old 2nd generation Belgian-Canadian father. Their lineages were simple hard working folk, farmers, ranchers, and pioneers. And often were restrained and respected leaders in their communities.

My father drove my mother, with me in her arms, home safely in his 52’ Chevy with no seat belts or due dated baby car seat, listening to either Conway Twitter or Elvis on the radio. My given name was Joseph, but for the next couple of decades would be Joey, then mature into just Joe. My parents would quickly have to learn how to hold me and support my neck with, I’m sure, mostly my Mom having to change all my diapers, bathe, dress, and swaddle, soothe, and goo-goo gaa-gaa to me. Then there is the feeding, and burping, which for some weeks, is at least every two to three hours, including over night, with graveyard shifts. The cleaning around our belly buttons after being unplugged, and for many males, caring for our healing circumcisions. Our temperatures are taken, and turkey basters filled with water are used to clear our nasal passages when needed. We survived diaper rash and having our faces washed. We cried and we laughed and began to learn things because every moment was new. It was in many ways perhaps the best and worst days of our lives. But thankfully, we’re unable to remember.

Chapter Two – Half Way There

10/23/12

The Queen’s award for Ignorance and Intolerance

To honor and commemorate the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II ascension to the throne of the British Empire, Canada will be awarding 60,000 “deserving Canadians” the Diamond Jubilee Medal. Each Member of Parliament will be giving 30 medals to their fellow citizens “for their contributions to the country, their province or their region.”

Many of the recipients are receiving their medals for being victims of injustice. Which bodes well considering the Harper government, through multiple omnibus bills, has decided to get tough on crime and to start actually incarcerating repeat offenders.

One of Harper’s underlings, Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott, supposedly representing his constituents in Saskatchewan, at least he should be, has chosen two convicted criminals, both repeat offenders, with one currently serving time in Toronto, as recipients of the Diamond Jubilee medal.

Linda Gibbons and Mary Wagner are described by Vellacott as being “heroines of humanity” and “precious women.”  He applauds their “civil disobedience to further a just cause.” He compares them to Martin Luther King Jr. The pro-life organization Campaign Life Coalition, describes both women as possessing quiet, meek and prayerful natures, so humble that they remind the Coalition of Mother Theresa.

And to what has deemed these two women so honored and appreciated? They attack abortion clinics. As Vellacott proudly announced, Gibbons and Wagner are deserving of the medal for “protecting defenceless, voiceless human beings in the womb from butchery and death.” Seriously I wish I was making this up.

Harper has said numerous times he has no interest in addressing the abortion issue head-on. Personally perhaps not, but I am sure the issue can be addressed just as well through members of his flock. A couple of examples being, Vellacott is also calling for Planned Parenthood’s funding to be taken away, and in June 2012 Canada pledged $1.1 billion to a global initiative on Maternal and Child health for developing countries, though under strict conditions that no funds to be used for abortions.

As to the medal winning Mother Theresa’s, Gibbons and Wagner, Gibbons has been in and out of jail for over ten years for violating injunctions to do with clinics that perform abortions. Arrested repeatedly, she refuses to sign bail orders. The first injunction against her, and others, was in the early 90’s after a clinic in Toronto was firebombed.

Wagner meanwhile is currently serving time in a Toronto jail for mischief and breaching court orders. She has also been arrested repeatedly, most of the time for violations of probation terms. She has been convicted four times since 2000. The present charge of breaching court orders has to do with her last trial where she was found guilty of trespassing and two counts of breach of probation. She appealed but the judge declared her guilty once again. She got time served (88 days) and three years’ probation, which she has just broken. The presiding judge at her appeal felt she has “utter contempt for court orders, lack of respect for the rights of others, and the rule of law.” He also added that she represented “a potential threat and danger to the well being and safety of civil society.”

The question now is will “deserving Canadians” Gibbons and Wagner be allowed to wear their Diamond Jubilee Medals, awarded for “their contributions to the country, their province or their region”, whenever they are incarcerated?

Simply amazing that by entering a legal clinic, which performs legal operations, and harassing, disrupting and upsetting the women and staff there, who are already struggling with a very difficult decision, one could win a medal for “civil disobedience to further a just cause.” Will they now enter a clinic and psychologically damage women further by shoving their medals in the crying women’s faces?

I once used to say, quite often actually, “only in America.” Boy was I wrong. As far as abortion, I feel a woman has the right to choose. And that it is between her, her doctor and those close to her. Not some person, who feels entitled, has zero tolerance of anything beyond what they personally believe and utter lack of respect for the rights of others.

I believe it was the American writer John Irving who recently said, “If you are against abortion, don’t have one.”