This is another something I wrote back in the oliofolio days, and, again, I’ve been holding off on posting it here until after I posted about the pregnancy. I am looking at it in a slightly different light now that I know I’m having a girl, and that may be something to think more about if I were to expand this: go into the differences between boys and girls from early pregnancy (Do you get more sick with girls? I did! But why?) through toddlerhood (trucks versus dolls), adolescence (friend/relationship issues versus whatever), and adulthood (becoming a mom or dad themselves). It is more researched* and less personal than most of my other writings, which is something I enjoy and hope to be able to do more of when I have more time to myself and am less consumed by the kidlets.
I hope you enjoy it, and please let me know if you have any thoughts or suggestions or comments.
One of the most charged experiences in a person’s life begins with an electrical adjustment. Sperm meets egg and the union alters the electricity in the surrounding fluid, prompting calcium to leak into the egg. A literal spark of life. The egg becomes resistant to more sperm. It has been fertilized. Conception has commenced and with it, a flurry of activity: the shuffling of chromosomes, the splitting of cells as they sweep down the tubes to the womb, all the while deciding which cells will do what, who this baby will be. Dominant, recessive. Boy, girl. Outgoing, reserved. Dad’s ears, Mom’s chin.
The united cells split and multiply, and within days become a blastocyst, which splits to become the trophoblast (the placenta) and the embryo (the fetus). Within a week of fertilization the blastocyst invades the wall of the womb, burrowing deep and being covered by scar tissue — a temporary haven for a parasite, a foreign object that would normally be rejected and discarded. But a barrier is erected to protect the invader, to nourish it with the mother’s nutrients. The placenta subverts her immune system, convincing her body that this growth belongs to her, and then carries food, oxygen and hormones to the sprouting being.
By three weeks, the brain and spinal cord are taking shape. A furrow becomes a tube where the cord will sit, neurons branch out, lobes appear. At four weeks the heart begins to beat, to shock the surrounding cells into action and they pulse together and, by the end of the week, move blood cells through vessels no thicker than a hair.
By eleven weeks the fetus has developed the reflex that will help him learn to walk. A bouncing baby practicing his first steps. A nervous impulse causes muscle contractions, legs strengthen, a survival skill develops. In the ensuing weeks, the fetus learns to bend and twist. He squirms when his home is touched. He grasps the umbilical cord. He blinks, though there is nothing to see. He tastes. His central nervous system takes over, regulating his reflexes, causing his heart to beat steadily, firing synapses and maintaining consciousness. He practices sucking and swallowing and starting at noises. It is ten weeks before he will be born, and he is making memories. He remembers his mother’s voice, the music she listens to. He is learning, dreaming, stirring, and then turning for the last time to emerge head-first into his new world.
He is born and the room is electrified in anticipation, waiting for his first cry. He is two, a bundle of energy, a whirlwind of activity. He is nine and his curiosity is invigorating. He is fifteen and is jolted by his own undulating moods. He is eighteen and fiery at the prospect of living on his own. He is twenty-nine and thrilled that his wife is about to bring their own spark into the world.
*Many thanks to Peter Tallack’s fascinating In the Womb for much of the information.