A Biology Lesson from my Four-Year-Old Son
I had a powerful exchange with my son when he was four years old, and his words made such an impact on me that I wrote them down after the conversation happened.
Son: (looking quite pensive) Mom, when was I born?
Me: May third.
Son: (with much astonishment and questioning in his voice) ON MY BIRTHDAY????!!!
Me: (confused and a little like ‘um…duh…yes… you were born on your BIRTH day!!’) …Yes.
Son: Mom, I was born in your tummy… not on May third!
Being a student and teacher of biology, I know that from the moment of conception there exists a single microscopic cell with 23 chromosomes from the mother and 23 chromosomes from the father… a human cell with 6.5 feet of DNA containing 6 billion nucleotide pairs – the blueprints that will give instruction to the ribosomes to manufacture proteins to create a perfect human being. The creation begins immediately. DNA and all of its 6 billion nucleotides begins to replicate and in about 24 hours, we have two cells, not just one. The cell itself is a miracle – something that no lab and no scientist can create.
I would argue that the first cell that we all start out as, a zygote, is alive. It has all the properties of life and is the original piece of us. Now, how that cell gets to a ball of cells and then to such amazingly diverse and unique structures, such as bone, blood, cartilage, joints, skin, and hair is another thing that blows my mind! The precision of the process of cell differentiation is nothing short of miraculous. Your “DNA” has thought of everything – even the most discreet of details are crafted with ultimate care!
I remember sitting in the rocker next to my newborn baby’s crib and watching him sleep in my arms. As I was marveling at the tiny features of his face, I focused in on his exquisite lips. I recall being carried off in some awe-filled state, fascinated with how the cells at the border of his pink lips were place-perfect. Each cell knew exactly where to be pink and where to be flesh colored, creating this perfect line of sweet kissable lips. Now, maybe it was just that my brain cells were literally swimming in oxytocin about this time (oxytocin – hormone causing feelings of great protection, love, and awe for new mothers toward their newborns), but I am still amazed at this “DNA”!
It is the order of the 6 billion base pairs in your DNA code in this first cell that gives the precise instructions that control almost everything about you, from your blood type to your personality to how fast you produce red blood cells (you produce about 2 million red blood cells per second, by the way). Such a precise code tells us there must be a code-Maker! God is the author of our DNA! And He wrote it in us when we were just one cell old.
Whether we speak of unborn life as gestational weeks, trimesters, or in any terminologies naming the baby at different ages (zygote, morula, blastocyst, embryo, fetus…), a difference between all of these labels is the number of cells that make up each; yet, just one cell contains everything that’s needed for all the other stages. Left alone, it grows through each stage. That one cell at the beginning is something no man can create, and left alone, something happens to it that no man can do. That one tiny first cell that is so much more than the sum of its parts is the beginning of life, put there by the Creator, Sustainer, the great cell-Maker!
So, when is a baby born?
At the moment of conception! Even a four-year-old knows that!
Psalm 139: 13-16 (from The Message)
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.
References: for zygote picture: https://www.liveaction.org/news/wp-content/uploads2/2012/11/Zygote-image.jpg
Debbie Stokes has been teaching science classes for over twenty years and still finds awe in how beautifully and intricately the Creator designed all things. She finds it a great privilege to journey through the “study of life” with students! Debbie graduated cum laude from Kennesaw State University in 1991 with a B.S. in biology. She also earned her M. Ed. in science education from Georgia State University. She taught high school science classes in the public school system of Cobb County, Georgia for sixteen years and has taught science classes online for the past six years.