The beginning of life in the womb is in itself a miraculous journey. As many as 500 million sperm begin their journey together as they travel through the vagina, the uterus and eventually the fallopian tube. Sperm have a sense of smell (!) and they smell their way to the egg. Once one (out of 500 million) sperm penetrates the egg’s wall, it is drawn to the nucleus of the egg. Egg and sperm merge and become one. Conception has occurred.
I didn’t plan my first pregnancy. After years of wondering what it would feel like to be pregnant, the reality was very close to my fantasies – surges of nausea, sore breasts and the ever-present feelings of anticipation and awe. Mostly I was overwhelmed by the presence of another life inside my body. I was sharing my body with my baby. 30 years later it remains the single most amazing thing that has ever happened to me.
The moment I made the choice and committed myself to that pregnancy, I was a mother. The acknowledgment that a life had begun in my womb - and my desire to hold and nurture that life - was the beginning of motherhood for me. The bond between me and that brand new life took on a strength and purpose which colored every other aspect of my life. As day followed day, I was more and more certain of the presence of another consciousness, separate from me but ever-present.
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One day after fertilization the egg divides for the first time. One week after fertilization the egg arrives in the uterus. During the third week the embryo begins to take shape. During the fourth week, the first organ to begin to develop is the heart. I am overwhelmed by this thought and image: at four weeks we all have a beating heart, which will continue to beat throughout our lives. Taken out of the realm of the physical for a moment, this image resonates with my belief that we are beings of love, created in love, nurtured in love, and ultimately merging back into the source of unending love.
My first pregnancy occurred at a time when my life was in transition in all kinds of ways. I was moving away from a relationship, away from the city, away from the traditional American ideals of career and success. I was moving toward a more simplified existence with an ideal of voluntary poverty as part of the back to the land movement. I was a hippie living in a converted chicken shack.
As the pregnancy progressed I trusted in the Universe and my own dharma (destiny or path) to lead me where I needed to go, to teach me what I needed to learn. People who could help me with the pregnancy and birth began to materialize in my life. I was given the book, “Prenatal Yoga” by Jeannine Parvati Baker, and I began to practice prenatal yoga daily. I found a nurse who was studying to become a midwife. My delivery would be her first. I decided to have my baby at home- wherever that would be. Hopefully, not the chicken shack!
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During the second trimester – months four, five and six - the sexual organs are formed. The baby becomes sensitive to touch. By 16 weeks, the baby makes intricate movements and has an awareness of the space around him. By 18 weeks, the mother becomes aware of the baby’s movements, though the baby has been active for quite some time. Some babies open their eyes as early as 18 weeks. By five months – halfway to the birth – the baby is seven inches long and has her own fingerprints – her own unique identity. At the end of the second trimester, every part of the baby has been formed. At 24 weeks, the baby may survive outside the womb, but the lungs are too small to take in enough oxygen. The baby takes in all nutrients including oxygen from the umbilical cord.
The second trimester was simply fantastic for me. All the doubts and fears about being pregnant during this unstable time in my life receded into the background. What was front and center was a feeling of inner strength and the belief that I could do anything I needed to do in order to be the best mother to this child I could possibly be. I started taking charge of my life in a more conscious way. I met a spiritual teacher (guru) who gave me a mantra to repeat as I rubbed my growing belly. I was on my way.
I started making decisions with a strength and a certainty I had never felt before. I severed my relationship with the baby’s father so as to be able to concentrate on getting ready to be a parent. The relationship had essentially ended before we knew a pregnancy had begun. We needed to go our separate ways, and I didn’t want him hanging around out of obligation. While I had initially been afraid of being alone and pregnant, I was now reveling in my new-found strength and comfortable with being on my own. I trusted in the universe to bring me the people I needed to help with the pregnancy, birth and parenting of this baby.
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By the seventh month the sense organs are mature. Strong smells can come into the womb through the amniotic fluid. The baby’s eyes open and close. What does he see when his eyes are open? Sounds are now heard from outside the womb. The mother’s voice is carried through the amniotic fluid as well as from outside the womb. In addition to hearing and smelling and ‘seeing’, the baby is also aware of and affected by the mother’s mental and emotional state. The mother’s heart rate and blood pressure change as a result of her mental and emotional states and this change in heart rate and blood pressure is filtered through the placenta. The baby is thinking and feeling right along with his mother in a very elemental way. Practicing a form of daily meditation and/or contemplation can help keep both mother and baby calmer and able to withstand the unavoidable stresses and strains of daily life.
I knew in some deep, primal way that my mental and emotional state affected my baby. And as he grew, his consciousness also affected me. I was able to stay calmer and more centered as a result of his influence and presence in my life. We were a team and we went everywhere together. I was growing bigger, but I was young and strong and active. I never felt more comfortable in my own body than I did in this third trimester, as least until the last few weeks.
I have pictures of myself (and Joseph) at this stage. I am tanned all over and very pregnant, breasts and belly swollen and huge. I look like some native-hippie-earth-woman – young and strong and brimming with life. I was living solidly within my physical body and also aware of the way my consciousness emanated out from the physical into other etheric realms.
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During the third trimester, the baby prepares for life outside the womb. She will triple in weight and double in length. She will spend 90% of her time sleeping and 10% of the time awake and alert. She has a startle reflex to a sudden noise. She learns to swallow and shows a clear preference for the right or left thumb – a preference which will stay with her for the rest of her life. At eight months – 33 weeks – the baby responds to her mother’s voice and patterns of speech. The baby’s cries will have similar patterns. Babies at this stage also have REM sleep, an indication that she is dreaming in the womb. Already she has her own dreams, her own preferences, her own dharma or path. The birth of the baby is not the beginning of her journey. She has already traveled through an amazing path of development while in the womb.
The process of birth and the early weeks of parenting were a crash course in getting to know this baby of mine, this being who felt old in soul as well as new in body. The strength of his will and his desire to survive, grow and develop were awesome to behold. I had to learn to get out of the way – to be there to love and nurture him, but also to trust that he knew what was best for him at any given moment. He knew when he was hungry, tired, uncomfortable, happy. His connection to me was fierce, and his desire to grow up and away from me was just as fierce.
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National Geographic recently produced a program for their television channel entitled, ‘In the Womb’. This remarkable program featured 4D pictures of babies in the womb. They defined 4D as 3D sonograms in real time. I watched as a 30 week fetus yawned and played with its nose. Seeing the babies grow and develop in the womb reinforced my belief that we are already parenting these beings well before they are born.
Looking back over 30 years I know that my first pregnancy started me on my path of support and nurturance for mothers and babies, pre- and post-partum. A few years ago, I named my new business Womb To Grow. I now see it as an even more accurate name for what it is we as mothers do. We are growing right along with our babies as we create, sustain, nurture and give birth to another being. We can trust our babies to teach us how to be the best mother to them. All we need to do is pay attention, starting from the moment we choose to become mothers during the early phase of pregnancy and continuing on through the rest of the pregnancy, the birth and the early years of parenting. From the moment we welcome the pregnancy into our lives we are already on our way.