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A Baby’s View of Birth

For indeed the time has come. There's enough fat on his body now to help him make the transition to what will be a far cooler, drier environment. Enough neural pathways have been established between his sense organs and his brain. He has shed his lanugo (the fine hairs that have covered his body for many weeks) as well as his vernix caseosa (the waxy white coating that has protectively sheathed his skin during his long incubation), and then swallowed both; they'll ooze away from him after birth, with his first bowel movement. His bloodstream has been fortified with his mother's immunoglobin proteins. And he's ingesting the salty, growth factor-enriched amniotic fluid that he floats in -- thereby helping the maturation of his digestive system.

For weeks now, he has been practicing breathing -- exercising the muscle fibers of his diaphragm, strengthening the nerve connections between his respiratory center and his brain, ensuring that his lungs will have the stuff it takes to expand and ventilate when they finally meet air. And, just to ensure that all systems will indeed be go, he has lately given himself over to the stuff of sleep, napping as much as 95 percent of the time. He's been spending much of that naptime in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which has increased his heart rate, fluttered his eyes, quickened his pulse, sparked the release and receipt of electromagnetic pulses. This has been integral to the development of his brain -- pushing the mass of bundled nerves, cells, and connections to sort themselves out in time for life outside the womb.

Now the fetus hears a low-frequency sound -- the voice of his father. Soon thereafter, the voice of his mother wafts in. He feels his body swaying, and senses that his own oxygen level has started to decline, for his mother is pacing again, exerting herself and, therefore, him. His body responds as it always does at times like these -- channeling the oxygen-rich blood to his brain and other critical organs, protecting them above all else.

Upside down and snug in his mother's womb, the fetus is aware that his mother's abdomen is tightening around him. Small, painless contractions that are a mere precursor of what's soon to come. "The baby comes when the baby's ready" may be folk wisdom, but it is also a fact, and this fetus -- fully developed, with no more space to stretch and grow -- is definitely ready for life outside.

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