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A Baby’s View of Birth

Her voice comes to him like a stream of music, particles of sound from a world outside his own. He has awakened from a sleep and from a dream he won't remember, and feels swaddled by sound -- not just the voice, which pleases him, but the decisive beating of his mother's heart, the grumble of her intestines, the murmur of her lungs as they balloon and then deflate. The light is dim inside the womb. Blood gurgles as it washes by. He feels the weight of his mother's hand pressing in, toward his knee, and he presses his knee out toward it, as if to say, Yes, I am here.

Thirty-eight weeks ago he was nothing but one cell. One cell that then divided into the stuff of tissues, organs, bones, and hormones, each cell finding its place in the growing cluster by heeding the instructions inscribed in its genes. Some cells sloughed off and others settled in for life -- folding and migrating until, for instance, a miniature tube became his pumping, robust heart. Now, transparent nails cap the tips of his fingers and his toes. Billions of neurons are bundled in his brain. There are creases on the bottoms of his feet, and on the sides of his head are the fleshy blooms of his ears.

Now that he has a mouth and hand, he sucks his thumb. He squints toward the placenta through the amniotic fluid in which he floats. Attached to the back wall of his mother's uterus, the placenta utterly encircles him, anchoring him in with the ropy umbilical cord. The placenta is the only organ he'll discard upon his birth. An ingenious collaboration, composed partly of his cells and partly of his mother's, it has served him these last many months as lungs, liver, kidney, endocrine glands, commissary, and telephone. How has he been getting his oxygen and blood? Through the placenta. Where has he been sending his waste? Back to the placenta. From where have his glucose, amino acids, water, fats, mineral ions, and vitamins come? The placenta. By what means has he already initiated the processes of his own birth? By sending a squirt of hormone to the placenta, of course.

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