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When Does Life Begin?

Dedicated to all “Mothers-To-Be” - Happy Mother's Day!

A mother is a mother before the second pink or blue line appears. She’s typically been a mother several weeks already before she even suspects she’s pregnant. And no matter how long her son or daughter lives – a few weeks, months, years, or decades, she will have always been ​her child’s mother.

It is a scientific, biological fact - printed in every embryology textbook - that life begins the moment our unique DNA is woven together in our first single cell that will then replicate into every cell of our body. We are fully human, alive, and growing from the first moment ​gametes from our parents meet and combine into one single cell.

If we were to find our first single cell on another planet, we would say that we found life, and that we found human life! Within our first cell is coded whether we are male or female, the color of our eyes and hair, and six feet of complex genetic code. This code is not just the blueprint for our body, but this cell is our body. Microscopic fireworks of light flash at the moment we come into being!

At that moment of conception a woman becomes a mother. Regardless how long her child lives, she will have always been a mother and that will have always been her child. Complex and organized, our hundreds of cells make our fragile journey to implant, approximately five days later. Upon implanting, we communicate with our mother through chemicals to say, “I’m here!” It wasn’t that long ago that we described a mother experiencing pregnancy as “with child”.

Pregnancy is not an illness or disease, and therefore does not need a cure or medical intervention. Pregnancy is healthy. In fact, pregnancy is the direct result of a woman’s health and reproductive health, specifically. It is during pregnancy that much of a woman’s maturation becomes complete.

Not only is there physical maturation, but emotional, as well. During pregnancy, a mother’s heart physically expands to provide more oxygen for her child as she provides a safe haven of nourishment and protection for her child to grow. Emotionally, this is a time where she matures to consider the needs of someone outside herself; our word for that is love.

At twenty-one (21) days from conception – about the time mom suspects she’s pregnant - ​we have a heartbeat that will last the rest of ​ our life. ​Our heartbeat is how a doctor knows if ​we're still living, even prior to birth.

Despite errors in some textbooks, at no time d​id we have anything resembling gills or a tail. Our spinal cord grows faster than the rest of our body to put in place our nervous system that will communicate throughout our body. At just a few weeks old, the folds under our eyes are the beginning of our ears.

By six weeks from conception, ​our brain waves​ are detectable, and by seven weeks ​we will move away from touch and can feel pain. During pregnancy, our fragile skin is more sensitive than we will be by the time we are born. Before ​we enter fetal development at ten weeks, ​we have a face, arms and legs, fingers and toes and look like the tiny infant ​we will be at birth, just about two and a half inches tall. Placing an exact model of what we look like at this stage of our life, any young child when asked will say, “that’s a baby”.

During fetal development (which lasts the remainder of a forty-week pregnancy), ​we suck our thumb, jump​, kick, and do somersaults​. We even get the hiccups. Because the alveoli of our lungs do not open until birth (we receive our oxygen and nutrients through the placenta and umbilical cord prior to birth) and oxygen is not passing through ​our vocal cords, we are unable to hear a child cry in the womb, but these tiny infants can be seen crying when hurt.

We can even observe these tiny ones trying to block, hide, or get away from the sounds of an ultrasound, especially if it is directed toward an ear (it sounds like a freight train to them), as the pulsating sound vibrates and is uncomfortable speeding up (heating up) cells in the child’s body.  

During fetal development, we experience joy and pain. We will even show preferences for right or left handedness and which meals we prefer that mom eats (the flavor of mom’s cooking flavors the amniotic fluid that the child is swallowing and uses to practice breathing). After twenty weeks, ​we startle at loud noises and will nestle in a favorite position before going to sleep. Only halfway through pregnancy, many of these children can survive if born and given proper medical treatment.

These are only the beginnings of what we understand about a child’s development prior to birth. Meanwhile, changes in chemicals in a mom’s body can cause her not to feel well early in pregnancy and then feel better as her body adjusts to the many changes of carrying her little one.

It is during the 9.5 months of pregnancy that parents have time to adjust and prepare for active parenting. Parents start thinking about the welfare of a child dependent on them for protection and nutrition long before birth. Mom’s body even helps her get the rest she needs and think about what she’s eating that will help her baby. Mom can begin to bond with her baby as she feels her baby kick and her baby begins to interact with the outside world from within the safety of a mother.

By the time ​we are born, ​we recognize ​our mother’s voice, and if given those precious first hours to bond, ​we will look into ​our mother’s eyes as if to say, “oh, that’s what you look like.” The familiarity of singing and reading and the cadence of ​a mother’s voice during pregnancy will sooth ​us after ​we are born.

We call ourselves many things throughout a lifetime, like toddler, teenager, young adult, … these are just stages in human development. We are not any less human at any stage of human development. “Fetus” is Latin for “little one,” “young one”, “offspring”, “baby”, or “infant”. Fetal development is just one stage in our human development, a very important one. And for a mother, a critical time to begin bonding and loving this little one she is blessed to be able to bring into the world. 

Faye Barnhart, Co-Founder of the Colorado Life Initiative is a Life Affirming Specialist and Women's Advocate of nineteen years, served in a federal think tank on the co-occurrence of adult and child violence and four pregnancy care centers in two states, including CEO of the largest pregnancy care center geographically in the US and Colorado. She was a prelaw student and aid at the Colorado state Capitol, interned in media, and finished her college degree as a single parent. She pursued a Master's in Organizational leadership, a career in communications and management in international ministry, and served as a Director on several Boards. A follower of Jesus Christ since a small child, she is the wife of a farmer, the mother of three grown biological children and an adopted special needs son, and biological grandmother to several miracle babies, including a grandson who needed life-saving surgery at birth.

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