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July 30, 2006 6:52 PM   Subscribe

Amazing photos of human fetal development from conception to birth.
posted by leapingsheep (60 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
*It doesn't have to be an abortion flameout. It's just about the pretty pictures, really!*
posted by leapingsheep at 6:53 PM on July 30, 2006


I had a chance to see “BODIES…The Exhibition” here in Atlanta a few months ago, and there were exhibits of actual fetuses in various stages of development. If any of you are in a city featuring the exhibition, do go see it, it’s amazing.
posted by ijoshua at 7:02 PM on July 30, 2006


I lerve kids and hope to have a couple of my own one day but damn, we humans are downright creepy looking in our pod stages. Amazing, yes, but also kinda icky.
posted by zarah at 7:06 PM on July 30, 2006


I'm at 8 weeks, so this really amazes me. I think about what I'm eating/drinking/smoking (kidding!) constantly, because so much amazing stuff happens every day of the first trimester.
posted by pomegranate at 7:07 PM on July 30, 2006


Thanks for this - I'm roughly 33 weeks, and the bit about the karate kicks is definitely true. And even though this is my second pregnancy, I don't think I'll ever get used to in utero hiccups.
posted by Zinger at 7:12 PM on July 30, 2006


leapingsheep, that's easy for you to say. You know who else liked pretty pictures?

Hitler.

Seriously, though, these photos are keen. Thanks!
posted by Greg Nog at 7:13 PM on July 30, 2006


Is there an in uetero baby option to chose to be cut or not? I'd subscribe to that. Cool post, strange pics. All I can see is a lifetime of hurt. And then Hollywood.
posted by persona non grata at 7:17 PM on July 30, 2006


They are truly amazing pics.

Years ago I saw a documentary about the gestation of different mammals. If I remember correctly, the human being comes out of the uterus uncooked, so to speak. The time it would take for a human baby to come out a baby, not a foetus, would be two years approx. But it's too difficult for a human mother to bear that ordeal of being pregnant so long, so the baby comes out after 9 months and very vulnerable, compared to other mammals, who come into the world much more developed and in a matter of hours, days or weeks, able to run, fend for themselves to some degree or another, able to comprehend the world in more sophisticated terms.

This is, according to that documentary, one of the many reasons women are gifted communicators, because they have to be able to accurately interpret the complex non-linguistic communication of the vulnerable newborn, or our species would not survive.

Wish I could find data to back this up on the web.
posted by nickyskye at 7:38 PM on July 30, 2006


My seven month old daughter is asleep in the other room, and it's amazing how absolutely vulnerable in every way she seems. For a perfectly healthy & happy little baby, she still manages to make me worry for her safety every few minutes I'm around her (all the more so now that she's able to both pull herself to a standing position and crawl from one danger to the next). Nice post, leapingsheep!
posted by jonson at 7:47 PM on July 30, 2006


oh wow jonson, Nice to hear about your 7 month old. Give her a smile from me. Congratulations on your little bundle of mischief. I think that loving parent worry thing goes on for a lifetime, lol. It's pretty amazing human beings survive with all the mischief they get up to as little rascals.
posted by nickyskye at 8:07 PM on July 30, 2006


It's a shame we lose that lizard tail. Imagine what human culture would be like if we hadn't evolved our tails away...
posted by mullingitover at 8:08 PM on July 30, 2006


Agreed with jonson! I am laying here with my 5 week old and this just amazes me!
posted by stew560 at 8:18 PM on July 30, 2006


I was quite surprised to learn the intestines developed outside the baby. I always thought from developmental biology that the embryo curls up on itself to form a tube that becomes the digestive tract. Good stuff!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:26 PM on July 30, 2006


nickyskye, that's interesting. I always thought the reason for human newborns being not-quite-ripe is because they wouldn't fit through the birth canal if their brains grew any larger.
posted by greatgefilte at 8:32 PM on July 30, 2006


Those are good representative pics. Too bad most are just thumbnails. Shame they they (mostly?) don't include scale for one to get a better feel for how very small the many of the subjects are.

A neat remix would be to add what the odds of spontaneous abortion at each of those stages are.
posted by porpoise at 9:17 PM on July 30, 2006


Looking at these, its easy to remember how I was, in the delivery room, trying to maintain composure and saying that I wouldn't cut my daughter's umbilical cord. The moment she came out and lay there on the lamp table as they suctioned out all the gunk from her airway, I couldn't help but become overwhelmed with what a journey my own flesh and blood had just been through. I cut her cord and she was finally ours. These pics are a great reminder of that time.

BTW, Congrats jonson on your little one. Sadly, that worry never goes away and I guess that's what my mother meant when she said "I can't wait till you have your own kids!"
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:32 PM on July 30, 2006


Pretty cool.

The 3D ultrasound pic on the Wikipedia Ultrasound page is our daughter, now 7 weeks old (and laying in her bassinet beside me right now, farting like a bean taste-tester) :)
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:44 PM on July 30, 2006


Really nice to read so many tender-hearted, MeFi dads' stories.

greatgefilte, There is one theory that nine months just covers the time it takes for both parents to agree on a name.

Another theory, slightly more academic, is by Ashley Montagu, called "exterogestation": that nine months is only half the gestation of a human baby and the first nine months outside the uterus are really an extension of being in the uterus. The exterogestation months need to be very gentle, quiet, peaceful; lots of tenderness and loving touching to develop, among other things, the hormone, oxytocin, which contributes to the neurochemical development of empathy in the human being.
posted by nickyskye at 10:01 PM on July 30, 2006


Week Ten: Baby is now called a fetus in "medical terms". You, however, may have chosen the name "peanut," "angel," "jumping bean" or simply "miracle."

Myeah... nothing loaded about that language. Notice how they start calling it an "infant" around week 13? This is total anti-choice bullshit. And the "amazing" photos are both dated and postage stamp-sized.
posted by squirrel at 10:12 PM on July 30, 2006


Amazing.

My husband and I went through multiple IVFs to conceive our now nearly one year old boy/girl twins.

I look back at their ultrasounds frequently - the first ones I have of them are when they were only eight cells each and then when they were just a pencil point in my uterus. The next ultrasound pic I have is from 5 weeks after those eight celled beings were put back into my uterus and we saw their hearbeats for the first time.

To see them now - walking, talking, laughing, dancing - is truly miraculous.

Thanks for a great post and wonderful walk down memory lane!
posted by OhPuhLeez at 10:14 PM on July 30, 2006


[Not to detract from the fawning daddy stories... go wild, y'all. I just want to point out the the language makes the political intent of the page very clear: it's more than just pictures, it's propaganda.]
posted by squirrel at 10:18 PM on July 30, 2006


"I always thought the reason for human newborns being not-quite-ripe is because they wouldn't fit through the birth canal if their brains grew any larger."

Hmm, but the head is already very close to being as big as it's going to get, isn't it?

It seems to me that the unusually large brain size of humans is a small consideration in comparison to the exceptional fact that so much of brain development is contingent upon experience, which necessarily occurs outside the womb. Human babies are born very developmentally immature because that itself is adaptive. I have a hard time believing that the result of what that documentary hypothesis—the two year old newborn—could possibly be human as they suppose. It sounds like a pretty flaky idea to me, intended to illustrate how developmentally immature human babies are but going off the rails along the way.

Anyway, it's better to be careful about avoiding teleological language—the "reason for something" is an example. (Though weakly teleological compared to many other very tempting choices of words.) A lot of different things were selected for, some in conflict with each other, and thus an equilibrium was reached.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:34 PM on July 30, 2006


"Myeah... nothing loaded about that language. Notice how they start calling it an 'infant' around week 13? This is total anti-choice bullshit. And the "amazing" photos are both dated and postage stamp-sized."

First, you might notice that while this post quite inevitably provokes the abortion debate, all the other commenters have avoided it because they know that it's always a disaster and will swamp all other discussion.

Second, I agree with you and I'd like to engage with your point and the larger issue and I hope that my previous paragraph will somehow magically encourage all of us to manage to do so while avoiding everything it is that most of us want to avoid. That and I'm going to do my best to use the least provocative language possible.

For many people, most certainly including myself, the issue of abortion is ultimately decided on the basis of the status of the fetus. That's pretty much universally true for the pro-lifers, but it's also true of many pro-choicers and I'm one of them. For me, it's a matter of determining the location in time of a fuzzy and somewhat arbitrary line which makes a fetus enough of a person to overwhelm the reproductive and body rights of the mother. As it happens, I place that line somewhere toward the beginning of the third trimester.

I've always been deeply uncomfortable with fetal images in that I think they are powerfully misleading. For me, while I can appreciate and don't deny the emotional response and instinct of the anthropomophisation of anything that superficially seems human, pretty much nothing which is visible in fetal imagery answers what I think are the fundamental questions to be answered in the abortion issue. From my point of view, such images implicitly unreasonably assert an argument, or at least beg the question.

However, I think that all those who are pro-life or inclined to the pro-life position present such images in completely good faith. A few don't—a few may be knowingly exploiting an irrational response. But for most it seems to me that if they assume they're looking at a human by default, then the presentation of such images in the character of "hey, look at these beautiful little developing people" is entirely earnest and comprehensible.

But I don't really know how to respond to it. "Yes, those are beautiful and interesting images, but they're not people" seems more provocative than useful. Even so, given how such images are so rhetorically powerful, and so often utilized in service of the pro-life argument, it seems to me that it's necessary to respond.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:54 PM on July 30, 2006




Interesting point about teleological reasoning. Thanks for the education EB.

...all primates are born neurologically undeveloped at birth. For all intents and purposes they complete their gestation after the womb. Monkeys and apes are born with between 45 and 60 percent of their brains, compared to 80 to 90 for other kinds of mammals. Monkeys and apes too are born relatively undeveloped. They need to be in the arms of their mothers to get physiological support, to be kept warm, to make sure that they're able to keep up with the troupe, and breastfed on demand because they need breastmilk for a year, two years, sometimes three years of life.

While we may think that monkeys and apes are undeveloped at birth, human infants are much more so. Human babies are born with only 25 percent of their brain volume relative to adult size. Not only that, they are so undeveloped at birth that they can't cling onto their mother's chests as can all monkeys and apes. We as a species have babies who are neurologically extremely immature, which is to say their central nervous system depends on a microenvironment that is like the in-utero environment, full of sensory exchanges — heat, sound, movement, transportation, feelings, and of course access to mother's breast as driven by the internal needs of the baby.


AGE BRAIN WEIGHT (grams)
20 weeks of gestation 100
Birth 400
18 months old 800
3 years old 1100
Adult 1300-1400
posted by nickyskye at 11:23 PM on July 30, 2006


Awww...sweet little parasites.
posted by SassHat at 11:23 PM on July 30, 2006


Yikes....Perhaps the language is loaded but can't we just appreciate the pictures!

You're struck by how empty of a canvas we are even before we begin the cherubic, more frequently thought of as innocent, pediatrics stage.

To think at one moment that someone like Saddam Hussein was just a couple cellls, no bigger than a fingernail......

Thanks for the link.
posted by skepticallypleased at 5:20 AM on July 31, 2006


My personal favorite, squirrel:

Arm and leg buds appear - While they may not appear to be much at this stage it is ok to dream of the future. Just imagine your ballerina twirling and jumping around your kitchen floor. Or perhaps you will have the precocious boy that throws the perfect pitch -- right through the neighbor's window.

Uh huh. You blew it, fetal Mikhail Baryshnikov. Your mama wanted someone who'd grow up to throw balls through the neighbor's window and all she got was a wusserina.

And yes, I admit my personal snark filter is set to high, but damn. Is the precious cutesy-wootsy language really necessary? I'd find the images much more interesting if they weren't accompanied by that kind of dreck.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:10 AM on July 31, 2006 [1 favorite]


Well said, EB. Still, I consider your position on the "good faith" (nice pun) use of images with rhetorically saturated contexting to be either disingenuous or näive. I lean toward the former, given your impulse toward diplomacy. And, overall, it's not a bad balance to strike unless one is ready to shred the argument of the competition, which I agree is inappropriate for this thread.

But for most it seems to me that if they assume they're looking at a human by default, then the presentation of such images in the character of "hey, look at these beautiful little developing people" is entirely earnest and comprehensible.

Yeah, but given the contexts of our current society, and the literally deadly debate currently raging over the abortion issue, it's just not acceptable to assume that those who would use "baby" talk about fetuses in the first trimester are doing so innocently--unaware of the rhetorical position they are arguing. Especially when the language is steeped with "miracles" and other such God talk.

Those who want to simply enjoy beautiful fetal photography can find much, much better examples of the art in a variety of sources that don't context them religiously. As i said before, this page is more than photography, it's an attempt to persuade--and the poster knows it. The title of this thread speaks to this point.
posted by squirrel at 7:29 AM on July 31, 2006


I'm going to abort this thread before i say something life-killing.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 7:46 AM on July 31, 2006


Yeah, but given the contexts of our current society, and the literally deadly debate currently raging over the abortion issue, it's just not acceptable to assume that those who would use "baby" talk about fetuses in the first trimester are doing so innocently--unaware of the rhetorical position they are arguing. Especially when the language is steeped with "miracles" and other such God talk.

Well, I have yet to find any pregnancy related site (US based or not) or book that doesn't make use of the term miracle at some point or that doesn't devolve into Bitter Girl's 'cutesy-wootsy' mode at least once or twice. (baby showers are *terrible* for cutesy wootsy). Miracle can just as easily mean miracle of nature as it can miracle of [insert deity here].

And anyone who is pregnant will more than likely refer to baby rather than fetus in the first trimester, as it's far more personal. (Assuming they talk much about it at all in the first trimester - it's common not to, given fears of miscarriage etc).
posted by Zinger at 7:50 AM on July 31, 2006


Wow, I feel sorry for anyone who looks at these pictures and sees nothing but politics. The audience for that web site is people who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant; people who want babies, and who are excited to see how their little ones are developing. And yes, people who are going through that use cutesy language sometimes. You know why? It's because their hearts are melting. That feels a lot better than stewing in anger at the mere mention of babies.
posted by leapingsheep at 8:01 AM on July 31, 2006


Oh, I like babies just fine, leapingsheep. Mention them all you want. And yes, the photos were interesting. But what I find even more interesting is the automatic assumptions the writer makes about gender roles (girls = ballerina, boys = uncontrollable throwing arm). Especially since most of that website's audience is going to be raising the next generation...

By means of background: I can't help but frame my personal worldview this way. Having been talked down to by many medical professionals (such as the Vicodin addict physician who got caught by the state med board but not punished, and who addressed answers to all questions about my surgery to my boyfriend... with me in the room), I have a hard time taking medical websites that put forward fact dressed in frilly party clothes seriously. Which is why I lean towards what squirrel is saying.

And Zinger -- hoo boy, you aren't kidding. But do you know what's worse? Wedding showers. Anyone caught making toilet paper wedding dresses at MY shower will be shot on sight.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:36 AM on July 31, 2006


Wow, I feel sorry for anyone who looks at these pictures and sees nothing but politics.

While I'm sure your pity is a smug comfort to you, save it for the needy. I never said that I look at these pictures and see only politics; I said I see these pictures in the context of the abortion debate because the author clearly argues the full baby status of the fetuses. If you had posted a collection of great fetal photographs in scientific context, without manipulative cutesy-wootsy, without miracle talk, then I would be the first to say, hey, great shots! This page is instead some rather small fetus shots couched in cloying religious propaganda.

You know why? It's because their hearts are melting. That feels a lot better than stewing in anger at the mere mention of babies.

Leapingsheep, no one in this thread is stewing in anger at the mere mention of babies, or at anything else. Don't try to make acceptance of this site's rhetorical content a determinant of one's baby love per se. I'm not a parent, but I love babies. I've got nephews and friends with babies. I dig babies. I don't dig religious propaganda, particularly that which is mendaciously defended as a litmus test for one's capacity to love.
posted by squirrel at 8:41 AM on July 31, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think the site is written for children, too.

It is fascinating that at less than a half inch, your little guy (or gal) already is leaving "footprints" on your heart!

Barf.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:21 AM on July 31, 2006


"All content and design copyrighted © 2005 Julie Snyder."
I think this guy would beg to differ.
posted by mr.marx at 10:45 AM on July 31, 2006


Pregnancy.org sounds like a practical and decent site for people who want to have a child. I too was disturbed by the ballerina/baseball stereotyping and in light of that backward thinking, worried as a pro-choice person about the "miracle" reference as sounding Christian. That said I think when people set out to have a child, from the get-go there is an identification with the unborn as their baby, a miracle of sorts.

According to its description: Pregnancy.org is a general purpose website, run by volunteers, spanning pre-conception through early childhood that receives 6.5 million monthly page views. Fully disclosed advertising revenues and sponsorships are used to cover operational overhead. The site founder/owner doesn't seem to have an overtly religious agenda of any kind.

I think when it comes to parenting, being a parent of a newborn, there is a tendency to speak baby gaga and maybe even think in it to some degree. The cutsie-pootsie may be revolting to other adults but I think with other parents who are also undergoing pregnancy and expecting the newborn, baby talk and relating to a baby's version of reality is part of healthy parenting and maybe in a way a preparation for the decades-long ordeal ahead of being a decent parent.
posted by nickyskye at 11:03 AM on July 31, 2006


Good point in your last paragraph, nickyskye. I tend to agree with you. I've raspberried many a tumtum of my own. Your point is especially useful because it distinguishes between revulsion at baby talk and revulsion at the projection of childhood onto fetuses. There is a difference. While the former can make me queasy (or angry, if it's sexist), I really take issue with only the latter because of its implicit argument that a fertilized egg is tantamount to a child.
posted by squirrel at 11:24 AM on July 31, 2006


Truly terrifying (read: funny!) Diary of an Unborn Child. Mp3 link.
posted by Uccellina at 11:45 AM on July 31, 2006


Wow, I feel sorry for anyone who looks at these pictures and sees nothing but politics.
And I feel sorry for someone who can't see the clearly rhetorical bent of the language accompanying the pictures.

Pregnancy and childbirth are natural processes. There is nothing more or less "miraculous" about them than there is about the development of our heart's electrophysiology, or the infinite mysteries of how our brain works. To so claim is profoundly disingenuous, and, frankly, a bit dumb.

Fuzzy-wuzzy hoohah like this:
Fetus will curve its fingers around an object placed in the palm of its hand - This is amazing to see! At only nine weeks, if you happen to have an ultrasound, you may observe your infant fascinated by everything he or she can lay their fingers on (mainly other fingers, toes, ears and nose!
is not only completely demeaning but inaccurate.

The actions they describe (grasping, etcetera) are reflexive, not intentional: the ability to be "fascinated" by something doesn't develop until late in gestation. To state otherwise displays a profound, willful ignorance of the actual science. With Google, there's no excuse for this kind of crap, and that's something for which I have little or no tolerance.
posted by scrump at 11:58 AM on July 31, 2006


Well said, scrump. I wanted to address those issues, too, but didn't want to overly dominate the thread. You expressed my sentiments very well.
posted by squirrel at 12:15 PM on July 31, 2006


Tumtums sure are fun to raspberry.

Just ask Pooty Poot (aka Vladimir Putin in Bush-nickname-world), who, inexplicably, took time out to kiss some random kid's stomach near the Kremlin.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:31 PM on July 31, 2006


Ironic bit of trivia: sweet and pleasant pictures like that tend to be pictures of aborted fetuses, while the propaganda pics used by the anti-abortion crowd are usually actually pictures of miscarriages.

Exactly--some of the Lennart Nilsson ones definitely are of aborted fetuses for the most part (and i don't think that site has permission to use them either--they're very restrictive about usage)
posted by amberglow at 12:51 PM on July 31, 2006


this one, for instance, has the metal stand clearly visible in the background. (it's from an anti-abortion site, and has a note stating it's "fair use", but it's actually not)
posted by amberglow at 12:57 PM on July 31, 2006


I enjoyed this site, despite the limitations and cheesy tone of the narrative. Thanks leapingsheep.
posted by brain_drain at 1:13 PM on July 31, 2006


I have a 28-year-old daughter and a 25-year-old daughter, and I still worry about them daily.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:22 PM on July 31, 2006


I'm always uncomfortable with personalization of the fetus in the first or even second trimesters. I reserve judgment about it when a mother does it—the emotional and physiological context for many is very, very powerful.

I'm not a father, though I once came close to being one. When we discovered my SO was pregnant, I was certainly not opposed to having a child and in fact would have liked to have had a child. It was early in the relationship and the life timing wasn't the best, but I loved her and I've always wanted children. So, I was happy with either decision we (she) made. She, too, surprisingly, found herself surprisingly amenable to the idea of having a baby. But for her, the opposing factors were even more powerful (and correctly so). She decided to abort.

Now, I'm sure probably a majority of us have been in the same situation. Or a large portion. But I mention this because she was at about eight weeks and neither of us referred to the fetus as a "baby", ever. I know my own mind thoroughly, and can only report how she described her own, but neither of us ever regretted the abortion in terms of the fetus's personalization—I doubt she's ever regretted it at all (we married shortly thereafter, but the marriage only lasted five years), and my only regret is that I'm middle-aged now and still have had no children.

I'm almost certain that had we decided to have the child, it would still have been the case that neither of us referred to the fetus as a "baby" during the first trimester.

Similarly, and I refrained from mentioning this last night, just minuted before reading this post I had just gotten off the phone with my sister informing me that she's pregnant. I'm happy for her and her husband, and I'm excited to be an uncle (maybe some of my paternal instincts will have an outlet at last), but I was uncomfortable when she personalized the fetus several times in our conversation. She's pro-life and truly thinks the fetus is a person. I worried that she was aware of my discomfort, but what could I do? And she was likely oblivious, thankfully.

And I mention this only as another example where I was (am) in an emotional context where I'm encouraged to personalize the fetus because I already love the person-that-will-be. But it's not a person now, not even close.

I should say, though, that her pro-life perspective on her fetus and all fetuses is not as simple as I make it out to be. She's a smart woman. Although she believes in the soul, and I'm sure she believes that a fetus has a soul, I recall that past conversations with her about abortion have involved her asserting that this personhood resulted from some deep qualitative attribute relating to "potential". That baffled me then, and baffles me now. Probably just as it baffles most pro-choicers. And my dismissal of this "potential" as a comprehensible litmus test for personhood just as thoroughly baffled her.

Cortex's reluctance to give pro-lifers the benefit of the doubt is a deep shame, I think, and symptomatic of what's wrong with this debate. Because his opposite number on the pro-life side would of course look at my refusal to use the language of personhood with regard to a fetus as dishonest and manipulative—most everyone says "baby" and the like, even many or most pro-choicers, so I'm probably stifling the natural impulse that is itself a pro-life argument and instead using language intended to mislead. Right? Well, no. It's what I really think and believe.

I don't doubt that were I a prospective father, I'd look at those fetal pictures with a sense of wonder and think of this developing person-to-be which I helped create and already loved. Even from as far away as uncle-hood, I can do that right now to some degree. Even so, I wouldn't look at those photos and see what leapingsheep apparently sees. I don't see people, and I don't see anything that particularly awesome and wonderful. The development of a human fetus is to me no more awesome and wonderful as the development of any other mammalian fetus. But then, I also balk at the ubiquitous anthropocentricism.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 3:32 PM on July 31, 2006


As a shock tactic, a national group that opposes abortion plans to fly a billboard-size picture of an aborted fetus over Cleveland beginning Monday.
The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, which frequently employs such attention-grabbing advertising, hopes to jar people into reconsidering their support of abortion, director Gregg Cunningham said.
He said the banner would be the most graphic picture ever displayed from the air. ...

posted by amberglow at 4:15 PM on July 31, 2006


Always interesting for me when you share your stories EB.

When a couple decide, in advance, to procreate, the conversation usually begins with, "Would you like to have a baby?" or "Would you like to have a child?", as you said yourself, "in fact would have liked to have had a child".

The nature of how English is constructed and has referred to pregnancy in the past is such that people don't say, let's make an attempt at having a fetus that might turn into a human being. So pregnancy is associated with "having a baby", "my baby", "our baby", "We're having a baby". Once the menstruation is missed, in planned parenting, usually both parents think of the unborn as "their baby" and risk the emotional pain in case there is a miscarriage.

A pregnant woman, at any time may be referred to as a "mother-to-be", as you referred to yourself as a "prospective father", rather than sperm-donor-who-might-contribute-in-making-a-fetus-that-might-turn-into-a-human-being. As far as I know there are no other words than father and mother for prospective parents, so in a way that is anthropomorphising the parents, when they are genetic donors only up to a certain point.

Outside of planned parenting, pregnancy takes on a whole different feeling and the "baby" word isn't so emotionally welcome, nor may it be biologically correct in the first/second trimester. Maybe colloquial English needs to change to accomodate that?
posted by nickyskye at 4:20 PM on July 31, 2006


I'd say that colloquial English is about as accurate as it's liable to get on the subject of pregnancy, nickyskye. Pregnant women who intend to give birth are called mothers-to-be, which is technically correct. If the language leaned toward the pro-life perspective, as you seem to suggest, then we would simply call her a mother the moment she conceived, as we would call the man in the situation the father, rather than the father-to-be. Perhaps of the anti-choice moment took control of idiomatic speech, we would call all pregnant women "holding mothers"... because if the cluster of cells in their uterus is already a child, then they're already a mother, right?

Also, thanks for the staggering slap of shock exploitation from the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, amberglow. I'd say that's half an FPP right there. Mind-boggling.
posted by squirrel at 4:43 PM on July 31, 2006


"...as you said yourself, 'in fact would have liked to have had a child'"

Yes, but I was very careful in what I wrote to indicate that I did not, and do not, think of the fetus as that child. When I say "child", I am referring to the person that will eventually actually exist, just as when I might say something like "a sperm and an egg can eventually form a child". There's nothing in that to indicate that I think of a sperm, or egg, or a fertilized egg, as a "child". I don't.

I did however, use the language of "mother" to apply to a pregnant woman during early pregnancy. That's because there's not a good substitute and the notion is abstracted enough not to be explicitly claiming that a fetus is a person. I'd use another word were one available; otherwise I can live with it.

"Always interesting for me when you share your stories EB."

Thanks for saying so. It rubs some people the wrong way, and I think it's because they misinterpret it.

For some people—and I don't claim their point of view is invalid—when discussing things rationally and principles and such are at stake, it's important to abstract away from personal experience. Indeed, I think that for some people it's important that they have abstracted and reasoned their way to their beliefs away from personal experience to the point where they hope their own experience isn't that relevant.

However, no matter how intellectual I seem, how inclined to enagage in even extreme abstractionist thought, for me context is always important and the context of personal experience is always important. All of my beliefs are dependent upon my experience—I present those experiences as a way to contextualize my arguments for other people. And I always prefer that other people similarly contextualize theirs, though of course many don't.

But it's not only that. That justification is itself pretty abstract, isn't it?

The other thing, the other deeper and harder to express thing, is that I have very strong thoughts and feelings that a great many of the things we tend to discuss abstractly, especially things involving public policy, are moral/ethical issues where the connection between the abstract and the personal must be maintained.

When I was at St. John's, I was sort of paradoxical. As you might (or might not) guess, I really was hell-on-wheels in the sort of discursive, communal analysis which is 95% of the SJC experience, in every tutorial and seminar. But for the reasons I mention above, and not the least including simple practical considerations such as the more personal things are, the harder it is for people to be reasonable and respectful, there is a mild ethos at the college to avoid personal anecdote. I violated that consistently and intentionally.

And I did so because right off the bat, right away at the beginning of freshman year when all we are doing is reading the various Greeks who were so deeply concerned with what it means to be "a good man", it was obvious to me that such discussions are absurd when they are removed from the activities of our daily lives. The Program is so immersive, and the Greeks so compelling, that most students, no matter how abstract and intellectually alienated from daily experience, finds herself thinking about these questions many times a day outside the context of school, and in the context of their daily interactions and behavior in the world. So how silly is it that they "should not" talk about it?

No, if we are going to think that it's important to talk about these things, then they must remain connected to our daily lives, to who we are as individual people.

The personal is almost always relevant.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:43 PM on July 31, 2006


"Pregnant women who intend to give birth are called mothers-to-be, which is technically correct"

Hmm. Funny that for all that I've already said, I don't conform to this convention—if it is a convention. Seems too clumsy to me and I, as I said, I don't find "mother" too implicitly asserting the personhood of the fetus. I don't deny that it does to some degree assert this, it just doesn't do it so strongly that I feel the need to use language I'm not that comfortable with.

But you can be sure I'll be reconsidering this now as it comes up. :)
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:47 PM on July 31, 2006


You're right about the clumsiness of mother-to-be, EB, but I wouldn't use "mother" for a pregnant woman (who isn't already a mother) strictly because I'm superstitious. I'm the knock-wood type, and you don't count your chicks.
posted by squirrel at 5:12 PM on July 31, 2006


amberglow, I agree with squirrel. Mind boggling.

squirrel, If the language leaned toward the pro-life perspective, as you seem to suggest, then we would simply call her a mother the moment she conceived

I'm suggesting/speculating about pro-choice language changes.

The term mother-to-be from conception point assumes the pregnancy will hold or is wanted and that the fetus is a baby/child, rather than pre-child, since the word mother (even in mother-to-be) is only in relation to child.

So maybe a non-anthropormphising term for pre-third trimester fetus carrier?

I know it sounds weird. What I'm trying to say is that anthropomorphising is easier to do for a pre-trimester fetus when term like mother-to-be is used. If the woman wants an abortion, even if she is pregnant, she isn't a mother-to-be. And even if she carries the fetus for a certain amount of time, there is no guarantee she will be a mother-to-be if there is a miscarriage.

Just saying more accurate qualifying might help remove/prevent the anthropormophising.

EB, When I say "child", I am referring to the person that will eventually actually exist, just as when I might say something like "a sperm and an egg can eventually form a child". There's nothing in that to indicate that I think of a sperm, or egg, or a fertilized egg, as a "child". I don't.

That's exactly what I'm referring to, that there isn't an acceptable colloquial English way to refer to working on creating a fetus in the hopes it becomes a child, except as "hope to have a child". So from the moment of conception people anthropormorphise that. Once the anthropomorphising has started at conception, it's socially harder to change back to the pre 3rd trimester fetus position.

In plant life there are different terms, acorn, sapling, tree, referring to distinct stages. Fetus, when referred to by pro-lifers is used to imply all three human stages, baby-child-person. It would seem useful to have a pre-third trimester word, like acorn, that is more about the seed stage of the potential human's life.

Just rambling and speculating...
posted by nickyskye at 5:31 PM on July 31, 2006


Good points, nickyskye.

"Mother-to-be" is objectionably presumptive to apply to someone who intends an abortion. But who does this?

What's the term for a, um, "nounified" adjective? (Grammar certainly isn't my strong suit.) Too bad pregnant doesn't have one.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:54 PM on July 31, 2006


A participle is a verbal adjective.

An adjectival modifier, as a noun; like computer, used as an adjective, i.e. a computer company, a Giorgia peach.
posted by nickyskye at 6:05 PM on July 31, 2006


What's the term for a, um, "nounified" adjective? (Grammar certainly isn't my strong suit.) Too bad pregnant doesn't have one.

I propose "pregnance".
posted by squirrel at 6:19 PM on July 31, 2006


How about pregnoid? :)
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:46 PM on July 31, 2006 [1 favorite]


Word ideas based on conceiving and prenatal.

Would you like to try and conceive together?

Conceptual? ;-)

Conceptive? ie "I'm conceptive" (pre 3rd trimester).

The fetus being a concept ;-)
until the third trimester, at which point it would be prenascent or prenatient. ? Pregnatal?

pregnoid, lol. Funny.
posted by nickyskye at 7:09 PM on July 31, 2006


Cool pics, annoying script ("practicing?"). Re comments -- I can't stand the language slip when a pregnant woman becomes the "mother." There's always a way to use the word "woman" with modifiers.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:00 PM on July 31, 2006


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