Having Children—A Responsibility and a Reward
1-4. (a) What are some of the amazing features about the development of a baby in the womb? (b) How does a knowledge of these things help you to appreciate Psalm 127:3?
GIVING BIRTH to children is a prospect that is both thrilling and sobering. It is an everyday occurrence among humankind, true. Yet each birth is the result of amazingly intricate processes. When we understand something about these we can better appreciate why the inspired psalmist was moved to say: “Look! Sons are an inheritance from Jehovah; the fruitage of the belly is a reward.” (Psalm 127:3) Consider what happens.
2 A sperm cell from a man unites with an egg cell in a woman. The two cells become one, and the one starts to divide. It becomes two, the two become four, the four become eight, until eventually this one cell has become, in a grown person, an estimated 60,000,000,000,000 cells! At first the new cells were all the same, then they began changing into different kinds—bone cells, muscle cells, nerve cells, liver cells, eye cells, skin cells, and so on and on.
3 Some of the mysteries of reproduction and differentiation have been uncovered, but many remain. What makes the original cell start to divide? As the dividing continues, what makes the cells start changing into many different kinds? What makes these different kinds group together in special shapes, sizes and functions, to become a liver, a nose, a little toe? These changes start taking place at preset times. What controls the timetables? Also, this growing embryo in the mother’s womb is a body with a genetic makeup different from hers. Normally her body rejects foreign tissues, such as skin grafts or organ transplants from other persons. Why doesn’t it reject this genetically foreign embryo, instead of nourishing it for some 280 days?
4 All these amazing activities take place on schedule because Jehovah God programmed them into the one cell formed by the sperm and the egg. The psalmist indicates this when saying to the Creator: “Your eyes saw even the embryo of me, and in your book all its parts were down in writing, as regards the days when they were formed and there was not yet one among them.”—Psalm 139:16.
DEVELOPMENT AND BIRTH
5-8. Between the fourth week of pregnancy and the birth of a baby, what are some of the things that happen in the womb?
5 The embryo develops rapidly. By the fourth week it has a brain, a nervous system, and a circulatory system with a heart pumping blood through already placed vessels. Blood is manufactured by the yolk sac for six weeks; then the liver takes over this function, which is finally assumed by the bone marrow. In the fifth week arms and legs begin to form; in three more weeks fingers and toes appear. By the seventh week major muscle groups, along with eyes, ears, nose and mouth, have formed.
6 “My bones,” the psalmist continues, speaking to Jehovah God, “were not hidden from you when I was made in secret.” (Psalm 139:15) In the ninth week cartilage is turning into bone as the skeleton is formed, and the developing baby is now called a fetus instead of an embryo. “You yourself produced my kidneys.” (Psalm 139:13) The divine processes governing this occur in the fourth month and the kidneys now filter the blood.
7 By this time the developing baby moves and twists about, curls its fingers or its toes when the palm of its hand or the sole of its foot feels a tickling sensation. It grips things with finger and thumb, and sucks its thumb and thereby exercises muscles later to be used for feeding at its mother’s breasts. It hiccups, and the mother feels it jump. By the sixth month many organs are virtually complete. The nostrils have opened, eyebrows have appeared, soon the eyes will open, and ears will function so that even in the womb the infant can be startled by loud noises.
8 At 40 weeks, labor starts. The mother’s uterine muscles contract and the baby is on its way out into the world. In the process its head is often pressed out of shape, but, since its skull bones have not yet fused together, after delivery the head resumes its normal shape. Up until now the mother has done everything for the baby: provided oxygen, food, protection, warmth and also for the removal of wastes. Now the baby must go to work for itself, quickly, or it will die.
9. For a baby to live outside the womb, what changes must take place quickly?
9 It must start breathing in order for the lungs to put oxygen into the blood. But to do this another drastic conversion must take place instantaneously: the pathway of the circulating blood must change! While the fetus was in the womb, there was a hole in the wall of its heart. That wall separated the right and left chambers and kept much of the baby’s blood from ever going toward the lungs. Of the blood that did, a large vessel made most of it bypass the lungs. In the womb, only about 10 percent of the blood went through the lungs; after birth all of it must do so, and immediately! To accomplish this, within seconds after birth the big vessel that bypassed the lungs constricts and the blood that went through it now goes to the lungs. Meanwhile the hole in the wall of the heart closes, and all the blood pumped from the right side of the heart now goes to the lungs to be oxygenated. The baby breathes, the blood is oxygenated, dramatic changes have been made and the baby lives! As the inspired psalmist so beautifully sums it up: “You kept me screened off in the belly of my mother. I shall laud you because in a fear-inspiring way I am wonderfully made.”—Psalm 139:13, 14.
10. Considering the amazing development of a baby in the womb, how should parents feel about their children?
10 With what gratitude married couples should view this gift from Jehovah! The power to produce a human creature, a child who is a part of both but different from either! Truly, “an inheritance from Jehovah”!
CARING FOR THE “INHERITANCE”
11. What questions should those who are thinking about starting a family ask themselves, and why?
11 It was more than morality that caused Jehovah God to establish the law that sex relations were to be limited to married couples. He also had in mind the arrival of children. A child needs both a father and a mother who love each other and who will love and cherish their offspring. The newborn child needs the warmth and security of a home, with a father and mother who want him and who will provide the environment needed for his growth and personality development. A husband and wife who are considering having a baby should ask themselves: Do we want a baby? Can we provide for its needs—not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually? Will we train it properly, set the right examples for it to follow? Are we willing to accept the responsibilities parenthood brings, accept the sacrifices involved? As children it may have seemed to us that our parents tied us down, but when we become parents we find what a time-consuming project rearing children really is. Yet with the responsibility of parenthood can come great joys.
12-14. Once a woman is pregnant, how can she contribute toward the development of a healthy baby by (a) her diet? (b) what she does about alcohol, tobacco, drugs? (c) controlling her emotions?
12 The decision has been made—whether by parents or by biological circumstances. You, the wife, are pregnant. Your care for this “inheritance from Jehovah” starts. Some things you must eat, and others you must avoid or limit. Foods rich in irona are important, for in the womb the baby is storing up enough iron to last it for six months after its birth. You need more milk (cheese is also good) to supply the calcium your baby needs for building bones. And a balanced carbohydrate intakeb will help to avoid excessive weight increase. True, you may be eating for two of you, but one of you is very, very tiny!
13 Other factors may or may not need to be considered, depending on the way you live. Alcoholic drinks send alcohol to the fetus, so caution is needed, as an excess could produce mental and physical retardation. Some babies have been born drunk because their mothers were heavy drinkers. Smoking puts nicotine into the bloodstream of the fetus, and also causes carbon monoxide to replace oxygen in its blood. Thus, the infant’s prospects for normal health may be irreparably damaged even before it is born. Spontaneous abortion and stillborn babies are much more frequent among women who smoke. Addictive drugs taken by the mother can cause the baby to be born an addict, and some nonaddictive drugs taken medicinally may also prove dangerous, possibly crippling the baby. Even the excessive drinking of coffee is suspected of causing some damage.
14 Additionally, emotional stress in the mother can change her hormone output and make the fetus overly active, thereby causing the newborn child to be restless and irritable. The growing baby may be ‘screened off in the belly of its mother,’ but it would be a mistake to think that it is totally cut off from the world around it. Through the mother it can be affected; she is its only connecting link with the outside world, and that puts her primarily “in the driver’s seat” as to whether the effect is good or bad. The way she cares for herself and how she reacts to circumstances will make the difference. It goes without saying that in this she needs the cooperation of those around her, and especially the love and care of her husband.—Compare 1 Samuel 4:19.
DECISIONS YOU MUST MAKE
15, 16. What decisions may need to be made about the place and manner of childbirth?
15 Will you have your baby in a hospital or at home? In some cases there may be little choice. In many areas hospitals may not even be available. In other areas having a baby at home may be a rarity and may present risks due to lack of experienced help, such as that of a midwife. Wherever possible, it is always good to be examined during pregnancy by a doctor, to know whether you can expect a normal delivery or one accompanied by complications.
16 Will you have your baby under anesthesia or by natural childbirth? You and your husband must decide, after weighing advantages and disadvantages. Natural childbirth may involve the husband in the momentous event. The baby is immediately put with its mother. Some believe that these are advantages to be seriously considered, if examinations indicate that the birth will be without complications. Some researchers contend that babies born under the more peaceful conditions of natural childbirth have fewer emotional problems and psychosomatic illnesses.
17-19. What has research revealed about the advisability of a baby’s being with the mother as soon as possible after birth?
17 The magazine Psychology Today, December 1977 issue, states:
“Psychologists have known for decades that the first year of a baby’s life can have an enduring impact on his later mental and physical development. It now appears that the baby’s first day—perhaps even his first 60 minutes—is just as crucial. The emotional bond that the mother forms toward the child, and the kind of care she begins to give him, are particularly important after delivery. Recent studies also demonstrate that the first hours may have a lot to do with shaping the mother’s attitude toward the child, the strength of her commitment to him, and her capacity for mothering.”
18 If the mother does not have general anesthesia during the birth, the baby will be alert, have its eyes open, look around, follow movements, turn toward human voices, and be especially aware of the higher-pitched female voice. Eye contact between mother and child can be quickly established. This seems to be important, and in some studies mothers reported that once their baby looked at them they felt much closer to it. Body contact, skin to skin, of mother and baby right after birth is considered advantageous to both.
19 Researchers claim that the problems of babies treated by medical centers can sometimes be traced to the first few hours of life. Comparisons made between children given the standard hospital treatment at birth and others immediately put with their mothers indicate that after one month the babies delivered by natural childbirth were doing better. “Even more striking,” Psychology Today states, “at five years of age, the children of extended-contact mothers had significantly higher IQ’s [evidence of intelligence] and more advanced scores on language tests than children who were treated according to standard hospital procedure.”
20. To make a wise decision on these matters, what else must be kept in mind?
20 In all of this, however, circumstances must be seriously weighed. We should not lose from view the fact that our first human parents left us a legacy of imperfection. This inevitably robs “natural birth” today of some of its naturalness, and our inherited defects can cause complications. (Genesis 3:16; 35:16-19; 38:27-29) Let your decisions be governed by your personal circumstances and what you believe to be wisest in your case, whether this matches the “ideal” birth others may aim at or does not.
21, 22. What are some benefits of breast-feeding?
21 Will you breast-feed your baby? There are many advantages to both you and your baby. Mother’s milk is the perfect food for infants. It is easy to digest, and it protects against infection, intestinal disorders and respiratory problems. For the first few days the breasts secrete colostrum, a yellowish fluid especially good for infants because (1) it is low in fats and carbohydrates and hence easier to digest, (2) it is richer in immunity factors than the mother’s milk that will come in a few days, and (3) it has a slightly laxative effect that helps clear out the cells, mucus and bile that collected in the infant’s bowels before birth.
22 Breast-feeding benefits the mother. It reduces bleeding in the mother because the baby’s sucking stimulates the uterus to contract. The sucking also stimulates the breasts to produce more milk, and mothers who feared they could not produce enough milk discover that there is no shortage. Regular breast-feeding in some cases postpones the resumption of ovulation and the menstrual cycle, and to that extent tends to be a natural contraceptive. The American Cancer Society says that “mothers who breast feed show less cases of cancer of the breast.” Breast-feeding also benefits the family budget!
CHILD DEVELOPMENT—HOW WILL YOU AIM THE ARROW?
23. What principles about child training are implied at Psalm 127:4, 5?
23 “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How happy is the man whose quiver is filled with them!” (Psalm 127:4, 5, An American Translation) The value of an arrow is determined by how well it is aimed as it leaves the bow. An arrow must be aimed with care and skill so that it will hit the target. In like manner, it is vital that, as parents, you wisely and prayerfully ponder on the kind of start in life you will give to your child. Will he or she on leaving your care become a balanced and mature adult, respected by others and an honor to God?
24. (a) What kind of home environment should parents strive to make for their children? (b) Why is this important?
24 Decisions should be made before the baby’s arrival as to its care and training. The parents basically are the firstborn baby’s whole world. What will that world be like? Will it show that the parents have taken to heart this counsel from God’s Word: “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all badness. But become kind to one another, tenderly compassionate, freely forgiving one another just as God also by Christ freely forgave you”? (Ephesians 4:31, 32) Whatever the homelife is, it will be reflected in the infant child. Strive to make your baby’s world one of peace and security, of warmth and love. The baby that is cherished will absorb these qualities and they will shape its emotions accordingly. Your feelings will be sensed, your examples followed. The genetic laws of our Creator made marvelous provisions for the baby’s development in the womb; how will you shape it outside the womb? So much depends on the home conditions you provide. This, as much as the genes, determines what kind of adult the baby will become. “Train up a boy according to the way for him; even when he grows old he will not turn aside from it.”—Proverbs 22:6.
25, 26. Why is it reasonable for parents to give much time and attention to their children?
25 Neither man nor woman can produce a single blade of grass, but together they can produce another human, one of infinite complexity and different from any other person on the earth! An amazing accomplishment, so amazing that it is hard to believe that so many today fail to appreciate the sacredness of the responsibility that goes with it! People will plant flowers, water them, fertilize them, keep them free of weeds—all to get a beautiful garden. Should we not take far more time and exert more effort to make children become beautiful?
26 A married couple have a right to have children. Their children have a corresponding right to have parents, not just in name but in fact. A Christian dedicated to God may spend much time and energy in sharing Bible knowledge in the hope of making one disciple, and yet not always succeed. Should not Christian parents spend even more time to ‘bring up their own children in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah’? (Ephesians 6:4) If they rear one child to be a fine servant of the Giver of life, Jehovah God, is that not cause for great rejoicing? Then, indeed, their having given birth to that son or daughter will prove to be richly rewarded.—Proverbs 23:24, 25.
27. In guiding the development of a child, why should the child’s own personality be considered?
27 Psalm 128:3 likens children to olive plants: “Your wife will be like a fruit-bearing vine in the innermost parts of your house. Your sons will be like slips of olive trees all around your table.” Trees may be shaped in different ways by training them. Some are made to grow flat against a wall. Others spread out low over the ground. Some are even made small and stunted by trimming their roots and cramping them, as in the case of a bonsai. An old saying emphasizes how early training will also shape a child: “The way the twig is bent is the way the tree will grow.” A sense of balance is needed here. On the one hand, the child needs guiding so that it will conform to righteous standards. At the same time it should not be expected to conform to some preconceived ideal the parents have as to the exact personality it should display. You cannot make an olive tree bear figs. Train your child in right ways but do not force it into a predetermined mold that will not allow its distinctive personality and inherited gifts to find normal expression. Give yourself time to come to know this child you have produced. Then, as with a tender young tree, give your child guidance that is strong enough to protect and support it in a right direction, yet gentle enough not to cramp the child’s development to its full capacity for good.
A REWARD FROM JEHOVAH
28 Jacob of ancient times showed his concern for the care of his children. When a journey was proposed, the pace of which might have been too much for them, Jacob said to the one making the proposal: “My lord is aware that the children are delicate and sheep and cattle that are giving suck are in my charge, and should they drive them too quickly for one day, then the whole flock will certainly die. Let my lord, please, pass on ahead of his servant, but may I myself continue the journey at my leisure according to the pace of the livestock that is before me and according to the pace of the children.” When meeting his brother, Esau, earlier he was asked, “Who are these with you?” Jacob’s response was, “The children with whom God has favored your servant.” (Genesis 33:5, 13, 14) Parents today should not only show merciful consideration to their children as Jacob did, but also view them as he did—as a favor from Jehovah. Of course, before getting married, a man should weigh seriously whether he can support a wife and children. The Bible counsels: “First put all in order out of doors and make everything ready on the land; then establish your house and home.” (Proverbs 24:27, New English Bible) In harmony with this practical advice, a man should make preparations for marriage and family life beforehand. Then, even an unplanned pregnancy will be greeted with joy and not dreaded as a financial burden.
29. Why should the matter of having children be given serious advance consideration?
29 The matter of having children clearly merits being considered very seriously, not only as regards the firstborn but also for any thereafter. Are parents finding it difficult to feed, care for and train the children they already have? Then for their Creator as well as the quality of love should certainly move them to ponder what self-control they can exercise to slow down further increase in the family.
30. (a) Why can we say that a child really belongs to God? (b) How should this affect the viewpoint of parents?
30 Really, whose child is it? Yours, in one sense. But, in another sense, the child belongs to the Creator. You are entrusted with its care, just as your parents were entrusted with your care as a child. But you were not actually your parents’ property to be treated in just any way they might please; nor is your child your property in that sense. Parents cannot direct or control the moment of conception nor the development of the child in the womb. They cannot even see or fully understand the marvelous processes involved. (Psalm 139:13, 15; Ecclesiastes 11:5) If some physical imperfection causes a miscarriage or a stillbirth, they cannot bring the dead child to life. Thus, we need to recognize humbly that God is the Life-Giver of us all, and we all belong to him: “To Jehovah belong the earth and that which fills it, the productive land and those dwelling in it.”—Psalm 24:1.
31, 32. (a) What responsibility before God do parents have? (b) What results from caring properly for that responsibility?
31 You are responsible for the children you bring into the world and also accountable to the Creator as to how you rear them. He created the earth, purposed that it be inhabited, and equipped our first human parents with procreative power to accomplish that purpose. Their defection from him placed them on the side of the Adversary who challenged God’s rightful exercise of his sovereignty over his family of creatures in heaven and on earth. By training your children to grow up as persons of integrity to their Creator, you and your family can prove that Adversary false and Jehovah God true. As Proverbs 27:11 states: “Be wise, my son, and make my heart rejoice, that I may make a reply to him that is taunting me.”
32 Fulfilling your obligation to your children, together with your responsibility to God, can bring you a sense of true accomplishment in life. You will be able to join in wholehearted appreciation of the saying of Psalm 127:3: “The fruitage of the belly is a reward.”
a Such as meats, green and yellow vegetables.
b Involving starchy foods and those with considerable sugar content.
[Picture on page 93]
Closeness now avoids generation gap later