Incarnation – whose will is it?

By Bart Maris, May 2017

What is a miracle? Something supernatural? Something that we cannot understand and explain using logic? A lot of things that used to be considered miracles are now comprehensible and considered completely normal.

Photo © Charlotte Fischer

Do we experience the fertilisation, pregnancy, and birth of a child as a miracle? We can understand and explain it, even prevent it using hormones (the pill) or produce it in a laboratory (artificial insemination), legally “reverse” it (abortion) or examine its genetics prenatally. What is then so miraculous about it?

In the experience of the vast majority of parents, the birth of their child is a miracle – especially when they are lucky enough to experience the ever more rarely occurring opportunity of giving birth “naturally”. Even already during the pregnancy, when the child’s movements can be felt and are tangible through the abdominal wall, a certain sense of special joy is often experienced, or if, early in the pregnancy, the child’s face or a hand becomes visible on the screen during an ultrasound.

It is a contradiction. We are living in a world where we do not have to leave it to nature or chance, fate, God, karma or the spiritual world when it come to how, if and when a woman becomes pregnant (contraception, the ability to decide when we have children), how the pregnancy proceeds (ultrasound checks), or which congenital deformity and disabilities (or is that rather uniqueness?) the child might have. We can even make these “disappear” if necessary.

We want to and are able to intervene in nature, to guide it according to our wishes, something which we are also increasingly doing. Admittedly, we have been trying to change nature for thousands of years. Wild grasses were refined into grain and thus started agriculture. However, we are no longer able to refer to everything that we do agriculturally as refinement because in the meantime we have also forced and destroyed a lot. It is a similar situation when it comes to medicine. Refinement or perfection first requires respect to be paid to wild grasses, nature, the human body – and also to the child. Does the art of education not also include accompanying the child with respect in such a way that their own being can develop instead of forcing them into an educational straightjacket so that they become as we want them to be or imagine they should be?

How it begins

It usually begins with a special encounter between her and him. Random, conspicuous, or miraculous? Everything that then happens to eventually result in sexual contact between the two, leading to fertilisation, we can leave out here. Egg cell and sperm cell, two polar (very large, very small; few, very many; immobile, mobile) but also one-sided cells which have nothing germinal about them although we call them germ cells. In contrast to all other cells in the body, they can no longer divide or multiply. They have only half as many chromosomes and are destined to decay after a short amount of time (the ovum in six to 24 hours, the sperm cell in two to six days). Nothing germinal, then, no future. That is, unless a miracle happens – namely that from two fundamentally different cells, which are even genetically alien to one another, a new cell is created. While the other cells are continually dividing, these cells merge during fertilisation. Even the alien chromosomes become paired, a highly complex epigenetic event erases a part of the maternal and paternal imprint and thus creates a space for the development of a new human child. Although we know many details of these processes on a biochemical and genetic level, the process still remains somewhat of a miracle for us.

But it does not just end here. Over the course of the next six to seven days, the fertilised egg divides several times, so that after a few days a lump of cells has developed which possesses somewhat of a resemblance to a blackberry (the morula). Then, in the centre a cavity forms, so that towards the end of the first week we have a covering of cellular tissue around a fluid-filled cavity, almost like a kind of small bubble (the blastocyst). At one spot, the wall of the covering tissue is slightly thickened.

At the same time the structure is guided through the fallopian tube into the uterine cavity. Until this point, all the energy and food needed for the countless cell and nuclear divisions comes from the original egg cell. It provides all of the provisions for the journey but by the time of its arrival all these provisions will have been consumed. The vesicle (the blastocyst) would now almost certainly die off, were it not for the occurrence of another miracle.

A nutritional crisis

The mucous membrane of the uterine cavity has prepared itself (as it does every month) and is ready at exactly this point to absorb and feed the vesicle. This is when nidation (the implantation of the early embryo in the uterus) takes place and it receives an abundance of nutrition through the mother’s blood. Immediately the tissue of the outer covering begins to grow enormously. This is referred to as the trophoblast. A few weeks later this becomes the placenta. It is actually quite remarkable that the body of the woman (here the uterine mucous membrane) absorbs something genetically different to itself, seeing as each cell half belongs to the father genetically. It does not reject it through the immune system in order to protect itself but absorbs it and even provides nourishment for it.

Over the course of the following week the future placenta grows intensively, the cavity in the blastocyst increases by a large amount, and the site where the covering of tissue has become thicker continues to grow. In the cluster of tissue, two additional new vesicles have now formed. These are so close to one another that at the point where they are in contact another two-layered tissue is formed. The embryo is produced later from this small, so called bifolial blastodisc. At this point there is still a flat layer between the two vesicles, the amniotic cavity, and the yolk sac – and everything within the original cavity, the chorion cavity.

At the beginning of the third week after the fertilisation, a new need for sustenance and nutrition arises again. Until this point the nutritional and waste materials to and from the mother’s blood were simply carried through the tissue fluid by a process of diffusion. However, as the embryonic structure grows, the nutritional requirements increase and the distance to the exchange surface with the mother becomes too large. The embryo’s development could not continue without the introduction of a new impulse.

The circulation creates the heart

Everywhere within the chorion, the blastodisc and the yolk sac a large number of blood droplets are created peripherally at the same time within two days which then join up and connect with each other so quickly and cleverly that in the shortest amount of time a circulatory system forms which connects the yolk sac and the blastodisc with the periphery of the chorion through the mesodermal chord (which later goes on to become the umbilical cord). It does it in such a manner that the blood contained inside starts to circulate, through certain blood vessels one way, and through others on the way back. It flows and circulates, even before there is a functioning heart (see the illustration). This forms soon afterwards. The blood is now able to direct food and oxygen, which are absorbed from the mother in the chorion organ, to the developing “child”. It is also able to release waste products to the mother. The emergency has been rectified.

Parallel to the formation of the circulatory system, an impressive, complex invagination and eversion process takes place within the blastodisc so that, within a few days, a three-dimensional body with interior spaces, internal organs and a delimiting skin system is formed from the flat two-dimensional blastodisc. All this takes place in the third and sometimes the fourth week after fertilisation. Since this takes place about 14 days after the beginning of the last menstrual period, at the end of the third week the next expected period has not happened by one week . By this point, the amniotic sac is already five millimetres in size and can be seen with an ultrasound.

As things continue to develop, all of the internal organs, the limbs, and the face begin to take their form: the embryo takes its typical shape and begins to move. All of this takes place deeply hidden and well protected behind the thick walls of the uterus, in the abdomen of the woman. Does it maybe require the sense of security provided by this concealment? With this question in mind, the matter of the many ultrasound examinations has to be weighed differently: we make visible, we investigate, we take measurements, photos and videos of someone who still wants to be hidden. Sometimes it is good that we are able to do this, but we have to ask, what is the effect of all of this exposure? We expose places where concealment and envelopment is the normal state of things, we form a visually precise representation of processes which would otherwise not yet be brought to light. The more intuitive state of affairs, where we listen to our inner voice, is replaced by clear images.

The pregnancy continues and about 38 weeks after fertilisation (40 weeks after the beginning of the last menstrual period) another bottleneck rears its head to pose another threat. The child continues to grow and is now around 50 cm long, but it still weighs nothing as it floats weightlessly in the amniotic fluid. It needs increasingly more food and energy, but the placenta is starting to reach its limits. It cannot sustain the foetus well for very much longer.

Something radically new has to take place, or the prognosis looks bad. As a result, the placenta sends hormonal signals to the mother, which are then experienced by her as contractions. The child can no longer be sustained in the mother’s womb. It has to be born, more often than not with a large amount of labour, patience and trust.

The miracle of birth

After such a long time in the womb, where there were so many possibilities that something might have gone wrong – the first breath, maybe the first cry, and the child finally arrives. It now lies on its mother’s stomach, perhaps still a little dazed by the long, hard journey it just had to make. Nevertheless there is now peace, the last perilous hurdle has been conquered. Now it can and must use its own lungs to breathe and can no longer be dependent on the placenta. The same goes for its intake of food. A new life begins.

Is all of this really a miracle? In Germany it happens more than 2,000 times a day. And yet, the more we learn and come to understand about the most delicate of embryonic processes, the greater our sense of awe. However, the opposite case can also be found in many manipulative interventions, for example.

Interventions

Birth control: Not every pregnancy is one that has been desired or planned. The current most common method of contraception in Germany is the pill. More than half of all the women in the country are on the pill. What effect does it have on them? It protects against pregnancy, prevents ovulation, and allows “sexual freedom” – whatever freedom means in the context. However, it does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. The price for all of this is that the wonderfully delicate, rhythmic interplay between the sex hormones, as well as the rhythmic course of the menstruation cycle through each month, come to a complete stop. The hormones introduced through the pill in “monotone” doses take control. The month’s rhythm becomes a cycle of pill doses. Apart from the well-known side effects, this also has a lot of effects on a psychological level; a loss of mental vibrancy can lead to, among other things, depressive tendencies and loss of libido.

Abortion: Do we know what we are doing when we perform an abortion? For some women it appears to be a form of rescue; however, even many decades later many still feel irrevocably injured and traumatized. And how about for the unborn child? If we assume or have a sense of the existence of the child’s soul before the conception – just as for many a life after death is not precluded – this soul, which is seeking to approach, is roughly rebuffed. We will probably never discover what the consequences of this can be.

Artificial insemination: What are we doing when we perform fertility treatment or artificial insemination? Through hormone treatment, several egg cells are simultaneously brought to maturation and drained through puncture treatment. A sperm cell is injected into each ovum in the laboratory. The egg cells begin to divide. After two to three days, one or two fertilised eggs are inserted into the uterus, which has been prepared with hormone treatment. The rest are frozen and, if necessary, used in a later attempt if the current one does not result in success.

Today the success rate for fertilisation in the laboratory stands at around 17 to 20 percent. In Germany, every year more than 10,000 children are born after a conception that has made use of this method.

In actual fact, it is quite a miracle that such a high rate of successful pregnancy and birth is achieved through artificial insemination in the laboratory. If this results in any long-term effects on the child is currently unknown. The oldest “test-tube baby” is currently 38 years old.

A special form of artificial insemination is “oocyte cryopreservation”: seeing that their biological clocks are ticking quickly, some young women are having a number of their eggs frozen at minus 196 degrees, then continuing their careers and having the eggs defrosted and fertilised at a later time, when it better suits them.

Prenatal diagnostics: Through the use of blood tests, ultrasound and amniocentesis, it is possible to determine early on in a pregnancy whether the unborn child has Down’s syndrome, an open back (spina bifida) or other abnormalities of development. Legally it is permissible to abort these children, regardless of the week of pregnancy, when the mother believes that she could not cope.

This topic was addressed by the recent film 24 Weeks (24 Wochen). It is about screening and, ultimately, the question of which lives are deemed worthy enough. It is a wonder, in the negative sense of the word, that this practice is not only permitted in Germany but is also often made use of. Through all of these procedures we are interfering in natural reproduction.

It is correct, and fits well into the development of humanity and society, that we transfer nature over to culture, that we also don’t just leave reproduction to nature; that, with all of the possibilities of contraception that we have at our disposal, we can structure our relationships in a different manner to how they were in the past; that we can provide medical assistance the case of an unfulfilled desire to have children; that during pregnancy and childbirth, women and couples are medically, professionally, and humanely supported in order to prevent or deal with any complications that may arise.

It is up to each of us to form an opinion about which methods are suitable and appropriate. We will also have to bear the responsibility for, as well as the consequences of, our decisions. At some point the miracles will start to recede, and then it is our will which will express itself through the events that happen, not a supernatural will, a spiritual impulse, or the will of an unborn child.

It is perhaps conceivable that in the future humanity will be able to bring its free will to physical fruition in harmony with the spiritual word as the result of real knowledge which is not restricted just to a biochemical and genetic level. But it looks as if this is a long way off.

About the author: Dr Bart Maris is a licensed gynaecologist in Krefeld and the author of several books, including Die Schwangerschaftssprechstunde (The Pregnancy Clinic) written with the midwife Christa van Leeuwen and In Liebe empfangen und dennoch gegangen (Conceived in love, but nevertheless gone) about the subject of miscarriage. 

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