A Doctor’s Diary: Witnessing God's Handiwork
Like a well-written, trillion-page novel, every step, twist and turn of a fetus's development seems to follow an all-encompassing plan.
I have practiced medicine for nearly fifty years and I find that I am most impressed with the miracle of childbirth. I can still recall the first baby that I delivered. I was a fourth-year medical student and literally shaking in my boots. This child arrived incredibly fast, or so it seemed; I barely had time to put on my gloves and get into position. He was incredibly slippery. It was all that I could do to keep him from shooting off or falling into a catch-bucket. A mishap like that could easily have been injurious, and certainly bad form.
I recall the baby’s first cry. It was almost immediate. That signaled he was alive and breathing. Once the cord was cut and clamped, I watched as the nurses dried and cleaned him. Mom and dad were told they had a seven-pound boy. As we moved the newborn to mom’s chest, their love was readily apparent. The bonding between all three was instantaneous. Later, when I was able to hold him, his tiny hand wrapped around my pinkie. All digits, all features, all parts were where they should be. Nothing was misaligned. For me this was truly a miracle. Although I am an internist, I’ve delivered more than a hundred newborns during my career. Each one was a blessing.
With the modern techniques of biochemistry, electron microscopy and electrophysiology, God's handiwork is becoming more and more apparent to scientists. There are so many new things that were never imagined before, from the macro to the micro. Darwin did not know what a gene was, let alone a chromosome or a nucleotide base. He could not explain why a child looked like his parents. That said, he did the best he could with the scientific facts of the day.
Quadrillions of specific chemical reactions are constantly happening 24/7, simultaneously, repeatedly, in sequence and/or in tandem.
Like a well-written, trillion-page novel, every step, twist and turn of our development seems to follow an all-encompassing plan. Any deviation, at least early on, from the original blueprint would be like building a skyscraper and forgetting important structural components in the first few floors. Trillions of coordinated actions are linked together over a nine-month period. Quadrillions of specific chemical reactions are constantly happening 24/7, simultaneously, repeatedly, in sequence and/or in tandem. Often at enormous speeds that are much faster than the blink of an eye.
Everything is perfectly timed. Everything is organized. Genes sometimes jump about, combine and recombine in inexplicable ways, creating a person in a melded image of his/her parents. Changes appear out of nowhere. There are DNA switches, so called epigenetics, that turn genes On and Off. Design suggests planning. Planning suggests purpose(s). Nothing is left to chance.
The single cell (a zygote), formed by the union of the egg and sperm, becomes a 15 trillion-cell baby in a matter of nine months with amazing precision. This includes periods with tens of thousands of cell divisions per second with a greater than 99.99% rate of accuracy. By the 16th day the heart starts beating. By 30 days, the embryo will have grown 10,000 times the size of the fertilized egg. It will have also moved from the fallopian tube to a site in the uterus where it knows how to connect by placenta to the maternal bloodstream.
At seven weeks the unborn child is an inch long and has already started developing all of its organs (such as the liver, spleen, sex organs, spleen, intestines). In many ways the unborn resembles a very tiny person. At eight weeks fingerprints and toeprints show up and traces of the brain and spinal cord are clearly present. At a specific moment, 250,000 neurons (nerve cells) migrate (climb, crawl, swim, slide, squeeze by) every minute to designated places with distinct goals/purposes within the brain. Compared to their size, the distances some travel can be compared to humans walking many miles along a crooked and hilly path.
At twelve weeks vocal cords show up, but because the lungs are still filled with amniotic fluid and not air, a voice and breathing are absent. At four months, an ultrasound can show the baby sucking its thumbs and playing with its umbilical cord. Between 18 and 20 weeks the senses for pain are mature, virtually the same as they will be at birth. Studies show babies withdrawing their feet to irritating stimuli. At twenty-four weeks, ultrasound can show the baby smiling. At twenty-eight weeks, a baby will track a moving light, such as an external flashlight that is held up against mom’s belly. Somewhere in this period, the baby learns its mother’s voice.
A baby with 15 trillion cells will have 40-75 trillion cells by adulthood, all following specific blueprints. Each cell, every tissue, all organs and all combinations will have very specific, prescribed functions. Some of these functions will change or desist with time as if there are internal clocks.
Nowadays, many premature babies can survive in a neonatal intensive care unit. Jacqueline Kennedy’s newborn would have easily survived if it were born today.
When the baby’s body decides it is time to greet the world, it sends out millions of messenger chemicals to the mother’s brain saying, “I’m ready. How about hitting the START button?” Mom’s brain then floods the womb with a completely different set of chemical messages telling all cells there to start the warm-ups, mostly meaning contractions. A shifting and aiming of the baby’s head downward into the birth canal follows; the placenta is notified to start loosening its grip and pull away. By this time, the uterus is 5 times its usual size, has an increased capacity of 500 times normal and it is15 times heavier. Per blueprints, it will return to its normal size within a week after delivery; it takes another month or so for complete healing.
The start-up contractions are called false or Braxton Hicks contractions; thereabouts a small amount of amniotic fluid leaks occurs (often stated “my water broke”). The first contractions are variable in timing and usually mild, but that soon changes to closer and closer timing and increasing intensity (often associated with discomfort and pain). Pressure also comes from the sides of the uterus to further line up the baby. Despite being extremely thinned, the uterus does most of the pushing.
The baby has to exit to the outside world through the cervix which normally looks a little like a soft, pink bottle cap with a tiny hole in the middle. This opening will slowly dilate to ten centimeters (about 4.5 inches) before the baby can pass through. As the baby moves downward, its head engages in the canal, facing sideways. Sideways is critical as the passageway through the bony pelvis is not wide enough to accommodate our large head(brain). FYI: The great apes don’t have this problem. Despite their giant size, their brains, as babies, are considerably smaller.
The instant the baby passes out of the womb, chemical messages tell the baby’s brain to start breathing.
The instant the baby passes out of the womb, chemical messages tell the baby’s brain to start breathing. There’s no obvious ON switch, START button; yet, some critical mechanism has to exist. Perhaps, it is temperature change, air pressure change and/or the hint of oxygen tickling the baby’s nose. We don’t know, but this messaging is obviously critical and precisely timed. A swat on the butt is more for the movies (unless mom was sedated). If breathing starts too soon, the baby dies of asphyxiation; if too late, the baby incurs brain damage or dies of hypoxia (low oxygen). This is critical. The decision to start breathing happens in a matter of seconds. Childbirth has always been this way. There’s no room here for Nature’s experimentations. No time for trial and error.
On occasion, an unborn child will linger part way through the birth canal for hours, even days, especially with mom’s first pregnancy, yet the baby remains quite stable, without the need to “breathe”. This is planned for internally. At the time of birth, the newborn’s blood, which had been circumventing the lungs during gestation (there was no reason to breathe while inside mom), must immediately shift and go through lungs to absorb oxygen and eliminate carbon dioxide.
There’s a very interesting trick (a built-in change in the newborn’s circulation system) that happens promptly after birth. A major artery with a valve (the ductus arteriosus) that was used to bypass the previously dormant lungs (Note all exchanges of oxygen and carbon dioxide came from mom via the placenta) closes off. That immediately causes all blood from the right side of the heart to go the lungs which are ready by then. The mechanism is very impressive. The timing here has to be exact.
One might readily ask if these overlapping and changing designs are just too perfect to have come about by chance. As science has advanced through the centuries, we have been learning more and more about complexities within complexities within complexities within the human being. All have apparent purpose. All dovetail.