The body of a woman who is to conceive
Is being chosen as a channel
For the expression of divinity into materiality.
Although ovulation is a law of nature,
Conception is a law of God.
When does life begin? Some spiritual traditions see the origin of life as the moment a soul intends to enter into human form. Others see the beginning as a sparkle in the eye of a potential parent who wants to have a child. While biologists and religious clergy may argue about whether or not life starts at the moment of conception, convention has it that the day a baby emerges from his mother’s womb marks the beginning of life. However you define life’s origin, the sacred journey of an egg and sperm merging to create a unique individual is as marvelous and miraculous as the creation of the universe itself. Spirit and molecules intertwine to manifest a new life.
The blueprint for a human body is encoded in every cell of a human being, which contains forty-six chromosomes and more than thirty thousand genes. These genes, composed of DNA, provide blueprints for the proteins that ultimately form the chemicals, tissues, and organs of a person. They are responsible for the texture of your baby’s hair, the color of his skin, and to some degree, the unique characteristics of his personality. With the unraveling of the human genome, we are closer than ever to understanding how DNA influences both physical and psychological traits, as well as our predisposition to illnesses. Still, we are a long way from fully unraveling the mystery of how a few genetic words can code for the unfathomable biological diversity on this planet.
In every human being, half of the forty-six chromosomes are contributed by the mother through her egg and half by the father through his sperm. The merging and reshuffling of the genetic potential of Mother with that of Father gives rise to the amazing variety of life. According to Ayurveda, these primordial cells, known as shukra, are the essence of biological intelligence, and the most important products of a living being.
When a young woman first begins menstruating, her ovaries contain tens of thousands of potential eggs. Each month, from the time menstruation begins until menopause, a number of her eggs begin the process of development, but usually just one fully ripens and is released. Over the course of a woman’s reproductive years, only about four hundred eggs reach maturity and have the chance to develop into a human baby.
The egg or ovum is the largest cell in a woman’s body and is about 100,000 times heavier than a sperm. It carries enough nourishment to sustain itself from the time it is released until it is implanted in the lining of the womb. This usually takes about five days, if along the way, the egg is fertilized.
Sperm cells, which carry the father’s genetic material, are generated in a man’s testes beginning in puberty and continuing throughout his life. Millions of new sperm cells are created each day, the vast majority of which are never released. During ejaculation, about three hundred million tiny sperm are released in a volume of about a teaspoon of seminal fluid. Only about three million sperm pass through the vagina into the uterus, most of which become lost or exhausted, so that less than three hundred enter into the fallopian tube where a ripe egg is waiting.
For sperm, the 12 inches from the cervix to the egg is longer than a marathon and takes about ten hours to navigate. In most cases, fertilization occurs shortly after an egg enters the fallopian tube on its way to the uterus. Sperm cells that choose the correct tube reach the egg, encircle it, and attach themselves to its outer layer. The final competitors release the powerful digestive enzymes contained in their caps, which carve microscopic openings through the egg’s external coat. Only a single sperm is allowed to penetrate the egg, which then instantly closes its gates to all other contenders. The victorious sperm sheds its tail and head while its genes align with those of the egg. The runner-up sperm, with their heads in the outer layer of the egg, continue waving their tails. This has the effect of rotating the now fertilized egg, freeing it to move toward the womb. The egg and sperm, once comprising their individual energy and intelligence, entwine to embark on life’s journey as a new entity—the seed of a unique human being.
Over the next four to six days, the fertilized egg floats down the fallopian tube. Along the way it divides several times, taking on the appearance of a mulberry. Some of the outer cells prepare to form the placenta, while the inner cells begin the differentiation process that ultimately results in your baby. By the time the little bundle reaches the uterus, the original fertilized egg cell, now known as a blastocyst,has already expanded to a collection of about a hundred cells.
While this multiplication is occurring, the inner lining of your womb prepares for implantation. Hormones produced by your ovary stimulate the glands and blood vessels of the inner uterus to become soft and succulent. When the blastocyst arrives, its outer layers are able to snuggle into the lush inner lining of the uterus. This begins the process of the embryonic baby tapping into Mother to nourish his body, mind, and soul. As many parents discover, it is not uncommon for this process to continue for decades to follow.
According to Ayurveda, an ember of consciousness is present in every living cell. As your new baby begins to take physical form, sparks of consciousness in the individual cells unite with each other, igniting self-awareness within the unborn child. This flame of awareness, known in Ayurveda as Agni, becomes brighter as the level of biological sophistication rises. The fire is fanned by the essential vital force, known as Prana, while the essence of biological integrity, Ojas, organizes the developing cells into a cohesive unified system. On a spiritual level these three primordial forces—Agni, Prana, and Ojas (or fire, breath, and earth)—are the essential building blocks of life. These elemental energies fuel one’s brilliance, vitality, and love. The passion for life inherent in the soul of your baby begins to be expressed at the moment of conception, or perhaps, even before.
Why does life arise? According to Ayurveda, universal intelligence gives rise to life simply so it can evolve into complex expressions, capable of pondering and appreciating the mysteries of the universe. From this perspective, life is a cosmic masquerade, in which the goal is to uncover who is concealed. At the beginning of life, the disguise is quite transparent to the conscious mother who recognizes the deep spiritual connection that unites her baby’s soul with her own. Her most important role from the moment of conception is to nurture her child so he can rediscover his essential spiritual nature.
In some traditions, this connection is believed to precede conception.
In certain African tribes, people believe that the spiritual birth of a child begins when his potential mother first imagines him. She goes to a silent place and listens for the baby’s special song. When she hears it, she returns to her home and teaches it to her mate. While making love, they chant the song as an invitation for this soul to enter into their lives. Once pregnant, she regularly sings the song to her unborn baby and teaches it to the midwives in preparation for her birth. They sing the song while the woman is in labor and as the baby is born into the world. The child learns the theme song, which supports him through all the stages of his life. He uses his song to celebrate his moments of glory and comfort him in times of loss.
Growing a Baby
By the time the blastocyst finds its nest in the luxuriant lining of the womb, some of its cells are producing an important chemical called human chorionic gonadotropin or hCG. This substance stimulates the ovary to produce progesterone and estrogen, which nourish the womb until the placenta is able to make enough of these chemicals on its own. Levels of hCG are detectable in the blood of a pregnant woman as early as eight days after conception, and almost every pregnant woman has measurable levels by the eleventh day. Testing for this chemical is the basis of both urine and blood pregnancy tests. A level below 5 in the blood is considered negative, whereas a level above 25 is positive. HCG levels may rise to a peak of 250,000 between the eighth and tenth weeks and then gradually fall as you enter your second trimester of pregnancy.
We can only marvel at the intelligence that underlies the development of a complex human being from a cluster of apparently identical cells. Where are the laws written that govern this dance of life? They are written in the experiences of millions of years of evolutionary time. We can describe what happens, can set up the conditions by which it occurs through in vitro fertilization or cloning, but we cannot fully understand how each cell knows which genes to awaken and which are to be left dormant. We cannot explain how flawless mirror images of eyes, ears, arms, and legs are formed in perfect synchrony. We cannot explain how different parts of the nervous system “know” to reach out to each other across vast cellular distances to transmit critical information. The orchestration of life occurs from a deeper domain of existence, which is mysterious and incomprehensible. Every living being truly has a magical beginning.
Continuous cellular activity marks the first month of pregnancy, setting the stage for the development of your baby’s tissues, organs, and physiological systems. As early as the fifth week after conception, the basic components of his nervous system are established, including a primitive brain, a spinal cord, and the sensory equipment for hearing, touching, seeing, tasting, and smelling. The anatomy needed to perceive and interpret the world forms rapidly once a new life comes into being.
HEARING IN THE WOMB
The acoustic system that enables your baby to hear develops through three different components—the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear begins as little buds that gradually fuse to create your baby’s sound-collecting dish. The middle ear is formed by linking up three tiny bones that transmit vibrations received by the outer ear to your baby’s inner ear. The inner ear is a remarkable apparatus that translates the pitch and intensity of sound waves into specific electrical impulses, which then communicate this information to the hearing region of the brain. The equipment for your unborn baby to eavesdrop on the world is well developed by the time you enter your second trimester of pregnancy.
One of the earliest accounts of intrauterine hearing is described in the New Testament (Luke 1:44) when John’s mother, Elizabeth, tells Mary, who is pregnant with Jesus, “The infant in my womb leaped for joy the moment I heard the voice of your greeting!” A number of modern studies have confirmed that by eighteen to twenty weeks of fetal life, your unborn child hears and responds to sounds in his environment. Although you might expect the womb to be a quiet place, it is actually quite rich in sounds and sensations. Tiny microphones placed within a pregnant uterus reveal that a multitude of audible vibrations enters your unborn baby’s sanctum. Mother’s heartbeat and digestive tract offer steady background noise, along with the pulsing rush of blood flowing through her major vessels.
The rhythm and pitch of human voices are clearly perceptible in the womb. An adult listening to conversations recorded through a miniature microphone placed in a womb can understand over half of the words spoken by a man and over a third of the words spoken by a woman standing in front of the pregnant woman. To your unborn baby, it is your voice that is most easily recognized. Unlike outside sounds, which are muffled to some degree, the voice of Mother is actually slightly amplified. If you are singing, the sound in your womb can reach more than 80 decibels, which is as loud as a ringing telephone or vacuum cleaner. Your fetus hears your voice both as an airborne sound and as vibrations that move directly through your organs, tissues, and bones. An unborn child becomes familiar with his mother’s voice long before he emerges from the womb.
A baby learns to associate sounds in the womb with sensations of comfort or discomfort. The emotional state of his mother is communicated to the fetus through the molecules that she secretes. If Mother is engaged in a loving, nurturing conversation or listening to enjoyable music, her brain triggers the release of chemicals that reflect her calm, comfortable condition. These chemical messengers travel through the maternal and fetal circulations, now connected by the umbilical cord, entraining the unborn baby’s feelings with those of Mother. If, on the other hand, Mother is involved in a heated argument, her body pulses with stress chemicals that can trigger discomfort in her fetus. It’s easy to imagine the distress of an unborn baby regularly exposed to toxic sounds. His mother’s heart races while her adrenal glands squirt out stress hormones. The unborn baby activates his own fight-or-flight response, but unfortunately can neither run from nor wrestle with the source of its provocation. The seeds of anxiety, apprehension, and hostility are sown in utero. The baby-to-be learns to associate sounds with inner sensations.
Do your best to avoid recurrent distressing sounds, since noise pollution has a negative effect on both Mother and Baby. Scientists report that mothers living along the flight path of a busy urban airport produce lower levels of growth-promoting hormones and are more likely to have smaller babies than those living an equal distance from the airport but not directly under the flight path. Similar findings have been reported in women who must work in factories where there is a constantly high noise level. To the extent that you can consciously choose, do your best to limit your exposure and that of your unborn baby to vibrations that distress.
On the other hand, it is not realistic to expect that you’ll be able to completely avoid upsetting noises throughout your entire pregnancy. We are not suggesting you should worry about causing harm to your unborn baby anytime you get upset, have a disagreement, or listen to loud rock and roll music. Life inevitably brings loud moments that cannot nor necessarily should be avoided. We simply encourage you to be aware that the being inside of you is eavesdropping on your life. Whenever possible, expose yourself to nourishing rather than toxic sounds, knowing that whatever you are experiencing is simultaneously experienced by your unborn child.
FEELING IN THE WOMB
We feel our way in this world through two different interrelated systems. We have a somesthetic system that conveys information about touch, pressure, temperature, and pain, and we have a vestibularsystem that informs us how we are positioned in space. The basic anatomic architecture to perceive the world through the sense of touch is well formed by the time your unborn baby is about fifteen weeks old. A wide variety of sensory receptors develops in your baby’s skin and joints, which tells his brain the texture, intensity, position, and temperature of anything he is touching or is touching him.
The vestibular or balance system helps us maintain the right position in relationship to our surroundings. Living on a planet with gravity requires us to know which way is up at all times. Although a human infant may not sit unsupported until six months of age, and it might be more than a year until he is standing and walking without help, the balance system required for these crucial functions is already developing by fourteen weeks of fetal life.
Babies in the womb respond to the sense of touch. During the fifth month a fetus can be seen touching his own face and sucking his thumb and fingers. Pressure through external massage leads to changes in fetal activity and heart rate, and by six months in the womb the unborn baby is as responsive to touch as a one-year-old baby. Unborn babies are also able to perceive changes in temperature and to feel pain. Injecting cold water into the amniotic fluid leads to withdrawal movements. If during an amniocentesis procedure the unborn baby is pricked with a needle, he reacts in ways suggesting he can perceive discomfort and does not appreciate the painful intrusion.
There is evidence that during the fifth month of fetal life your baby begins to orient himself in space. Studies have shown that unborn babies adjust themselves into more comfortable positions in the womb by kicking. The baby changes his position when the mother changes hers, and with abrupt maternal movements, sudden fetal motor responses and alterations in heart rate can be detected. These postural adjustments to normal maternal activity help the fetal navigation system develop in preparation for life outside the womb. Your own conscious movement through dance or yoga encourages healthy neuronal connections between the limbs, trunk, and brain of your growing baby.
Although we cannot say for certain that your unborn baby derives pleasure from your belly being massaged or stretching your back during yoga poses, we do know that when you are feeling comfortable, your fetus is bathed in the comforting chemicals that your body produces. Moving with awareness benefits both you and your unborn baby.
SEEING IN THE WOMB
The womb is a pretty dark place, yet some light does filter through. The earliest evidence of a visual system appears by one month of gestation, and by the end of the first trimester, your unborn baby’s eyes have all their essential components. The visual system continues to develop in complexity throughout pregnancy and beyond, since an infant’s ability to process visual information is not complete until several months after birth.
The eyelids of a fetus begin to open at about twenty weeks of gestation, and there is pretty good evidence that between 2 percent and 10 percent of visual outside light is able to reach the rudimentary eyes of a fetus. When bright lights are shined onto a pregnant woman’s belly, the unborn baby will show an increase in motor activity and acceleration in heart rate. An indirect but more important role of visual stimulation on your unborn child is played by what you are looking at. Violent images served up by the media stimulate your body’s stress response, which is communicated to your baby. Beautiful, pleasing images create physiological changes that are rejuvenating and balancing. Again, we are not suggesting that you walk around with blinders on but do encourage you to get a dose of nourishing images on a regular basis.
TASTING IN THE WOMB
Your baby’s taste buds are present as early as twelve weeks of fetal life and are well developed by early in the second trimester. They are initially found throughout his mouth, but eventually become concentrated on his tongue and palate. Taste buds are connected to nerve fibers by the twelfth week and are functioning by the fifteenth week.
Studies have suggested that an unborn baby will increase or decrease his swallowing based upon the flavors present in the amniotic fluid, and it looks as though even unborn babies like sweets. Intrauterine studies have shown that if sweetened solutions are introduced into the amniotic fluid, babies swallow more, whereas when bitter substances are injected, babies swallow less. Your unborn child also has the ability to distinguish sour and salty flavors. From very early on we have the ability to distinguish good-tasting substances from bad ones.
As we’ll explore later in this book, the best way to ensure that you are receiving optimal nourishment is to be certain that your diet includes the six primary tastes on a daily basis. Your unborn child is not only nourished by what you eat, but may actually be capable of tasting what you taste.
SMELLING IN THE WOMB
As adults, we perceive the fragrance of the world through tiny specialized receptors in our nasal passages that sample the air for odor-rich molecules. The cellular apparatus for perceiving aromas appears as early as the fourth week of fetal life and is well developed by halfway through pregnancy. The obvious question is, “Is there anything for your baby to smell?” and the answer is yes. Amniotic fluid naturally contains a large assortment of fragrant substances, which vary from day to day depending upon what you ingest. Premature babies react to a variety of scents, and fetal mammals of many species respond to aromatic chemicals infused into amniotic fluid. Certain spices such as curry and garlic seep into the amniotic fluid, and at birth some babies will smell like a spice from food the mother has eaten the night before.
Babies remember smells and tastes they are exposed to in the womb. Studies have shown that newborn mammals, from rodents to humans, show preferences for substances with fragrances they experienced before birth. Baby rats prefer beverages containing apple juice if they were exposed to the flavor of apples while in the womb. Newborn human infants favor the smell of their own amniotic fluid for several days after birth. After birth, if a newborn baby is given the choice of suckling on her mother’s unwashed breast, which secretes a smell similar to the smell of amniotic fluid, or on a breast that has been washed, more than 75 percent of the time the newborn will choose the breast with the familiar amniotic smell. As is true for all the other senses, your olfactory experiences during pregnancy become your baby’s experiences. As we’ll explore in detail in Chapter 2, you can use this understanding to enhance both your baby’s and your own well-being.
The Gifts of Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a precious opportunity to be mindful and reflective. With awareness you can tune into your inner state, becoming more conscious to yourself, to your unborn baby, and to each moment of your life. Take time to sit and listen deeply, and you will begin to notice the subtle ways you and your unborn child react to the choices you are making. By tuning into your own sensory experiences, you will find yourself slowing down naturally and becoming more present. You will gain clarity in your life and experience more inner peace. This will have a profound impact on your unborn baby’s first experiences of the world.
Sit or lie down, and allow your eyes to close. Taking in a few slow, deep breaths, bring awareness into your body. Look around inside. Feel and envision the space. Notice the shades, subtle colors, and textures within you. Feel your breath as it moves through you. Sense its vibration and begin to listen to its sound. For the next several breaths follow the sound. Let it take you deeper inside yourself. Feel your heartbeat and the pulsation of life within you. With each in-breath, allow the tenderness of your heart to surround your baby. With each out-breath, create an image of your baby growing inside your body. Breathe in tenderness; breathe out a clearer vision of your baby. Own your part in creating this little being. Breathe in joy for the miracle occurring in your body; as you breathe out, feel your love for this new being developing within you.
The Journey into Life
We’ve been emphasizing the development of your baby’s sensory systems, because it’s so important to change our notion of unborn children from being isolated, unresponsive clusters of cells to primordial sentient beings influenced by the sounds, sensations, sights, tastes, and smells in their environment. Since your baby has limited ability to influence his experiences, it becomes your responsibility to choose those that provide maximal nourishment and minimal toxicity. Your choices provide the raw materials that enable your baby’s soul to create its body, senses, and mind.
The sequential development of your baby’s body is an expression of nature’s synchronous intelligence. The development of the right side of the body does not trigger the development of the left side; rather, the simultaneous emergence of symmetrical components is orchestrated by an underlying intelligence. This intelligence is beyond cause and effect, beyond time and space, and beyond beginnings and endings. Whether you call this force nature, spirit, or God, its ability to bring forth form out of formlessness is magical and miraculous.
Let’s review some milestones that mark this extraordinary journey from a fertilized egg to a complete newborn human being:
Days 1 to 14 The time between the first day of your last menstrual period and the day of ovulation.
End of week 2 Father’s sperm fertilizes mother’s egg in the fallopian tube.
Week 3 The fertilized egg divides several times and implants in the lining of the uterus.
Week 4 The embryo differentiates into three different layers:
An outer layer—destined to become your baby’s skin, nervous system, hair, and nails
A middle layer—destined to become your baby’s muscles, bones, heart, and blood vessels
An inner layer—destined to become your baby’s digestive tract and urinary system
The embryo receives nourishment and oxygen from the placenta through the umbilical cord. Everything the embryo and fetus require until birth will travel back and forth through this cord. The placenta, although capable of filtering many substances from your body, is not able to filter them all. Many drugs and toxins can still pass through the placental barrier and enter your baby’s body.
Week 6 Your baby’s primitive heart is beating, although the embryo is less than 1⁄4 inch long. Primitive eyes, arms, and legs are present.
Week 8 The embryo now becomes known as a fetus, which in Latin means “young one.” He weighs less than half an ounce. The digestive tract is forming and blood is carrying oxygen and nourishment to cells through his primitive circulatory system.
Week 10 The fetus is about 1 inch long, with recognizable eyes, ears, fingers, and toes. Internal organs are functioning, and his brain is growing at an incredible rate of 250,000 new cells every minute!
Week 12 Your unborn baby’s face looks very human, with a tiny nose and chin. He is over 3 inches long and weighs about 2 ounces. The fetus can flex and extend his fingers. Sexual differentiation is now apparent.
Week 16 Fine hair (lanugo) is developing on his head. Your baby is actively moving and making sucking motions with his mouth. His bones are becoming harder and muscles are developing.
Week 20 Tiny nails appear on your baby’s fingers and toes. His entire body is covered with fine hair. Mother can feel fetal movements, called quickening. The fetal heartbeat can be heard with a stethoscope. Your baby is about 8 inches in length.
Week 24 Your baby now weighs over 1 pound, and is just under a foot in length. His eyebrows and eyelashes are well formed. The fine air sacs in the lungs are almost functional.
Week 28 Although immature, your baby’s lungs are developed to the point that survival is possible outside the womb. His eyelids open and close. His weight is over 21⁄2 pounds and he may be 15 inches long.
Week 32 Your baby’s bones are well developed but still soft. Rhythmic breathing movements are present. The nervous system is steadily developing and your baby is learning to regulate his body temperature. Body fat is accumulating.
Week 36 The fetus is between 16 and 19 inches long and weighs about 6 pounds. If born prematurely at this stage, there is a high likelihood of survival.
Weeks 38 to 40 Your baby is considered full term, and is ready to begin his life outside of the womb.
The Miracle of Creation
Nature creates within you an entire person complete with all his parts in just forty weeks. Throughout pregnancy your body is your unborn baby’s universe. You are the rivers, sunlight, earth, atmosphere, and sky for this being growing within you. Your baby’s body, mind, and soul are intimately intertwined with your own. Together you express the creative flow of life.
In each moment, your unborn baby is immersed in the sounds and vibrations of your heartbeat and breath. He feels your stress, tension, and fear along with your joy, happiness, and peace. Whenever you move, laugh, cry, eat, eliminate, or rest, your unborn baby responds. The potential of your child’s life is encoded in each of his cells, while the environment of your body can either nurture or disturb this growth. Accept this responsibility with joy, for each healthy choice that you make on behalf of your unborn baby nourishes you as well. Your pregnancy can be a magical beginning for both you and your baby.
Sit comfortably and allow your eyes to close. Feel yourself gently inhaling and exhaling. Allow your awareness to be inside your body. As you inhale, feel the nourishment and oxygen that you bring in, from the universe, from the source. As you feel this air filling your body, notice how it moves into your soft belly. Feel how it encircles your baby. Receive the sensations and nourishment in each breath. Now exhale and release this air, allowing it to flow back out into the universe. Continue breathing like this for the next few minutes. Breathe in, filling your belly; breathe out, releasing to the universe—each breath nourishing you and your baby.
Now bring your awareness to the space around your womb. Imagine yourself drifting through your uterine wall and amniotic sac and begin to feel yourself floating inside your womb. Imagine submerging deeper into the amniotic fluid and feel yourself floating here with your baby. Feel how soft and silky this fluid is and notice that it is just the right temperature for your baby. As your eyes wander through the space and semidarkness inside your womb—take in a breath—feel what it is like to be inside your body. These are the sensations your baby is experiencing as he grows inside you.
Look around the inner surfaces of your womb and find where the placenta is attached to your uterine wall. Take a moment to honor this organ that is continuously nourishing your baby. Feel how it is helping to keep him alive. As you continue to look around, see if you can find the umbilical cord, which is attached to the placenta. This is your baby’s lifeline. Let your awareness flow down along this cord until you can see where it is connected to your baby’s belly. See your baby here now—alive and growing inside your body. Feel yourself right here next to him. Take a few moments to feel this amazing little being—who is metamorphosing inside your belly. Feel how incredible it is to have a little person transforming and growing inside you. You are the entire universe for your baby. Experience yourself as his mother—notice how you are protecting him as he develops and grows. Look at his little body. See his fingers and his toes, his arms and legs, his tiny torso and head. Take a few moments to gaze at his face—and imagine what it will be like to look into his eyes for the first time. Imagine how it will feel to hold him in your arms. Become aware of your body holding him right now inside the warm nest of your womb.
Whenever you feel ready, gently bring your awareness back to your breath. Feel your breath moving in and out of your body. Notice your belly rising and falling with each breath. Become aware of the sensation of the air in the room floating around you. Begin to move your body any way that feels good. As you feel ready, slowly open your eyes.
Take a few minutes to note in your journal how it feels to have a baby growing inside your body. See if you can conjure up a picture of your baby and take some time to draw this image.
Enliven Through Your Attention
• Place your hands on your belly a few times throughout the day and send loving thoughts to your unborn baby.
• Journal each day about your experiences.
• Early in your pregnancy, plant a tree or flowering bush to symbolize the growth of your baby in the womb. After your baby is born, you can take care of the plant together.