Thanking God for the Miracle of Our Existence
Soon we will be celebrating Thanksgiving in the U.S. Let’s give thanks today for something we seldom reflect on: the miracle of our own existence. I’ll begin by reviewing how you (and I) came to be. (I’m indebted to Fr. William O’Malley’s book The Wow Factor.)
The being you are was composed of two components who had never even met before: your mother’s ovum (egg) and your father’s sperm. (I know, I know, it might be hard to talk about your parents in terms of eggs and sperm, but let’s face it: your parents were young once and hopefully in love when they created you.)
Your mother had about 450 ova (eggs) in her ovaries. One day, about 9 months before you were born, one of your mother’s ovaries released an egg. It contained 23 chromosomes as it began its journey toward a Fallopian tube. Unbeknownst to this ovum, about 250 million sperm from your father (each also containing 23 chromosomes) were racing toward it at 28 mph, vying with each other to be the first to find it, enter it, and fertilize it. In your case, one sperm succeeded. Tada! (Often none succeed). Instantly a new creation came into being, one with 46 chromosomes and a unique DNA: you! (Tada!)
In the beginning, you were infinitesimally small. Despite this, you were soon carried down the Fallopian tube by tiny finger-like villi. O’Malley compares this transport to a person being carried over a crowd at a rock concert! Then you came to a ledge overlooking a huge cave, your mother’s womb. When you fell into that cave, you had a 50-50 chance of snagging onto the wall and embedding yourself. If you are reading this, you succeeded in snagging onto that wall. (Big Tada!)
Then the miracle of growth and development began in earnest. At 18 days or so, your heart began to beat. And it hasn’t stopped since (unless you had a heart attack, were put on a heart machine, or received a heart transplant). At seven weeks, you were the size of a blueberry. At eleven weeks you were hiccupping, kicking, and stretching while your fingerprints were formed. At fourteen weeks, you were sucking your favorite thumb. At nineteen weeks, you could hear your parents’ voices for the first time. At 24 weeks, you were pretty much formed but only the size of an ear of corn. At 27 weeks, you were sleeping and waking.
The last months in your mother’s womb, you were getting bigger and putting on body fat to prepare you for the world beyond the womb. And finally, about week forty, your mother’s contractions began, and you were ceremoniously pushed through the birth canal and into the delivery room with all its lights, sounds, smells, and chill. Someone announced your gender, made sure you were breathing, cut your cord, and perhaps gently placed you into the arms of your exhausted mother. If you are now relatively young, your father might have witnessed the birth or even coached your mother during the delivery. If you are old (like me) your Dad was probably out in the waiting room pacing.
What a miracle you are! As O’Malley writes, the whole marvelous you unfolded in the womb “gratuitously, with no cooperation or certainly no merit on your part. Wow! Thanks!”
Here are a few more facts:
1) What I described above, is an “ordinary” conception and birth. There are variables, of course: Multiple births, preemies, C-sections, births in a car or war zone, or babies entering the world damaged by their mother’s use of alcohol or drugs.
2) You have two parents, of course, and four grandparents. Each individual contributed to your genetic makeup: your bone structure, eye color, love for music, susceptibility to heart disease, distaste for beans. If you go back just ten generations, though, you have a whopping 1,024 great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents! And every single one of them was healthy enough and lived long enough to mate and produce a child!
3) Historically, royal births were often “public events.” When Marie Antoinette gave birth, there were 200 people in attendance. This was to make sure the baby was healthy and hers.
4) You and every other human being were once a single cell for about 30 minutes after conception.
5) Babies cry with an accent.
When reflecting on the miracle of our conception and birth, it seems appropriate to say a little prayer:
Creating God, we give you thanks for the miracle of our existence. We give thanks to our parents, grandparents, and distant ancestors who contributed to making us who we are. We pray for all parents and parents-to-be. Give them courage, wisdom, and love. We pray that all babies may be welcomed into our world and be tenderly cared for. And finally, may we use our precious gift of life to bring more life and love into our world. Amen.
What amazes you most about conception and birth?
Was there anything memorable about your conception and/or birth? (For example, I was conceived near Christmas. In February there was a big snowstorm. My mother shoveled part of our long driveway so my Dad could get into the driveway after work. She almost lost me, she said, but somehow I managed to stay in her womb until September. Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this!)
Our “song” today is Psalm 139 recited by individuals who are wonderfully made. They remind us that we don’t have to be perfect to be precious.
I invite you to respond to this reflection, the questions, or the video below:
That was a lovely reflection. My parents first child was born on 26th February 1943 and did not survive. The Matron in the Nursing Home explained to my mother that it is like a packet of seeds – some mature while others don’t – and she advised my parents to have another child quickly. My father saw his son, but my mother never did. I was born under a year later on 23rd February 1944. I guess if my brother hadn’t died then it would not be me here! Recently I sent for my brother’s birth and death certificates and discovered that he lived for one hour and we now know the reason for his death – I had a Mass said for my elder brother last month. Psalm 139 was presented so beautifully by people so wonderfully made – thank you.
When my now 22 year old son was in 2nd grade, in November the class was writing what they were thankful for in preparation for Thanksgiving. There was the usual compliment of parents, dogs, grandparents, and an occasional toy. My son wrote, “Me!”.
How beautiful are all the persons in the video! Their voices and words form a wonderful melody and song of praise to God!
Thank you, Melannie. I enjoyed your reflection as I await the birth of my first grand nephew at the end of this month. Creation really is a miracle!
How beautiful! Thanks so much.
How beautiful! Thanks so much.
I have a sister, Karen, who has Down Syndrome but who lovingly calls it
“Up Syndrome!!” She is my Hero and my little Jesus in my life. TY for sharing this for many to see and be grateful to our creating God for the gift of all life. Blessings, Melannie.
Melanie, we met at Saint Paul’s in Saint Petersburg Florida a few years ago. I am the fourth of ten children and have nine children of our own. Our eighth child has Down Syndrome! Mike has been a gift to us and changed the direction of our lives since his birth in 1984. We now have 19 grandchildren and we celebrate God’s Blessings every day! My husband and I have retired now and Mike keeps us young! Sharing Mass with him is so joyful seeing his faith in action! Thank you for this reflection and Happy Thanksgiving!❤️
I thank God for making me. How wonderfull God is to all his children. No matter if they are black or white God love them.
Our children were born between 1956 – when fathers were pacing in the waiting room- and 1977 when they were expected to fully participate in the birth of their children. We were privileged to welcome our eighth child, Sarah, in our own bed with her daddy receiving her into his loving hands. I imagine that’s how it will be when we are born into eternal life at the end of this earthly existence and received back into our Father’s loving hands.
Thank you, Sister Melannie, for reminding us that we are indeed wonderfully made!
Sr. Melannie, I read your beautiful reflection with tears in my eyes. We are truly fearfully, wonderfully made. A blessed and Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Good Morning Sister Melannie,
One of my favorite Psalms. We are miracles.
My Dad had a hard time with the ether that was given to Mom for my birth (and the three births before mine, too) and since I was a “war baby” my dearest Mom had to wait in the hallway for a room. Such Love.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.
Everything about the reflection was (I don’t know what word to use to aptly describe how I felt)…..from the details of the moment of conception to the week by week development, to the video of those specially made, particularly the young girl who was deaf but overjoyed by what God had done for her. It filled me up to nearly bursting with awe and wonder and gratefulness and love.
Thank you, thank you for that Sr. Melannie,
Dear Sister Melannie,
This week, your choice of a video is beyond words. It miraculously captures pure and innocent love. Thank you very much for sharing it. I count you and Sunflower Seeds among my blessings that I am thankful for.
You noted that some of us enter this world as preemies and/or are brought to life surgically through a C-section. In 1950, both came with high risks, but my mother and I survived. My birthdays are “blessings” days.
If I may…my mother currently is in the hospital and in need of prayer. Thank you. Your prayers are yet another blessing to be thankful for. Sincerely, Joanne
As nurse, I worked in Labor and Delivery for many years. Everyday I marveled at the miracle of birth. It never got old for me. This was a beautiful reminder of that miracle.
Hi Melannie . . your reflection reminded me of my two great-nephews, twins born weighing 8 ounces and the other 10 ounces. Both are now three years old . . truly a miracle and the incredible love of their parents through very difficult days and months.
Happy Thanksgiving Sr. Melannie and all.
I just revisited the beautiful video of the
wonderfully made folks praying Ps. 139
as part of my morning prayer.
How grateful I am!
Happy Thanksgiving Sr. Melannie.
I will be using the Psalm video as a grace before meals with my guests.
It says it all… Thanks, Carol Elsholz
What a beautiful explanation of birth! I loved the reflection and the video(made me cry). When the host is held up during the consecration at Mass…I breathlessly say, “My Lord and My God! Thank you for making me!”