by Argentina Ciaramella
If you’re the type to prefer a routine, you’re not alone; most people avoid change for change’s sake. But change does not have to be a moment of crisis, it can be an opportunity.
And no change is more profound than entering parenthood: preparing for the care and nurturing of a living creature is a massive undertaking. One thing new parents often fail to plan for are the physical developments of the child itself.
Because this blog is open to all prospective caregivers – be you mothers, fathers, grandparents, or even aunts or uncles- I hope to be able to guide you through all the stages of development of our precious caterpillar every step of the way. If you have any specific questions or concerns, we will be available to help.
Our journey begins at conception, and the child, much like the humble caterpillar who spends weeks locked inside a chrysalis, undergoing total body transformation so that it may emerge as a beautiful butterfly, will have to go through many stages of growth to reach its full potential.
However, managing all of these different phases can be problematic for any new parents. Imagine the archetypal, nuclear family unit as a delicate ecosystem, supported and maintained by a perfect balance between each of its members. If one is out of sync, the finely-tuned relationships will all be affected.
FROM CONCEPTION TO BIRTH
At the beginning, as most of us likely know, the man lays a seed within the woman’s womb. Millions of sperm cells begin their arduous trek against the powerful currents generated by the ciliary carpet.
By the shaking of their tail, they will travel through the vagina millimeter by millimeter, fighting through the obstructions of the cervix and the uterus itself. Alas, all but one sole survivor are fated to meet their end somewhere along this perilous road.
After all, only a single spermatozoon can merge with the egg and create a new life.The winning sperm cell sheds its tail, carrying the father’s genetic material to join the mother’s; from this union a unique cell is born, the fruit of love and desire.
The rest, as they say, is history. The process accelerates, the egg instantly splits into 2, then 4, then 8, then 16, then 32 identical cells. After a long journey, on the third day, he will take the plunge into a huge cave with which he will become intimately familiar: the uterus.
On the sixth day, the egg comes out of its shell and rests gently on the uterine wall. It begins to transform and establishes an indispensable connection with the placenta that will guarantee a continuous nutrient exchange with the mother’s body. Simultaneously, a disc forms in the center which allows the egg to become an embryo.
After 14 days, our embryo is still smaller than a pinhead, but it is already beginning to present the rough draft of a nervous system: from the back buckling, a sort of tube is created, which will eventually become the spinal cord.
At 22 days, the embryo measures merely 2 mm, but it already has the makings of a little heart, formed by tiny cells that beat in unison.
At four weeks, the embryo sprouts two bulges that will become the eyes, still without eyelids. The bone cartilage also progressively develops along with the muscles and tendons, and the form of a human begins to take shape.
At 34 days the embryo measures 5 mm, and from this moment on, its development accelerates to the point of making it grow by almost a millimeter a day: arms and legs are formed and the vestigial remnants of his tail are left behind, leaving space for the coccyx. The nose and mouth are sculpted, the neck becomes distinct from the skull,and the brain continues to evolve, preparing to one day direct all of the mission-critical functions.
At 44 days the tiny eukaryote measures 17 mm. In the placenta, through the umbilical cord, nutrients continue to flow from the mother to the child. The only molecules able to cross the placental membrane are those of sugars, oxygen, proteins, and vitamins and minerals.
Unfortunately, this includes the potentially harmful alcohol and caffeine molecules, so the mother will have to limit her intake.
The term pregnancy, comes from the Latin verb “gerere”, because the mother carries the child with her and within herself. This period is unique from both a biological and psychological point of view, characterized by a relationship that psychoanalysts call symbiotic and in which mother and child live in continuous interchange; the relationship is never unidirectional.
The word symbiotic itself, carrying the prefix sym -meaning “with,”- betrays the state of inherent duality. The fetus will move in specific ways to signal the need for change in its internal environment, and every mother must learn to decode these signals over the course of these fateful nine months.
For a woman, pregnancy begins even before conception. Motherhood is much more than a purely biological event, deeply interrelated to the female identity. The nine months of intrauterine life are an important premise to the one that will begin after birth.
Let’s look at some important features:
The intrauterine environment is rich in endogenous and exogenous stimuli.
Auditory stimuli include constant endogenous (peristaltic sounds, the heartbeat, breath) or erratic (mother’s voice), exogenous (father’s voice or other adult environmental noises). In addition the fetus is subject to all of the following:
- various visual stimuli.
- vestibular stimuli-through the constant movement of the mother, and her
shifts between stillness and motion.
- gustatory stimuli: the child receives the nutrients through the food the
The child responds differently to these stimuli and already shows an elementary learning ability.
- Since the sixth month of life all systems can be operated and activated.
- The child responds differently to different stimuli.
The most used search element for the prenatal period are motor skills and heart rate.
After these nine months have passed, finally, mom and dad can hold the fruit of their love in their arms. But this moment of triumph can be tinged bittersweet; birth is not just the beginning of life, but also the first moment of separation between the child and the mother, who will have to come to terms with the fact that the child is a new individual.
The newborn will bring with him a complete upheaval in the structure of the family system. The father will have to learn to share the attention of his partner with the new family member; thus it is essential that the father be involved both during pregnancy and childbirth.
Psychoanalysis and social psychology research have highlighted the fundamental role played by the father towards the mother-child pairing and have modified the concept of peripherality (biological, physical and social) of his role. In fact, nowadays men are considered just as capable of caring for a child. The degree of involvement and participation in the various stages of the baby’s life, both during pregnancy and later, will appear proportional to the development of the father-child relationship. Regardless of his initial feelings on the subject, he will eventually have to adapt to the experience of paternity, albeit in a less direct way than the mother.
The father who sees her belly grow for nine months, may feel excluded from this symbiotic, inherently intimate relationship. It therefore becomes necessary for the mother to involve her partner in this wonderful journey; after all, it will last a lifetime. Even after birth, with regards to caring for the newborn, it would be desirable for men to be given more freedom to express their feelings and to participate actively in the care of the child. It is important that the father does not become a substitute or a clone of the mother figure, but rather is able to fill his unique role within the family sphere.
Photo by: pixabay.com