“Our little guy is now the size of my thumbnail.”
This fellow was telling me how his wife was doing during her pregnancy. They had recently visited their obstetrician and, as is customary these days, had seen their growing child via sonogram.
I was struck by the change that had occurred since our own children were conceived. Back then, prenatal life was still pretty much shrouded in darkness. Sonograms were new and rarely used. Our obstetrician told us that he used to wager “double or nothing” on his prenatal fee (it was about $500 for everything, and often not covered by insurance) to guess the sex of the child. He added ruefully that the current partners in his practice were not so sporting.
For millennia, what happened in the womb was only indirectly understood. People could see a baby take its first breath of air—and knew gut-wrenching fear when that breath was not taken. It was easy for them to conclude that until the child left the womb to take in air, he or she, while still forming, was not yet really alive.
Mothers, feeling movement within their womb, could interpret this moment as the coming-to-life of the baby; the first felt movement was called “quickening,” which means “becoming alive.” (We see that word also in traditional English creeds, which refer to “the quick and the dead.”)
But for some decades now, the veil has been pulled back from the womb. We have seen how the various parts of the infant’s body develop and function prior to birth. And we have learned—to me the most amazing thing of all—that it is the initial single-cell zygote forged at conception that organizes internally to launch and direct the complex steps of this journey. The creation of that single-celled zygote is in truth the first moment of every human life. (See my article “Twinning” in the Fall 2020 issue of the Human Life Review.)
However, decades-old mental pictures can linger—even in the mind of a person like me, who for years has studied and prayed over these things. That’s what my young, fellow Christian was showing me (even though he did it so naturally he had no idea what was happening). In my mental imagery, human beings “begin” life at their birth weight, normally somewhere between five and ten pounds. I can also picture preemies; however, even those babies are a pound or so.
But in my young friend’s mind, imagery had caught up with perceived reality: “Our little guy is now the size of my thumbnail.” What he knew also, what his mind also understood, was that the “little guy” had started out as an even littler guy, and that from the very beginning, his child was awesome and wonderful.