NRL News

Knowing Everything But Missing Everything That Counts

by | Apr 14, 2011

By Dave Andrusko

There is so much information—on the Internet, in newspapers, magazines, and books—that often I wind up reminded in one outlet that I had previously encountered the same subject matter in another forum…and had forgotten all about it! Such is what happened today when I chanced upon a review of “Origins: How the Nine Months before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives.”

I had even purchased the book, because it sounded so fascinating. Now I need to find and read Annie Murphy Paul’s book.

But for my purposes today, I want to lift from the insights of the reviewer, Ryan T. Anderson, about the subtext, as it were, not the main argument. What do I mean?

“Origins: How the Nine Months before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives” is an extended investigation by a veteran science journalist of a new line of research: “fetal origins.” As I say, I haven’t read the book (actually I read the first chapter and put the book in whatever place it is I’ve dropped the other seventy books whose first chapter I read and then put down), so let me just give you one paragraph of Anderson’s review before getting to what I really want to talk about today:

“Paul summarizes the central finding of fetal-origins research as follows:   The child in the womb is not “an inert being–‘the larval stage of human development,'” but rather “an active and dynamic creature, responding and even adapting to conditions inside and outside its mother’s body as it readies itself for life in the particular world it will soon enter.” Likewise, the pregnant mother is not a “passive incubator,” but “a powerful and often positive influence on her child even before it’s born.”

Near the end, Anderson, who is clearly a pro-lifer, investigates what at first blush seems a mystery. Why does Paul keep talking about the “fetus,” even in passages where the word clangs on the reader’s ear, and even when she is talking about her own baby? (“There was my fetus moving on the screen, limbs jerking loosely like a marionette.”)

Turns out “Only at the book’s end, where Paul reminisces about ‘marching arm in arm’ at an ‘abortion-rights rally,’ does the reader finally understand why she was at such pains to use the clinical term ‘fetus,’” Anderson writes. “Paul clearly sees–and wants to mute–an implication of the research that she popularizes: No mere clump of cells or blob of tissue, the unborn child is a living, dynamic, self-directing, and interacting baby. (Or, as Paul puts it, ‘a learning, adapting, responding fetus.’)

I will still read the book, indeed I am more eager than ever to wade through my piles of semi-read works until I find “Origins: How the Nine Months before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives.”

From this review and the first chapter, clearly Annie Murphy Paul loves that child, knows her subject matter inside and out, and is a skilled stylist. I look forward to corresponding with her to find out how someone with all that going for her can wind up marching in an “abortion-rights rally.”

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Categories: Fetal Development