How this scientist thought (thinks) about pregnancy.

I found out I was pregnant with Mabel on Tax Day 2009.  I’d been keeping track of my cycles and was pretty sure I was about 13 days post-ovulation.
I’m not sure what you pictured going on in your uterus when you found out you were pregnant, but I pictured this:
I thought, “Wow!  Gastrulation!” and remembered back to the Xenopus and zebrafish movies from cell biology.
Yup, I’m a scientist.  I’ve studied developmental biology (with a Nobel Prize winner no less!).  I think this led to a kind of unique perspective on pregnancy and child birth.
Whereas those weekly e-mails I subscribed to were likening my zygote (fertilized egg)/embryo (2-cell stage to 8 weeks)/fetus (the rest of the time) to fruits and veggies, I was more concerned with other milestones.  Each time a weekly update arrived, it prompted me to check out The Visible Embryo Project, a developmental biologist’s take on embryonic development.
There was a sense of apprehension when I knew the neural groove was forming.  I had been taking that folic acid for just this purpose- I even researched how it worked.  When I hit 8 weeks and knew the notocord was formed, I crossed my fingers and prayed it had closed completely (meaning no spina bifida).
When it came time to decide if I wanted to do the “Quad Screen” I hit PubMed for some references.  What does it screen for?  Why do those things matter?  Why do I really need to know?
When it came time to drink the dreaded “Glucola,” I boned-up on my glucose metabolism.  I wondered, why do women without diabetes develop it while pregnant?  Why does it go away after birth?  Why does gestational diabetes cause babies to grow so large?
As my due date approached, I reminded myself, frequently, that 40 weeks was just an estimate.  Biological variation meant a viable, healthy, fully-formed baby could be born anywhere from 37 to 42+ weeks.
As my due date came and went, I read up on late pregnancy.  What actually causes a placenta to get ‘old?’  Why is meconium dangerous?  Are the old wives’ tales about inducing labor legit?  How does nipple stimulation bring on labor?  When my 60-something midwife instructed me to tell my husband to “get that semen in there!” I did, or rather, he did.  I also looked up how/why it can work, even if it didn’t for me.
When my midwife stripped my membranes, I hit Google to find out what membranes?  What was the mechanism was that supposedly precipitated labor?
When I woke up to liquid running down my leg and made the trip to hospital in a snow storm at 3am, only to find out it wasn’t amniotic fluid, I wondered how that litmus test worked.  What was so special about amniotic fluid?
I was thankfully blessed with an uneventful pregnancy.  However, it was also a pregnancy that lasted 42 weeks and 1 day.
I do think pregnancy and birth are over-medicalized.  That’s why I went with a midwifery practice that let nature take its course, and fell back on medicine when it didn’t.
However, I also think pregnancy and birth are under-appreciated, science-wise.  A lot of people joke about the dangers of “Dr. Google,” but what about the wonders of “Google, PhD?”
While a lot of conception, gestation, and birth remain a mystery, and the focus of active research, a lot is known.
Look at all those questions I had- scientists and doctors spent life-times, also known as graduate school, researching each and every question.  There are detailed molecular machinations behind each and every cell division, heart beat, contraction, and breath.
What a great opportunity for all of us to discover how we each came to be.
So be honest- is just me and my scientific perspective or does every mom-to-be wonder about these things?

1 Comment

Filed under #scimom, Mother, pregnancy, Scientist

One response to “How this scientist thought (thinks) about pregnancy.

  1. I didn’t do quite as much research as you did, but I did do quite a bit. While my friends were drinking red raspberry leaf tea to induce labor, I was looking up how that was supposed to work. While my friends were telling me I couldn’t drink my Coke for lunch, I was biting my tongue to avoid spewing out actual research. While my friends (I had a lot of friends pregnant at the same time) were discussing whether their baby’s heart rate indicated a boy or a girl, I was thinking about when exactly the primary sex characteristics would appear and be visible by ultrasound.
    I was teaching high school during my pregnancy, so I’d give occasional updates (with diagrams/ultrasounds) on my pregnancy and what was happening with the kid. My students were more concerned with the colors of my nursery, though.

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