Recap for Blog 31 – When an embryo withdraws: Discovering what is really happening as the four-week-old miracle unfolds deep inside Zani instills a sense of wonder in the parents to be. Jake gets carried away and keeps on sketching as they read Miriam’s notes.
Now, once Jake has given his drawings a last look-over, he starts telling me about an interview he heard on the car radio driving to a client one afternoon.
The guest was a developmental specialist, Dr Melodie de Jager, who talked about the first movement a baby makes, which happens between weeks 5 to 7 after conception. She said that the embryo’s first impulse was to survive and, in order to survive, the embryo would need to be able to sense and move away from any potential threat – an embryo withdraws.
“What could possibly threaten an embryo?”
“I don’t know,” says Jake, “she didn’t specify, but I would guess it’d be a bump on the tummy, poisonous gas, or a fall or maybe an attempt to abort the baby.”
“Oh, Jake, how could anybody ever do a thing like that?”
“Zani, don’t be naive. Who are we to judge the choices others make? That’s not something I’d consider, but I’m certainly not going to make a call on other people’s decisions. People could terminate a pregnancy for all kinds of reasons – I don’t know.
All I know is most people generally do what is best for them and their circumstances at that moment, no matter how bizarre it may seem to us or other people who do actually want a baby.”
He is right. Of course he is, but I don’t want to think about it. We have had our own burdens to carry on the way to where we are now, and I’m not going to poison the moment with… well, with negative thoughts that would only depress me.
“Go on then … Tell me more about the interview?”
“I didn’t get to hear all of it, but she did say something about a withdrawal reflex that is one of the first reflexive movements a baby makes – an embryo withdraws. The baby’s brain is not fully formed at that stage, so the baby’s not actually thinking about moving away, out of harm’s reach – it just does it, pretty much as you would instinctively prevent someone from stepping off the pavement in front of an oncoming car.”
“Yoh! So it’s baby’s instinct to withdraw? Shame, man! I just hope this instinct to withdraw changes at some stage otherwise, when we want to hold our baby, he may withdraw?”
“Oh, what insight!” Jake laughs. “I’ve married brains. But, yes, you’re right, it can happen if a mother doesn’t do something …”
“Do what? Come on, tell me!”
“This woman on the radio said the reflex actually has a positive motive other than to ensure survival. Every time the embryo moves away, it sensitises the skin and creates a map of the body in the baby’s brain.”
“That’s amazing!” is all I can muster.
“Remember,” Jake continues, “at this stage the baby has no eyes, ears, nose, hands or legs to protect itself, so it relies solely on its skin to alert it to any danger or potential threat.”
“Gee, Jake, it feels like I need to go to night school to be one step ahead of our baby – and it doesn’t even have a fully formed brain yet!”
Jake roars with laughter. “You’re priceless, Zani! But seriously, what you should be in awe of is not our baby’s IQ, but the wisdom or instinct that’s in all of us.”
“No, I know. You’re right. But you still haven’t told me what to do to stop baby from withdrawing, mmm?”
“Well, this woman said most women know they’re pregnant at around Week 8 and if they want to be pregnant, they spontaneously touch their tummies. Every time a mommy touches her tummy, she communicates with her baby non-verbally. Essentially, she’s saying: ‘Hello, welcome to my tummy. I’m glad you’re here. You and I are going to be a team – an awesome team!’”
“Aaw, Jake! That’s soooo beautiful. I would like to add to the script. May I?”
“And you, dear baby,” I continue, my hand falling lightly to my tummy, “have a support team – a dashingly handsome, impressively intelligent and wonderfully loving and talented …”
“Bingo!” Suddenly I am laughing so much that I have to run to the loo. Jake follows, plonks himself down on the carpet outside the bathroom and carries right on. “What I found fascinating, though, is what happens when mommy touches her tummy and communicates with the baby. The baby actually starts moving towards Mom’s hand, and by doing that the instinctive response to withdraw becomes a choice not a reflex. And that, dear Zani, is called Life Lesson 101.”
“So what you’re saying is what happens in the uterus becomes part of the baby’s skills for life?”
“Yup! Pretty much – if we can believe that developmental specialist on the radio.”
“But, Jake, what if an expectant mother doesn’t know she needs to touch her tummy, what would happen to her baby?”
“The same instinct that drives the baby, drives a mother. If a mom wanted to be pregnant, she instinctively touches her tummy. I’ve been watching you – and you didn’t know you were supposed to touch your tummy and yet you touch your tummy all the time. In fact, more than you touch me these days …”
“Aaw! You’re such a baby! Come here, let Mommy touch your tummy.”
Jake chuckles. “Erm, it’s not so much my tummy I want touched, my love …”