An Extraordinary Stroke of Luck

Just My Luck – Chapter 1

Let’s start at the beginning. Everyone who has populated this planet necessarily had a great deal of good fortune just to be born here.  Think about it, of all the billions of planets in the universe, we happened to have evolved on one that is just far enough away from its sun and at the same time close enough to the sun to sustain life as we know it. Water, carbon, an atmosphere of non-lethal gasses, electric lightning, and other environmental conditions had to exist in sufficient supply in order to support life on earth. Devine providence or scientific phenomenon, the fact that life was created on Earth out of a crucial combination of non-living elements in just the right environment had to have been miraculously lucky.

Now, consider the incredible luck involved in just being born. Virtually every human that ever lived beat some insanely long mathematical odds simply to be created.


I took the familiar route to birth. I was conceived when one of my father’s sperm cells attached itself to one of my mother’s eggs and together they fertilized into a human embryo that ultimately became me.  

But what if…

What if a different sperm cell had been first to cross the finish line of that evening’s running of the Fertilization Cup; would my mother have given birth to someone other than me? Certainly a different embryo, fetus, and child would have been conceived. That child would have been the lucky one, not me. But, of course if I’d never been created, there wouldn’t have been a “me” to have had any luck, good or bad, would there? I’d just be one of an infinite universe of possibilities that never happened.  

Never to have existed at all. There’s a concept to ponder.

Just How Long Are The Odds?

Casino1A unique, specific pairing of sperm cell and egg was necessary to create each distinct person who ever lived. Presuming that the selection of the lucky cell and its hostess is random, what are the odds that a specific, tail-wagging sperm will fertilize a particular egg?

A normally healthy woman produces an egg every month or so for let’s say roughly 40 years. By that premise, she will have produced plus-or-minus 480 eggs in her lifetime. How many of them might ultimately be fertilized? On average perhaps somewhere between 2 and 4.  Conservatively then, let’s say 4 out of every 480 eggs that a would-be mother produces will actually yield a human life. So on the distaff side, each egg has a 0.83% chance to become an embryo. Only one of each 120 eggs is lucky.

Those are some dauntingly long odds, but when measured against the chance a single sperm cell has, the egg’s chance at fertilization begins to resemble a sure thing.

A healthy man releases a veritable deluge of sperm cells every time he ejaculates. To listen to locker room exaggeration, some potential fathers sometimes do that two or three times a day (with or without help). But according to credible sources “A healthy adult male can release between 40 million and 1.2 billion sperm cells in a single ejaculation.” * I don’t know, that seems like a monumental waste of sperm cells to me.

Okay, lets get this straight (no pun intended), for every one of an individual female’s 480 eggs, there can between 40 million and 1.2 billion squiggly suitors per “try.”  Now there’s a long shot.

Only one of my father’s hundreds-of-billions of sperm cells, the super-duper lucky one that helped create me, out-squiggled all the others in that fateful time that the stars and life cycles were properly aligned when my parents made love. And when the sperm cell with my dad’s contribution of chromosomes to my genes found and attached itself to my mother’s egg before all other competitors, two distinct sets of genes combined elegantly to produce….me.

I am therefor the product of astoundingly incredible luck. Look around you; the same is true for all of us. We need to realize that in the broad realm of possibilities, every single human being’s mere existence is so improbable and so exceedingly rare as to be excruciatingly precious.

Of that there is no doubt.

You’re Not Just One in a Million, You’re One in 1.92 Trillion!

Let’s be Ultra Conservative about the chance that a particular sperm cell/egg pairing will take place and say that:

  • One of each 120 eggs the woman produces will be fertilized (four kids)
  • Her partner, who will remain loyal to her throughout their lives (told you this was Conservative), is on the lower end of the sperm production meter at only 40 million per ejaculation
  • The couple has intercourse just once per month (now we’ve reached Ultra Conservative):

 The total number of sperm cells released by Dad in his once monthly attempts to fertilize one of Mom’s 120 eggs would be 40 million X 120. That makes the odds on the Ultra Conservative tote board 1: 480 Billion to conceive one child.

In the Ultra Conservative, not-trying-very-hard-to-make-it-happen scenario, each sperm’s chance at human life is: 1 / 480,000,000,000

Not to beat a dead horse, but that’s 1 winner and 479,999,999 losers.

Now (forgive me, but I’m having fun) if you increase the love-making frequency assumption (always a good thing) to a still conservative four times per month, the denominator of this fraction becomes 40 million X 120 X 4 = 1.92 Trillion.

A very tough bet, but what a prize!

How Commonplace is the Extraordinary?

This is how common this extraordinary luck is. There are roughly 7.4 billion people alive on earth right now with an average life span of 71 years. So for each of the past 71 years the nearly impossible miracle happened an average of over 104 million times (7.4 billion folks/71 years)!

Is this just a gargantuan waste of sperm cells, or Darwin’s survival of the fittest taken to the extreme?

An Extra Helping of Luck

In the Become-a-Baby Mega Trillions Lottery, I needed and got an extra helping of luck. My parents wanted two children and ultimately that’s what they had (my sister is four years my senior).

So why did I need an added portion of luck?

I was a young man before I learned that my mother had a miscarriage during the four years between her pregnancy with my sister and her pregnancy with me. It was a sad and unfortunate event for my parents, but a lucky break for me. How crazy is this? Years before I was imagined and conceived, when I was nothing more than the slightest inkling of a minute possibility, I got lucky. Had my parent’s second pregnancy produced a healthy child, it is conceivably (no pun intended again) very unlikely that the sperm cell and the egg that joined to produce me would ever have met.

A Trojan warrior would have seen to that.

Just My Luck.

Okay, You’re Here…. Now What?

I hope you’re pleased to know how impressively you won the person-to-be sweepstakes. In the realm of possibility you are a bona-fide champion. Take a moment to digest that thought.

In the context of the whole wide realm of non-events, the platitude “Every life is precious” takes on real significance. What we do with, and in, our lives determines if we keep life precious, or if we waste the brightest of golden opportunities.

After a great deal of introspection, much of which occurred in the context of nearly losing my life prematurely a number of times, I arrived at three goals that I believe are worthy of my precious life. They are:

  • learning from living long,
  • living a life worth living, and
  • being content.

 The first goal simply supplies the tools needed to accomplish the rest.

Being lucky at avoiding death has become my specialty.




©2016 James Ash

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