October 21, 2021

Doula Delight: The biological and theological uniqueness of newborns

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wpid-newborns-2From bahamaislandsinfo

I was a student nurse-midwife at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center (CPMC) in New York City when, as I received a baby at birth, the thought occurred to me that my hands were the first human hands to touch the whole of that baby. This was an overwhelming realization for me. I began to question the message my hands sent to the emerging baby as he/she was born. To this day, I try to make sure that my hands, as they embrace the newly born, send a message of utmost gentleness, welcome and awe for this never-been-before gift to the world. Through the years, I shared that same sense of urgency with the student nurses I taught. A like accountability now resides with the birth doulas of Doula Delight.

Later, during my nurse-midwifery internship at the CPMC, the most perplexing question ever asked of me was posed by a seconds-old baby girl that I had just eased into the world. This baby did not cry. She was pink and lively. She looked at me for some time. She seemed to ask, ”Don’t you know who I am?” Her penetrating stare was un-nerving. I stood studying her perplexing gaze, appreciating that this was no ordinary question that she asked me. It was not until years later that I “reasoned” to the answer of the question I believe that baby asked me.

DoulaDelight-bannerThis article is more a commentary than it is a research and evidence-based document. What I write is a matter of personal interpretation of what I have learned during my forty-seven years of immersion in the care of childbearing families. The genesis of my thinking about the sacredness of individuals comes from the marriage of the teachings of St. Bonaventure, an acclaimed philospher1 and Roman Catholic Franciscan priest of the thirteenth century (1221-1274) with those of his contemporary, St Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican priest, considered to be the Roman Catholic Church’s greatest theologian and philosopher. Into this mix, I interject the research findings of biology4 that today acknowledges the inherited uniqueness of persons. I begin with the easier of the two, the biological address of the distinctiveness of human beings.

The female child is born with approximately 600,000 immature ova (eggs) present in her ovaries. She will produce no more in her lifetime. At puberty she will have 400,000 eggs available for possible fertilization (p.224). During each menstrual cycle, several eggs mature but only one dominates and is released by the ovary for fertilization. The remainder “bridesmaid” ova regress and fertilization of them becomes impossible. At the time of conception, any one of several hundred thousand eggs could be fertilized. But, in reality, only two to four hundred will mature and become viable candidates for fertilization during a woman’s life time (p. 35).

Mature males produce an average of 1,000 sperm every second (p.35). In a man’s reproductive lifetime, he “may produce as many as 12 trillion sperm” (p.25) Between 3005 and 5006 million sperm are released in the average 2-6 milliliters of ejaculate (p. 25).6 Of the millions of sperm that are released vaginally during intercourse, fewer than 500 sperm (1 in 500,000) ever reach the egg in the Fallopian tube (p. 42).5 Only one of these sperm will be “drawn” into the egg6 as the ovum seems to select her suitor. While the ovum remains constant to the human code, sperm introduce variation to the equation, thereby promoting human evolution.

With penetration of the egg’s “shell” by the tenacious and victorious spermatozoan (single sperm) , chemical and electrical changes in the outer layer of the egg make the ovum’s membrane impenetrable to the other local sperm still desperate to fertilize the enticing egg. A violent shimmering of the egg encourages the nuclei of the egg and sperm to edge toward one another. Within 12 hours these person-determining nuclei packages fuse and exchange chromosomes in an entirely new way, “creating the first edition of the 46-volume set of instructions [that will turn] this one cell into the trillions that will [become] a complete, unique individual (p. 50). This individual, a new “genetically distinct human organism,” carries a genetic code specific to it alone. The product that, because of the “rearranged” combination of its parent’s genetic material, has an infinite potential of possible combinations (p. 65). Only the parents of a specific child can make that one-of-a-kind individual,6 one of about 8.3 million combinations.4 Indeed, the likelihood of a set of parents reproducing the same child a second time is eight million to one!

Just what is the biological point I am trying to make? The sheer number of possibilities that an individual might become the unique person they are destined to be, because of the many infinite genetic combinations possible at the time of its conception. Indeed, the conceptus has the odds stacked against the very conception of that unique human being. Consequently, when a new baby is born, I think it is safe to say that that child is a once-in-a-lifetime, never-been-before baby, a human being who can and will make a contribution to this planet no one else has done before or can do because of the uniqueness of that person. This line of reasoning is part of my encouragement for a warm welcome and gentle reception of the just born. Now, to answer the question that baby girl asked me some forty-odd years ago and to link that with the Hindu address of the Creator/God in all persons, Namaskar and Namaste.

Into the mathematically extraordinary odds of a baby being conceived the unique being he/she could possibly be genetically, I add the further uniqueness that comes with ensoulment of the zygote. Debate exists relative to when the conceived child becomes a living being. That controversy is not an issue I intend to address in this article. Man is a combination of body (physical) and spirit (soul). It is the parents who bequeath the physical nature to their progeny at the time of conception and the subsequent co-mingling of their genetic potential. The material body, however, is soul-less.

The development of the human body is specifically a human function, a complex and organized process that adheres to an inherent design, one that is marvelously orchestrated by a life force, cause, essence or spirit (all synonyms for the word soul) which is well beyond the generative powers of humankind. The genetic code of homo sapiens is not greatly different from those of apes, pigs, and birds. But, what makes the human being so different from others of the animal kingdom is that the human soul is central to the personhood of the human being. The soul, the “inner identity” and spiritual principle of human beings, is a part of humankind that is not physical and yet it is central to the essence of being human and that which makes the individual’s personality distinct from all others. It is that ”engine of life” that endows a being with its meaning, purpose and identity.

The soul is not material because it is a spiritual entity. It is not something parents can make. To create is to cause existence and only a Creator can fashion something from nothing. The human soul, brought into existence by a Creator, becomes manifest only once it is bequeathed to a material/physical body. In the Christian tradition, the perspective from which I write this article, it is God, the infinite and immutable good, who creates man in His likeness and image. God is present in humankind as the very cause of their livingness. This is to say that human beings are the mirror of God’s presence in them and it is the indivisible form of people18, the soul, made in the image of God, that distinguishes human beings from the rest of nature. Because God’s goodness is unlimited, He can create forever without duplication. Therefore, when a child is conceived and the animating principle, the soul, is infused into that unique physical being, God reveals His goodness, glory, and immutable greatness further and uniquely in that individual. God can create dissimilar souls forever because his power and goodness is unlimited. Consequently, the Creator ensouls each creature with a soul totally unlike any other. The combination of the singular genetic mix of an individual with the Creator’s infinite possible manifestation of Himself through that human being further compounds the complexity and likelihood of unlimited diversity among persons.

Back to the question asked of me by that newborn girl in 1969 in a delivery room on the 17th floor of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. Yes! I do know who you are! You are a God-ordained life with a potential and message unlike any other baby God has sent to this world. You are the continuing revelation of God the Creator to humankind and you come with the message the He, God, is willing still to invest Himself in those created in His image and likeness. This is why, I believe, that, as a baby is born, those present ought to greet that unique being gently and with the welcoming salutation of Namaste and with a spiritual bow of reverence, that of Namaskar!

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