“In the beginning, God created…”
Where there was nothing, where there was darkness, He created an environment, light, and life.
We think of creation as something that happened long, long ago. We read about it in Genesis. We hear about it in church. We read Bible stories to our children telling the story of creation, almost as if it should start with “Once upon a time”. But, in reality, we mothers get to participate in creation in a very real way. God’s creative process continues moment after moment within mothers’ wombs all over the world. Where there is darkness and emptiness, God has allowed our bodies to host an environment that will support and nurture new life.
A caveat before I go on: I am not an embryologist nor am I a theologian, but I reflect here as a Christian mother and physician in awe of our creation based upon bits of scientific theory and theology that I’ve gleaned upon my journey thus far.
I am in awe of the way that our motherly bodies—at the right time in our hormone cycles, with the right complement of ingredients—can become the site of God’s ongoing creation. Two unusual cells—one from mother (a cell which, by the way, has lived inside of her ovary since the time when she was dwelling and forming within her own mother’s womb) and one from the father (that is likely less than a week old), each of which has half of the genetic material of the cells in all the rest of our bodies—join together to become one unique cell with a combination of genetic material completely novel on the earth. That one cell divides into two, the two divide into four, the four divide into eight, and so on.
Around the fourth or fifth day of development, the group of cells that have formed will start to group themselves off into inner cells and outer cells, separated by a fluid filled cavity within. The inner group of cells are the ones that will go on to form the baby; the outer group will become the placenta and will establish communication between baby and mother.
The inner group of cells will go on to differentiate (or program their genetic material) into three germ layers, each of which become different types of tissues within the baby’s body, they are called endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm.
I would like to take a moment to appreciate the poetry of God’s creation within a mother’s womb. Our triune God, who shows us unity within diversity, takes diverse cells from mother and father and creates a unique unity from them. Our Christ who has two natures—God and man—takes that unique bunch of identical cells and divides it into cells of two natures; the inner that becomes the baby itself and the outer that develops into baby and mother’s communication source. Then again, our God who has three persons—the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit—takes those inner cells that are going to become the baby and divides them into three layers from which all the tissues of the baby’s body develop.
God could choose any way to create, but His creation seems to echo who He is, speaking to us and teaching us silently from within the womb. Poetry.
As the baby develops from the inner group of cells, the outer group of cells forms the placenta and starts to mingle with and fuse itself into the lining of the mother’s womb. Around six weeks of pregnancy, the placenta becomes a functional organ; baby’s blood flows within vessels of the placenta coming close to pools of mother’s blood where exchange starts to happen from mother to baby and vice versa. Nourishment from mother’s body is shared with baby. Communication is established. Communion between the pair begins.
I feel more acutely aware when pregnant of my need to partake of communion at church. We Orthodox Christians participate in the life of Christ through communion, we ask Christ to re-form our bodies and souls through communion. We mothers can also actively seek to have Christ form our children as we partake of His gifts every time possible when pregnant.
We can mother from the womb by appreciating God’s creation within us and by presenting our developing babies to Christ at communion. We can mother from the womb by asking Christ to continue forming them in His image in our wombs.
Maybe the words of the psalmist can take on a new meaning for us–a meaning that pertains to us on a personal level and one that pertains to the beautiful new creation in which we participate:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and renew a right spirit within me.”
– Psalm 51:10-12