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Why We Have Children

Labor is the least of it. Bringing the baby home is where the challenge really starts. Prepare. Your household clutter will increase fivefold. Tiny toys for tiny tots will litter your living room: a singing seahorse, bright blocks, chartreuse Barney look-alikes. Gone are the days of feng shui serenity; your house is stacked or trashed. Your sink is full of nipples.

You wake five, six, seven times a night, until your loved and little one makes it through -- she made it through! Now you have to get up only once, at the unholy hour children seem to wake, especially on weekends: 5:30 a.m., the sky a bruised purple, the sun just starting to seep in windows, you with your crawler in the kitchen, your head heavy with fatigue, time ticking, ticking, ticking, and yet it never seems to move. My good friend Audrey once said, holding her huge, gravid belly, "Why am I doing this again? Being a mother is basically agreeing to become someone's indentured servant for at least six years, with no pay." It's true. Good question, Audrey. Why are you doing this. And you? And you? And you? Why do we choose to have children?

Could it be genetic? Though genes may be the most mysteriously powerful elements on earth, no one really knows what they look like. Picture them as tiny teardrop lights wrapped around the cone of a chromosome, 46 in each and every cell of your body. Our genes determine the color of our eyes, the shape of our toes -- even, some say, our propensity for wine, or chocolate. In 1865 a monk named Gregor Mendel discovered genes -- what he called hereditary traits -- by studying pea plants in his cloistered garden. Mendel noticed that parent pea plants transmitted their size, shape, and coloring to their offspring, and he hypothesized that there was some physiological property -- what later came to be known as genes -- responsible for this. Around the same time, Charles Darwin (a man with seven children of his own and a tireless wife named Emma, who bore her last at 47 years of age) put forth the theory that species exist primarily to reproduce; having babies, he said, is the driving force that engines every organism from yeast to yam to yak to you. Whether you know it or not, what your body really wants out of life is to xerox itself, propelling its own faint image into the future, thereby ensuring that you and your clan, and the whole of the human race, will not become extinct.

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