Calculating the odds of being born

Consider yourself lucky to be here? Make that ‘very very lucky’.

Calculating the odds of being born

Peter Leith is 89 and describes himself as ‘half-deaf and half-blind’, but he has never been one to dwell on his challenges. What odds! One in 250 million continues his Aspects of Ageing series of true short stories and observations.


I recently read that there are 250 million sperm in every ejaculation … 250 million!

What an incredible fluke that I am not one of my 249,999,999 potential sisters or brothers who were never to be.

As I get on in years and near the end of the ‘penny-section’, I cannot help wondering how my millions of once-potential siblings might have contributed more to the world than I have.

Naturally, that train of thought inevitably leads to: “What have I contributed to the world at large?”

That, in turn, leads to an urgent need for a cup of coffee and a change of thought.

Do you have such thoughts? Have they affected your sense of satisfaction with your achievements so far?


This is one of a series of short stories in a growing collection called Aspects of Ageing. Peter says the anecdotes are based on fact, and hopes his observations stimulate your thinking.

Do you have a story or an observation for Peter? Send it to and put ‘Sunday’ in the subject line.



    To make a comment, please register or login
    14th Apr 2019
    1 in 250 million? Actually no. The probability of conceiving is approximately 12 in 30.
    That makes to the probability of one particular sperm fertilising an egg (given this is indeed the sperm count for the individual concerned) 1 in 625 million from my calculations.
    The throw in a whole pile of other 'uncertainties' and the odds blow out even further.

    The author may need to get a mathematician to model the probabilities because they are anything other than basic and subject to a whole pile of ifs maybes and buts because we are not all the same.

    On the subject of what one can contribute to society the author appears to have a hardware approach to this. I believe that what human beings can contribute in the areas of kindness, empathy, integrity and treating others like they want to be treated themselves are much more important than if you create wealth or build something which post dates you.
    Given my own failure on a few of the above I need to say it ain't easy to be a good guy and some people are better at it than I. Getting involved in arguments with the rats of the planet is easy but I often wonder if its worth my short time on the planet engaging with these people or whether I should just withdraw and let things play out the way they will. This often challenges my Christian view of life but I'm not one to let the crooks of the planet do their stuff and move on. Apologies for the eulogy!
    pedro the swift
    14th Apr 2019
    "This way lies madness". Playing what "if games" never achieves much.
    If the odds of being born are so high against it, how is it that we now have socalled problem with overpopulation? Are there too many couples working hard to reduce the odds?
    14th Apr 2019
    They're talking about the probability of a specific individual being born - not numbers...

    14th Apr 2019
    a) It's a lottery ...

    b) Ah, yes, Laszlo -the old 'men go for quantity, women for quality' trick, eh? (I wasn't aware it was a competition)...
    14th Apr 2019
    Whatever the odds, it is to my great fortune that I have had time here. Nothing to complain of, plenty to assess for quality. Every new day a bonus.
    14th Apr 2019
    You're lucky as you sound happy. For many life is an eternal struggle where every other day brings sadness.
    Congratulations. I'm jealous JAID.
    15th Apr 2019
    Thanks Mick,

    It does not come without comparative adversity. I will not attempt to list that but in the most meagre situation and with shortest time one can still be happy to see something of this beautiful, perhaps compromised world.

    I have not managed to achieve my father's, his happiness was so obviously never based on any of his own supposed (but I thought prodigious) successes but on those of everybody and most everything else.
    14th Apr 2019
    A much older sister once told me that I was born lucky. When asked why she said I was born with the umbilical cord around my neck.
    14th Apr 2019
    My understanding is that the egg is 'you' and it doesn't matter which one of the 250 million sperm fertilize it, that won't change the fact that 'you' are coming into existence if the ova that is going to become you is fertilized.
    14th Apr 2019
    The most valid way of counting the odds of one's existence is to count the improbability of your parents (and their ancestors ad nausem) meeting. This would certainly meet the criterion of a technical impossibility.
    That is, you shouldn't exist.
    15th Apr 2019
    Thterbi, you've hit it in one. I belong to a family history group, and I have traced my ancestors easily into the 1700s, and one section where Sarah was born to Thomas and Eizabeth and baptized on 25th September 1629.! So all those probabilities of my ancestors down the line meeting their other halves,----- how can you fathom it.

    Join YOURLifeChoices, it’s free

    • Receive our daily enewsletter
    • Enter competitions
    • Comment on articles