Mothering From the Womb: Moving Toward Identity

The first trimester of pregnancy, conception through week 13, is a time of creation and formation.  By the end of the first trimester, all of baby’s organs are formed. Limbs with fingers and toes are formed. Even gender is evident (but not on ultrasound yet).  At the start of the second trimester, baby measures about 6 inches in length. What is yet to come for baby is growth—physical size type of growth, but also growth into the unique human being that reflects the unique DNA and environment of each baby.

I used to identify myself with a photo ID and a signature, but from day to day now, I confirm my identity more frequently with my fingerprint.  It’s almost like science fiction—I sign into email, my bank account, my clinic’s computers, and more with only my fingerprint.  No one else has fingerprints like mine.  Even if I had an identical twin, we wouldn’t share the same fingerprints.  Why not?  The answer, or at least what we think we know of the answer within science, is beautiful…

Between 6 and 13 weeks, baby’s fingers and toes all develop pads on them.  Sometime around the end of the first trimester and the beginning of the second trimester, those pads start to develop ridges and grooves.  While we think that genetics play some small role in that formation, we think that more significant components of fingerprint formation are the density of mother’s amniotic fluid, the way baby moves in the fluid and how the fluid flows around baby, the speed of growth of baby, and even where baby is within the womb at different times.

So, think about it—as mothers, we are more than incubators of our babies as they grow independently of us. Instead, it’s more like we are dance partners, our movements weaving along with theirs to form their identities, our amniotic fluid caressing the baby as it learns to dance with us, within us.  As I reflect on this, I like to imagine that some of the ridges, grooves, and whorls on my children’s little fingers and toes were created as I rocked their siblings to sleep, as I went on evening walks through our neighborhood, as I felt the loving hugs of family members, and as I did prostrations each evening of Lent with the Prayer of St. Ephraim.  Little fingerprints may also be partially formed when pregnant bellies shake with the joy of laughter or with the sorrow of sobbing. Our physical and emotional world becomes, in a very real way, etched into the lives of our children…right from the start.

Every baby is formed by DNA and a unique occurrence of circumstances and environment. Amazing.

God knows each baby.  As those tiny fingerprints form, tiny lanugo hairs—downy little hairs—begin to cover baby’s head then body to help it stay cozy at the start of the second trimester. That is a reminder of St. Matthew telling us that the hairs are all numbered and that God treasures each little individual:

“And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
– Matthew 10: 30-31

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