Human Reproduction and Murphy’s Law

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The basic point here is that human reproduction involves a very complicated sequence of events, while Murphy’s Law is a well-verified general observation regarding complicated events. However, somehow this combination of facts is too-often ignored, which can lead to unnecessary emotional suffering when that sequence of events is discovered to have begun, but afterward fails to become completed. Since “knowledge is power”, the purpose of this Knol is to empower people, such that certain emotional sufferings might be reduced, or sometimes (not always!) even be prevented.

To begin, there is plenty of data about ways in which the process of human reproduction can fail:
1) Fertilization can fail to occur, even though sperm encounters egg.
2) The blastocyst can fail to escape its egg.
3) The blastocyst can fail to pass through the natural protective mucus coating of a womb, to implant in it.
4) The blastocyst/embryo can fail to stay attached to womb, due to menstruation.
5) The blastocyst/embryo/fetus can be biologically rejected by a woman’s immune system.
6) The embryo/fetus can fail to develop properly due to some deficiency in a woman’s diet.
7) The embryo/fetus can fail to develop properly due to toxins in a woman’s environment.

Finally, any of the stages of the reproductive process can fail due to expression-errors in the genetic code –the faulty code may have originated in either contributor of DNA– the first item on the list is perhaps as often due to incompatible genetics as to other factors (e.g., a low sperm count).

Before examining some details of the listed items, here’s a fact about Murphy’s Law: While it is widely valid, its validity can be reduced by one thing in particular, the Boy Scout Motto: “Be Prepared!” For example, the potential for the seventh problem on the above list can obviously be reduced if a careful inventory is made of environmental toxins, and steps are taken to ensure none of them enter a woman’s body during pregnancy. Even Murphy’s Law must bow to the logic that if certain environmental toxins don’t exist, then they cannot cause the reproductive process to go wrong.

1) Fertilization
The procedure known as “in-vitro fertilization” has yielded a lot of information about how difficult it can sometimes be, for a sperm and an egg to successfully merge to form a “zygote”.

Historically, about 1/8 to 1/6 of all couples were/are unable to reproduce. Traditionally (and extremely stupidly), the woman is accused of being “barren”, when in actual fact it could be the man whose reproductive system is at fault (for example, a teenage boy who catches a disease commonly known as “mumps” may afterward have a too-low sperm count). Here are some other possibilities. And sometimes it is the fault of neither person’s body in particular; it is Murphy’s Law taking advantage of special genetic circumstances.

Consider a DNA chromosome, which can contain many hundreds of genes. Everyone has some faulty genes, but, fortunately, DNA contains redundancy, and the natural genetic decoding system has ways of identifying and disabling a bad gene, and using instead the good backup gene. However, the reason a backup gene exists is because two parents contributed DNA. What if both have defective versions of the same gene? Depending on the gene, the consequences could be relatively minor (e.g., a newborn has an unusual number of fingers), or very severe (e.g., fertilization fails utterly).

In general, even when two healthy people have defective versions of the same gene, it logically follows, by definition of their being healthy, they also have non-defective versions of that gene. The statistics associated with gene-shuffling allows a 1-in-4 chance of of the defective pair linking together, and a 3-in-4 chance of at least one good gene getting through, during fertilization. So the obvious answer is, per an old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”.

But now recall that “Everyone has some faulty genes”–plural! It is possible for two people to have the bad luck of multiple matching bad genes, such that almost every time DNA mixes together, at least one severely faulty pair gets linked up. The result is that, for this particular couple to successfully reproduce, it is a very-low-probability event –but if the involved parties split and find different partners (forming different couples), both might succeed easily!

Another way in which Murphy’s Law can strike a particular couple is related to this data. It indicates that the egg can literally decide which sperm will fertilize it. What if it doesn’t like any of the sperm it happens to encounter? Since “anything that can go wrong, will” this must happen occasionally. (And again, finding a different reproduction partner might be the solution.)

2) Escape Attempt
Immediately after formation, a zygote begins dividing, using as food the materials that were included inside the egg. After several divisions occur –if they successfully occur!– the zygote becomes a “blastocyst”. The egg’s built-in food supply is used up, and if the blastocyst is to continue dividing its cells, it must obtain resources elsewhere. Well, small as it is, a human egg nevertheless possesses a “shell” that must be cracked open by the blastocyst. Sometimes it fails, after which its death is inevitable. There is less data available regarding the success rate of egg-cracking attempts, but a few things are known. For one, older women tend to produce eggs that have thicker shells than younger women. This obviously increases the escape-attempt difficulty. More, even though a tougher egg might be narrowly cracked, the process by which the blastocyst squeezes through that crack can sometimes cause it to break apart into separate organisms. The result is that older women tend to have identical twins/triplets more often than younger women (whose thinner eggshells crack open more widely, making it easier for the blastocysts to each escape in one piece).

At this point an old old adage is relevant: “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch!” This adage is actually a kind of mental preparedness against Murphy’s Law. Someone who operates a chicken hatchery will be less upset by failed hatchings if attention is paid to the plain-and-simple facts, that the process of reproduction is complex, and that it sometimes fails. It logically follows that human blastocysts shouldn’t be counted either, before they hatch…(it’s even doubly logical because of the possible breaking-apart of hatching blastocysts, yielding identical twins/triplets!).

3) Implantation
A blastocyst that escapes its shell has the goal of acquiring more resources for further growth. Inside a woman’s body it normally has a limited opportunity for accomplishing that task (via implantation in the womb). As another old adage points out, “Timing is everything”. Consider the location of the egg when fertilization occurs. In normally happens in the fallopian tube near the ovary, but if it happens just as the egg nears the uterus, then the dividing zygote, which needs a four or five days to become a blastocyst, will simply fall right out of the woman’s body before the blastocyst cracks its shell. It has basically no chance of implanting in the womb.

Even if the timing is right, there is no guarantee that the blastocyst will implant. Like most tissues of the human body that one-way-or-another can be exposed to bacteria floating in the air, the womb has a protective coating of mucus. A blastocyst must pass through this coating in order to reach the actual surface of the womb. Well, different women have different thicknesses of this mucus coating, and sometimes it is too thick for the blastocyst to accomplish its goal. Instead it simply ends up exiting the womb altogether, and dies.

Even if the mucus coating is thin enough (and doctors know of ways to make a thick one thinner), Murphy’s Law can still be a factor. It is known that when a typical pregnancy ends, some scar tissue forms in the womb at the place where the placenta was attached. The more pregnancies, the more scar tissue. Certain abortion procedures can also cause additional uterine scarring. By sheer chance a newly-arriving blastocyst might encounter a scarred region of the womb, instead of an un-scarred region. In this case it can die while trying/failing to implant into the scar tissue.

If the blastocyst successfully implants in a womb, pregnancy begins. No other event qualifies (egg-fertilization is “conception” only, not pregnancy). It might be worth noting that the “modus operandi” of the so-called “morning after birth control pill” is to simply chemically modify the womb’s environment such that it discourages implantation by a blastocyst. Considering how often the process perfectly-naturally fails, it is amazing that some people become upset over any attempt to encourage blastocyst implantation to fail. Do they truly expect others to believe that just because something is possible, it must be allowed to happen? Such an attitude directly leads to outright idiocy, like saying, “Since it is possible for you to fall down some stairs and break your neck, it must be allowed to happen!”

4) Menstruation
It is well known that the mostly-regular process of menstruation must be disabled for a pregnancy to continue for more than, at most, about two weeks. During implantation into a womb, the blastocyst forms a connection with the woman’s bloodstream, and the connection (which eventually becomes the placenta) normally begins sending out special chemical signals (“hormones”). If it fails to do so, or if those hormones are faulty (due to genetic defects) and are not recognized by the woman’s body, then the next menstruation will be inevitable. Since menstruation involves layers of cells that are discarded from the interior surface of the womb, any attached blastocyst will be discarded along with them.

On the positive side of such an event, this minimal/miscarried pregnancy doesn’t leave any significant scar in the womb, and the woman often doesn’t even notice that she was temporarily pregnant. She might suspect it, but when menstruation occurs on schedule she almost always abandons the idea.

If the blastocyst succeeds at disabling the menstrual cycle, it might now be called an “embryo”. But Murphy’s Law, of course, is not done with it. If it dies (for example, as a consequence of failing to construct a protective amniotic sac), then obviously the dead embryo will no longer be signaling the woman’s body to disable the menstrual cycle, and the typical result is often called a “late period”. And the discarded/miscarried/dead embryo is usually too small to be noticed.

The evidence suggests that pregnancies begin far more frequently than they result in live birth. This is an important datum, because it means we might include all pregnancies in a special kind of a gambling event, in which most of the bets made are duds. The main difference between this particular gambling event and most others is that the longer this event lasts, the more resources become invested/gambled on a positive/winning outcome. However, as a kind of compensation for the increased investment as time passes, the odds of a winning outcome generally improve. So, if a pregnancy ends after only a week or three (as so many apparently do), the biological resources invested in that reproduction attempt were generally so minimal as to be barely noticed. But if a pregnancy lasts five months before (and much less often) a miscarriage occurs, very significant quantities of biological resources were invested–and wasted. It logically follows that it is perfectly reasonable for someone to become annoyed at said waste. Other emotions, however, can often be avoided (as described later).

5) Immunity
In connecting to a woman’s bloodstream to obtain nutrients and to prevent menstruation, an embryo can also make its presence known to the woman’s natural disease-fighting immune system. A major purpose of the placenta is to act as a filter that prevents the embryo’s DNA from being directly detected by that immune system. Nevertheless, some things cannot be filtered–e.g., the “Rh blood factor” –and as a result a woman’s body will sometimes reject/miscarry the embryo. It happens that Rh-factor rejection is well-understood, and doctors have ways of greatly reducing its probability of occurring.

But–obviously, per Murphy’s Law!–it’s not the only way a woman’s immune system might be activated, to reject the occupant of her womb. It may be decades before all of those ways are as well-understood as Rh-factor rejection. In the meantime, people need to be able to cope with (“immunize the mind regarding”) the basic fact that reproduction is a complex process that often fails to reach completion.

The first place to start with such mental immunization appears to be the language typically used to describe a pregnancy. How often have you heard phrases such as “I’m going to have a baby!” or “I’m expecting!”? Now, how often have you noticed that both phrases include a hidden assumption? Here is the first phrase with the hidden assumption exposed: “I’m 100%-chance going to have a baby!” –that statement is actually a lie, thanks to Murphy’s Law. Now consider a logical alternative to that first common phrase: “I’m going to have a miscarriage!” –nobody has any way of knowing in advance which of the two phrases will turn out to be true, even though live births typically (and by a considerable margin!) outnumber late miscarriages and still-births.

So, what is the correct thing to say? How about, “I have a baby under construction!”? This statement does not imply that the construction process will be successful. It does not have, built into it, the expectation that a live birth will result. So, if all involved parties constantly keep in mind that the construction process might fail, and then, if that actually happens…. It is well known that people can become disappointed (sometimes extremely so) when their expectations fail to become reality, . The only solution is for people to choose their expectations carefully. And to strongly avoid using language that, even subconsciously, creates unwise expectations. It is basically another aspect of well-known psychological principles.

6) Diet
It is a cliche` that a pregnant woman may crave unusual foods or food-combinations, such as pickles and ice cream. But it is also a fact that pregnancy increases the normal need for nutrients. It is possible that certain nutrients are needed in significant quantity by the baby-under-construction, but are normally needed only in tiny amounts by an adult female body. As a result, it is generally OK for a pregnant woman to feed her oddball cravings. Evolution has given organisms millions of centuries to devise ways to recognize sources of needed nutrients –even if said sources happen to be pickles and ice cream! (For a more extreme opinion regarding this fact, see “anopsology”.)

On the other hand, modern nutritionists have learned huge amounts about what sort of nutrients a woman should consume in order to supply her pregnancy with construction materiel. Following their advice in these matters is generally a good idea.

However, per Murphy’s Law, it is not yet certain that modern nutritionists have identified every single thing that a baby-under-construction needs for proper development. If a pregnant woman still has unusual cravings, even after obeying the nutritionists, this could be indicative that something is still lacking in her diet. Or, perhaps it may mean that some “ordinary” food wasn’t as digestible by her body as it should be, and so the craving is pointing toward a more-digestible alternate source. Or, the craving might be entirely a “red herring”! Where Murphy’s Law is concerned, uncertainty can be rampant.

One thing that is certain is that the baby-under-construction causes, one way or another, more things to enter a woman’s body than only the hormones needed to prevent menstruation, or to help trigger a dietary craving. Some of those things probably cause “morning sickness” –which, fortunately for most women, is usually temporary– while others are psycho-active, and can cause a woman to experience a (false!) sense of well-being, even as calcium is stripped from her bones and foreign body-waste products are dumped into her bloodstream. The common “post-partum depression” that can occur after birth (or even after a late miscarriage) may actually be “withdrawal symptoms” associated with a near-addiction to those no-longer-being-supplied psycho-active chemicals. Certainly some women choose to be frequently pregnant, claiming they like it (at least, after the time of morning sickness ends)….

Regarding the phenomenon of addiction in general, this is another example of Murphy’s Law in action. The process of Evolution clearly tends to favor organisms that have more offspring than other organisms. So, a pregnancy that feels good is more likely to be voluntarily carried to term than one that obviously causes months and months of ill-health. If sexual activity is pleasurable, organisms that reproduce sexually will have more offspring as a by-product of seeking pleasure. If sexual activity is physically addictive, then the preceding sentence becomes even-more true. Well, once Evolution granted a reproductive advantage to organisms possessing addictive-behavior biological machinery, it became perfectly possible for that machinery to, per Murphy’s law, become activated by other means and situations, such as drugs, or even hormones….

If it turns out to be true that women can become partially addicted to hormones released during pregnancy, and that post-partum depression is the withdrawal symptom, then there is little in the way of mental preparation that can be done to prevent it. Some sort of blocker drug needs to be found, to counteract the false sense of well-being, and thereby prevent any chance or degree of addiction.

On the other hand, there is such a thing as a “mental diet”, which can be very important to any person’s long-term well-being. During pregnancy, since the outcome is uncertain, one particular type of mental diet must be avoided as much as possible. This detrimental diet consists of such things as swallowing congratulations regarding going-to-have a baby. All who try to feed you such a mental diet are helping to create unrealistic expectations.

Not to mention that the results of such tactics tend to imply that some people appear to have evil ulterior motives. Consider those who are trained to promote various religious views, for example. One of their well-known functions is “grief counseling”. It logically follows that if they can create an unrealistic expectation regarding pregnancy, and that expectation fails to become realized, then they get to benefit from the resulting caused-by-them need for grief counseling! In various other fields similar chicanery is considered to be totally unethical, as bad as organized criminals demanding protection money, or else!

Better to tell the religions to take their lies about the outcome of a pregnancy –proved to be lies because God obviously chooses to not interfere widely with how Murphy’s Law affects pregnancies– and shove ’em. Then continue as previously described, thinking of a pregnancy as a baby-under-construction, a complex process that might fail to become completed successfully. “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst” –that ancient adage is the correct mental diet!

7) Toxins
Expanding on something previously mentioned, it is certainly possible that many women have already been exposed to various environmental toxins, which could cause developmental problems during a pregnancy. Ways should be found to purge them from each woman’s body before pregnancy begins. Nevertheless, some toxins are worse than others, in that they can cause genetic damage that remains (for men as well as for women), even after the toxins are removed. Successful reproduction can become much less likely in such cases, although not necessarily impossible.

It is interesting to note that while most human cultures generally expect people of child-bearing age to find mates and raise children, doing so is neither a legal requirement nor something defined as a “human right” –although some people assume such exists. It makes sense for there to not be such a law, given the fact that about 1/8 to 1/6 of all couples are Naturally/physically unable to reproduce. It would be like saying, “you have the legal right to breathe water” when no human is actually able to breathe water –such a law would be just plain silly. On the other hand, imagine (A) that there was a formal legal right to reproduce, and (B) the consequences for those people who industriously dump toxins into the environment, thereby interfering detrimentally with that imaginary right-to-reproduce. It is almost (almost!) humorous how, after making an overview of some large-scale “conservative” political preferences, it seems various people in group (B) would actually support the imaginary law (A) –until they realized they would be setting themselves up to be sued, massively!

Moving on…some people may claim that certain aspects of the mental attitude recommended here are themselves toxic. They will claim that expectations tend to affect reality in a positive way –and in actual fact, in certain times and places, they are correct. It is becoming well known that a positive attitude (including positive expectations) about one’s own health can be a real –and positive– influence upon that health. Also, negative mental attitudes can detrimentally affect one’s health. Therefore some people will erroneously conclude that positive expectations about a pregnancy are necessary (and any other attitude could be a toxic influence). “Mind over body” it is called. However, to be more precise, all the evidence is about the mind affecting one’s own body, not affecting other bodies. The ability to directly affect other bodies with nothing more than positive mental expectations is very far from having been scientifically established.

With great certainty, a pregnant woman is dealing with more than just her own body; it is a very different body that constitutes the baby-under-construction. That independent and growing organism is, with as much molecular biochemechanical precision as possible, following the pre-programmed construction plans coded into its DNA, and if there is a fatal flaw in that programming, all the positive expectations in the world will be useless. Period! Therefore the true toxic mental attitude is to believe things that are not true. Mark Twain famously phrased it as an adage: “It ain’t what you don’t know that hurts you so much as what you do know that ain’t so!” And Twain has been proved right every time a miscarriage ever preceded grief counseling for failed expectations.

8) Faulty Code
As implied above, DNA controls everything from egg-fertilization to signaling a pregnant woman’s body that labor should begin. It is not impossible that some still-births happen because of a wrong sequence of final instructions (shut down use of oxygen-supplying umbilical cord before birth is accomplished, and death is almost certain). Murphy’s Law is quite clear and explicit: “Anything that can go wrong, will” (to at least some babies-under-construction).

So let’s examine another type of faulty code, for a bit. The legal code generally grants a kind of “ownership” over each baby-under-construction, almost always to at least one and sometimes to both of its parents. Logically, this means that if a miscarriage happens, the “property” is lost, and for someone to experience an emotional sense-of-loss as a consequence is fully understandable. However, that logic in turn implies that, to the extent the legal code encourages mental attitudes that can lead to such emotional suffering, the legal code is faulty! What is a better alternative?

Perhaps a better concept than “ownership” is “authority”. Someone who has authority over another has many of the powers of ownership –and can even include life-or-death decision-making, as any army general can verify. However, the person-in-authority does not automatically also have the kind of emotional investment/attitude that is normally associated with ownership–and, indeed, someone who has authority over another, yet expresses an attitude of ownership, is generally socially frowned-upon.

It therefore might make sense for legal codes to be modified, to substitute “authority” for “ownership” where-ever such is appropriate regarding pregnancies. But even before any such legal changes happen, it can be strongly recommended that people who are directly involved with pregnancies most-carefully refrain from thinking about them in terms of “ownership”. One fact which might help involves the power-of-control normally associated with ownership. Does anyone out there really think they can control the construction process going on during a pregnancy?

In actual fact that process is completely outside ordinary macroscopic control! The genetic instructions being followed, by a baby-under-construction, are going to do what they are programmed to do –we might be able to mess them up by, say, adding environmental toxins, but we most certainly can’t make them defy Murphy’s Law! Therefore it would be just plain silly to think one “owns” a baby-under-construction. Which logically means that if the process fails, little that is actually owned is lost (but see above, regarding “waste” in Section 4). So, in accordance with the ancient adage that “fore-warned is fore-armed”, people who heed these facts, and avoid a sense of ownership over a pregnancy, have a decent chance of also dodging a sense of loss if a miscarriage or still-birth occurs.

In closing, another aspect of “faulty legal code” needs to be examined. The fault here is not so much in laws that already exist, but in certain proposed changes to those laws. It happens that there are people who think –and will claim that their thinking is bolstered by the provable independence-from-control of a baby-under-construction– that a baby-under-construction should be recognized as a “person”, and granted certain legal rights. However, their logic in this regard is fundamentally flawed, because there is much more to a person than mere independence-from-control. For example, if you happen to own an electronic computer and some software-application you use does not operate in every way according to how you want it to operate, you can say that that computer is exhibiting some independence from your control –so, should it also be called a “person”?

The basic fact is that a baby-under-construction, following the hard-coded instructions stored in its DNA, is no more a person than is an electronic computer following the hard-coded instructions in its BIOS chip. And changing the law won’t change that fact of physical reality, not one iota. (Another physical fact is that the brains of persons are fundamentally different from low-level DNA-processing biology, and have the ability to create their own software — but many mere animals can do that, also; a “habit” is a simple type of software program –and even some computers can do that, too.) Meanwhile, per Murphy’s Law, faulty code will continue to detrimentally affect all types of complex systems, well into the future….