Shaping my baby

As some of the language in this post suggests, I wrote it while my daughter was still in utero. It turned up during a spate of hard-drive housekeeping, and I think it’s relevant enough to be worth posting, even so long after it was written.

If I had a tenth of Amp’s cartooning skills, I’d turn the Cute Li’l Parasite into a cartoon, a sort of pro-choice counterpart to the faintly disturbing Umbert the Unborn. Umbert, for those who missed him, is a cartoon fetus that floats in some kind of misshapen uterus that has been detatched completely from anything resembling a woman (the hypothetical artificial womb, perhaps?) and spouts the pro-life line as well as any adult.

Another kind of fetus, almost completely unlike Umbert, shows up in Listen: Your baby’s life before birth, a free booklet I got as part of my pregnancy loot. Aimed at women and couples who have already decided to continue with a pregnancy, it can celebrate fetal life without undercutting maternal choice, and the picture it paints of the third-trimester fetus is a good deal more believable than Umbert.

My baby, now well on the way towards birth and personhood, is already experiencing the world. Sounds, both from within my body and from the wider world, reach hir, and sie’s already learning to recognise my voice. Sie can feel hir own body and the umbilical cord, as well as being aware when something presses against my abdomen and restricts the available space.

But what fascinates me is that, apart from sound and pressure, everything my baby experiences comes through me. Take taste – sie’s sensitive to changes in the taste of the amniotic fluid, which takes on the flavours of whatever I’ve been eating. By the time sie’s ready to be born, my favourite foods will be familiar to hir, but the foods I hate and never touch – sie won’t have a clue about them.

And then there’s emotion. When I’m angry or stressed or euphoric, my baby shares as much of the emotion as is attributable to hormones. Without the intellectual development or the life experience to name the emotion, sie can’t be said to feel angry or happy, but the physical effects are clearly there. When some trollish argument infuriates me, my baby tenses up just as I do, and when I’m travelling home from a match in blissful relaxation, so is my baby.

Pro-lifers have accused me of cognitive dissonance for treating my baby as a part of me, but sie feels what I feel. How can sie not be a part of me?

The other side of the coin is that I’m shaping hir experience of the world. My baby is already very different from a hypothetical clone raised in a hypothetical artificial womb, and this is the part where I suspect pro-lifers of some dissonance of their own. A pregnant woman does a lot more for the fetus than simply refraining from abortion: every decision I make influences what my baby will become.

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3 Responses to Shaping my baby

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    Angiportus says:

    I think I remember those Umbert Unborn cartoons, from way way back–it was always a little boy sitting there making this or that smart remark, and only occasionally it was twins and then the other was a girl, always silent, it was still the boy that got to say all the cute things…It kind of squicked me out, and now I know why.
    Maybe that was another cartoon series, I don’t know. Anyway it was lame…
    How can they be sure, how did they get the data about how well the fetus can taste what the mother consumes? Has anyone done a study on likeness or diffs in mother and child food preferences, how much of that is genetic and how much amniotic? I acquired some of my favorites long after I was grown up, and can’t blame Mom…