Common Wisdom: Where Do Babies Come From?

When is Dynamitey going to come out?” asks three-year-old Maria, as she does, oh, once or twice a week.

“We don’t know, she’s still an egg,” says five-year-old Peter, with a big brother’s scorn for youthful ignorance.

Dynamitey is our yet-to-be-born (and yet to be conceived, as Peter was reminding his sister) fourth child. The name spontaneously suggested itself to Maria, and when I observe her own explosive energy, I can see why she was taken with it. Our third, nine-month-old David, contributes nothing directly to the conversation, but indirectly he is very important, since his prenatal period gave Peter his slightly skewed scientific understanding of life before birth.

We have two or three favorite books on pregnancy, which we bring out each time around. (We have two or three favorite books on everything, so space on coffee tables and near bedsides is at a premium.) This time Peter was old enough to be fascinated by the drawings of fetal development, and even by such esoterica as the workings of the placenta. My husband, a born educator, endeavored to bring down to his level the diagrams of chromosomes and elementary genetics. But Peter seemed to be most impressed by the idea of my cache of eggs—perhaps because it so nicely supplied the answer to questions like, “Where were we at Mom and Dad’s wedding?” “We were still eggs,” Peter explains to Maria, handing on this bit of information as he does every other.

During the long wait for brother David’s appearance, Peter would ask to look at the drawings of the womb almost nightly. We also had two sonogram pictures, taken at 10 weeks and 13 weeks. They were the subject of much meditation by the kids in their way, and I in mine.

Little swimmer, where do you come from, what are you thinking of? Do you know that your mother already loves you with a love that breaks her heart? That when you grow and swell my abdomen I cradle it, sometimes wishing, waiting to cradle you? That your poking and pushing bear me company and assuage the loneliness of waiting? Little swimmer?

“This is the head, and these are the feet,” says Peter, pointing.

The baby is real to all of us. Books and high-tech pictures help make our mental images more accurate, but they do not make me more “with child” than any other pregnant woman of another time—or than Our Lady, journeying to Elizabeth, and pondering many things in her heart. Elizabeth was much closer than Mary to childbirth at their meeting, and she felt John the Baptist leap in her womb. But already Mary was, as Elizabeth acknowledged, the “mother of my Lord.”

In Peter and Maria’s eyes, I am already the mother of Dynamitey—and others after him/her. (“Dynamitey is going to be a girl,” says long-suffering Maria, who wants to even the odds in the family, and raise up a future Barbie lover. “We don’t know, he may be a boy or he may be a girl,” says my adamant Peter.)

As you can see, they have not yet grasped the central significance of the moment of conception, as taught by the Church or even by science. Theirs is a somewhat dizzying perspective to adopt, but in some ways, perhaps, it is closer to God’s than mine. If I am ever blessed with Dynamitey and her successors (the name does give one pause, but still), then, working backwards along the time line, as human beings are constrained to do, I will know that she was as real in God’s sight now, at this moment, as at the time of her conception. For eternity does not rely upon the arbitrary demarcations of time. Eggs are not endowed with immortal souls, but God—unlike Peter, Maria, or me—knows always and eternally the names of all His creatures.

David, who is almost 10 months old now, has begun to walk. He beams after every successful trial, waiting for us to beam back. He watches his siblings do silly things, and laughs so hard he falls over backwards. He waves bye-bye to his dad in the morning with a smile that splits his face. He is concentrated delight.

We have always loved him, but we love him now for what he is. Human beings fasten on particularities to explain their loves and hates. If David had been a wise, contemplative Buddha baby, observing all and bestowing rare smiles of reward on the worthy, we would have loved him in a different way, along the lines of his nature.

Before the great chasm which we call birth, we loved David in and through mystery. We knew him tentatively, uncertainly, analogously. We gave him many identities and many destinies. We pondered many things in our hearts.

  • Ellen Wilson Fielding

    Ellen Wilson Fielding is a writer and former contributing editor to Crisis Magazine.

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