Saturday, May 11, 2013

(Why) I'm not dead yet

Given I am on the cusp of menopause, my life-purpose, from a biological perspective, is done and dusted and lifetime should be ending with my fertility. But it isn't. Because I am human.

Have you ever wondered why?

There is a concept I wholeheartedly accept, known as the Grandmother Hypothesis. Unlike most other mammals - with the exception of other highly-evolved species including whales - human females live beyond the end of their fertility. Once her own contribution to reproduction ceases, the human female moves to supporting the work of the next generation in raising their young. Given the fragile dependency of human infants compared to  others, the mother needs to concentrate her efforts on the care and feeding of the newborn, almost to the exclusion of her older children. This is where the grandmothers will step in, caring for the siblings and ensuring their survival despite the dependance on the mother of the newborn.

There is still much to be looked into to prove this is the science behind our longevity but it makes a lot of sense to me. All things being equal, I can expect at least another quarter century of life. Given my genetics, I am hopeful of another two! Apart from my long list of books to read, projects to complete and experiences I want to have, there must be some point biologically to me consuming Earth's resources for twice the time I contribute to human procreation.

I only need to look to my family tree to see that grandmothers have had a very real purpose and longevity.

My maternal great grandmother Mary Chapple with two of her daughters, the one holding the cat is my grandmother, Louisa.

Mary with two of her grandchildren, my Aunty Phyllis and Uncle Alan

Louisa with my mother and five of Aunty Phyllis's six children

My grandmother Louisa, with my mother and I!
My paternal grandparents, with five of my Aunty Dorothy's 12 children!

My parents, paternal grandparents and my sister and I
My husband's maternal grandmother with my son
My husband's paternal grandmother with us and our eldest daughter
My daughters with their paternal grandparents
My husband's parents with their nine grandchildren

My parents with my eldest daughter
My daughter with her daughter and her paternal grandmother

Myself with the newest member of our family, my granddaughter Charlie
Whatever the purpose of female elders and grandmothers, I am happy to become one and look forward to the second half of my life.

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