Every time I see a late pregnancy I get an odd, and somewhat embarrassing, compulsion. A feeling that the "baloon" must be popped. My guess is that the women might feel the same way.
What is a pregnancy? On a certain level, it is a tumor. A cancer. Something is growing inside. I suppose one could describe it as "benign," but it certainly is fast-growing and aggressive. In a sense, the embryo "steals" from it's host. In fact, if the fetus and mom are immunologically incompatible, having different Rh factors, it can lead to a tragic attack on the developing embryo by the mother's immune system. Fortunately, with the advent of modern medicine, this is well understood and can be treated. Like any tumor, it needs to be vascularized before it can grow. Early in pregnancy the embryo, exudes chorionic gonadotropin, which causes a the lining of the uterus to produce a thick bed of blood vessels, which supplies sustenance to the growing fetus. In this sense the baby is, perhaps less a tumor, and more like a parasite--stealing from its host: Mom.
But, I prefer to think of this sustenance as a gift, rather than theft. Baby needs. Mom gives. Baby feeds.
Think for a moment about this miracle of development. Every one of us started as one cell--the fusion of a sperm with an egg into what us geeky, terminology-addicted, science-types call a "zygote." From this single large cell a program is initiated to divide, and divide again and continue dividing millions of times. All of the different types of cells, bone, blood, brain, muscle, lung, pancreas, and so on, are derived from this single, undifferentiated cell, the zygote.
I like to think of embryonic development, not as growth and unfolding, but as a dance. The cells go through many costume changes and careful repositioning, each obeying inner instincts dictated by DNA, and and then they find their proper places on the stage. This "show" is so well rehearsed in our genetic memory that it usually results in a picture-perfect performance with a glorious ending.
I remember again the tired-looking moms, waiting for their drinks at the coffee bar. One thing I noticed--I'm sure I've noticed it before, I just never really thought about it--was that a very distended tummy makes a great shelf for resting one's arms. Fingers entwined, the arms can form a bridge over baby. Perhaps, mom imagines an archway over the stage that highlights the theater within. Another thing I noted is that all three women looked ...tired. But it was an odd sort of tired. It was that relaxed, contented look of an artist nearing the end of creation.
An acquaintance of mine thought that it would be desirable if men could share in a pregnancy. It seems only fair, after all, that both genders should bear the burden. Of course, right now this is only science fiction, but I'm not sure it would be a good thing. Would the Earth, that nourishes us be called a Mother if Mom and Dad took turns in gestation? Would sailors call the ships that provide shelter call their boats Her? It seems to me that this difference in parental duties enriches us, helping us to savor and rejoice in our divergent roles.
But I'm still at a loss. Where have I seen this look before? It looks so familiar, so iconic. So enigmatic and ethereal. Then I remember. It is that same look that I have seen in many Madonnas, and, it seems to me, fully-realized in Da Vinci's Mona Lisa.
How often have I seen the expression on the Mona Lisa described as "enigmatic?" A puzzle. Slightly tired, but hopeful. That is the look that I saw in the faces of these beautiful, beautiful women. They are pregnant with hope. They are, in every sense of the word, expecting.
| || || |