by Doctor Science
While following up some of the points raised in comments to the previous post, I learned something new (to me) about human reproduction. I figure if it's new to me, it's probably new to a lot of (most?) other people, too.
And it really
A woman doesn't get pregnant when she has sex. She doesn't even conceive when she has sex.
... At least, if by "when" you mean "the same night as", and mostly "the same 24 hours as".
I suspect my mental image of the timing of conception is symbolically expressed by this picture of The Annunciation to Mary:
Angel appears, Mary goes, "Who, me?!? Well, sure, I guess," then it's INCOMING DOVE, conception right then and there, see you at Christmas.
Cut for length, and for discussion of a natural process with many natural aspects which might cross into TMI.
This is pretty much the sequence of events suggested when I google for "stages of conception", too. Web MD isn't particularly helpful. It doesn't mention intercourse at all, just
If no sperm is around to fertilize the egg, it and the corpus luteum will degenerate ... If sperm does meet and penetrate a mature egg after ovulation, it will fertilize it.Who knows how that sperm and egg meet, or where, or when?! In thunder, lightning, or in rain? Some enchanted evening, across a crowded Fallopian tube ...
The very first processes that lead to the birth of a newborn infant are:Seems pretty straightforward: He gets ready, she gets ready, they do it, we're on the baby train!
- Release of a very lucky spermatozoon about a month before conception from a man's testicle. It is one of hundreds of millions of sister and brother spermatozoa that will subsequently attempt to fuse with an ovum.
- Release of an ovum by a woman's ovary shortly before conception.
- Sexual intercourse.
- Conception occurs. The ovum is fertilized by one spermatozoon to produce a zygote (commonly referred to as a fertilized ovum, fertilized egg, or pre-embryo)
- The zygote travels down a fallopian tube towards the uterus. If all goes well, it becomes a blastocyst and starts to implant itself in the wall of the uterus. A week or two after conception, it is fully implanted and the pregnancy can be detected by a urine or blood test.
But when I went to GoogleScholar, I found:
That is, you get pregnant by having sex the day *before* you ovulate, not the day you do. Summarizing a bunch of technical talk: sperm are fairly tough, they can keep swimming in a congenial environment (like, say, a woman's Fallopian tubes) for maybe 4-5 days. The egg, though, has to delicately balance a huge number of processes at once. She can't move very far or fast, and she doesn't stay ready for action for more than half a day at the outside, often only for 6 hours or less.
So basically, in order to get to a pregnancy the sperm have to be all in place, milling around in the Fallopian tubes in their microscopic Speedos, elbowing and trash-talking each other (the technical term is sperm competition), while the egg is putting the final touches on her makeup and balancing that damn bird on her head.
When she finally heads out the door to the party (ovulation), the guys need to be there already. Then they can meet up and seal the deal within a few hours: conception. The zygote (aka "fertilized egg") then moseys down the Fallopian tube and into the uterus, dividing all the way, and then finally lands on the uterine wall (implantation), which is when pregnancy begins and the woman's body starts changing.
So the sequence is:
- a day or more passes
- a few hours pass
- about a week passes
- implantation begins
- a week passes
- pregnancy test comes back positive
For extra confusion, there's the matter of gestational age.
At the point the pregnancy test comes back positive (step 9 above), you are probably 4 weeks pregnant, officially. That is one (1) week after implantation aka "really pregnant", and two (2) weeks after conception, or "personhood begins if you ask Rick Santorum", and maybe two-and-a-half weeks after you had sex That One Time.
WHUT?!?!?? you may well ask. It turns out that that business about "the normal human pregnancy is 9 months" is, um, traditional -- which is to say, not true.
For thousands of years before the mid-20th century, the most reliable bench mark to use for "how long have I been pregnant?" was to start counting from your last menstrual period. So that's how traditional gestational age is reckoned -- starting 2 weeks before conception is possible. A normal human pregnancy doesn't *really* take 40 weeks (9 months), it takes 37 weeks, 38 weeks from conception.
What's really important here for American public policy is that both The Pill and Plan B act by preventing ovulation. Plan B is *only* effective because ovulation is always a day or more *after* the sex that gets you pregnant -- that's where the time to take Plan B comes from. As doctors keep trying to explain:
The preponderance of research, however, shows that ECPs [Emergency Contraception Pills] do not have a major postfertilization mechanism of action. As social conservatives wage a scientifically inaccurate campaign wrongly portraying ECPs as abortifacient, some reproductive rights advocates have responded by asserting that ECPs have no postfertilization effect whatsoever.What is true for Plan B and other ECPs is even more true for The Pill, which is pretty much the same thing at a lower dose. They don't cause abortion. They probably don't do anything after conception, either -- the scientific quibbling amounts to, "We *think* they should interfere with implantation, but we can't find any evidence that they actually do."
we therefore cannot conclude that ECPs never prevent pregnancy after fertilization. Even if there were an accurate test for fertilization, a finding that some fertilized eggs do not implant after ECPs are taken would not mean that ECPs can work
after fertilization, since many if not most fertilized eggs naturally do not implant.
ECPs do not interrupt an established pregnancy ... Therefore, ECPs are not abortifacient.
But if you google "Do birth control pills cause abortion?" you'll get a ton of hits -- all to "pro-life" sites. Those of you who think that anti-abortion laws and regulations won't affect the availability of birth control are being naive: one of the goals of the so-called "Pro-Life" movement is to redefine The Pill as one of the "abortifacients" they'll refuse to cover. That's why "conscience clauses" for pharmacists are a serious problem: it's not just Catholics objecting to birth control as birth control, it's also all the Protestants who've decided birth control and Plan B are "really" abortifacients.
As I've argued before, if you're really anti-abortion you'd better be pro-contraception. What we see is that the "Pro-Life" leadership is consistently looking for reasons *not* to promote, or even tolerate, contraception.
It's true theoretically that, as Slartibartifast said in comments
Protestants, in general, have absolutely no problem with birth control.But what is going on in practice is very different. For instance (on first page of hits when googling "Christian birth control"), Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church says:
whether or not a Christian couple should use birth control pills is a very complicated issue on which faithful pro-life Christians and doctors disagree. As a result, it seems legalistic and inappropriate to declare that use of the pill is sinful. Yet, at the same time it seems that Christian couples need to be informed of the potential abortive nature of birth control pills so that they can study the matter further and prayerfully come to an informed decision according to their own conscience and the leading of God the Holy Spirit.So he's unsure-to-negative about The Pill, and then under "abortive murder" lumps RU-486 (a bona fide abortifacient) with the morning-after pill -- by which he presumably means Plan B, which (as I said above), just like The Pill, acts *before* conception. He goes on to lump IUDs, which prevent implantation, with Norplant, which is The Pill on very slow time-release.
Abortive Murder: Abortion is the taking of a human life through the killing of a fertilized egg. Biblically, it is also known as the sin of murder. Abortions include medical procedures of various kinds as well as RU-486 or the morning-after pill. Other items that cause abortion are the intrauterine device (IUD) and Norplant, which do not prevent conception but prevent implantation of an already fertilized ovum.
This could not have been written by anyone who takes birth control seriously. I don't think Driscoll is lying, I think he just hasn't bothered to understand what he's talking about. To me, this is proof that either he does not actually believe that abortion is murder ... or else he believes that women having sex without worry is *worse* than murder. Frankly, I think it's the latter, though it's more like he *feels* it's worse than murder, he reacts to the prospect more strongly.
Look at what's going on in Texas:
For some Texas conservatives, directing any state funds to any Planned Parenthood-affiliated clinics is akin to endorsing abortion. The arguments from influential religious organizations equating the morning-after pill, and in some cases birth control, with abortion resonate with some of them. And they brush off suggestions that cutting funding for Planned Parenthood could spur more abortions by limiting access to contraception, arguing that hundreds of non-abortion-affiliated health care agencies are eligible for state and federal support.Back when I (and probably Slarti) was young, American Protestants made a point of being pro-contraception (and often pro-legal abortion), not like those Catholics. In the intervening decades, however, the conservative Protestant churches have been aligning more and more closely with the Catholic hierarchy. I'll write later about why I think that has happened.
For moderate Republicans, the situation is more nuanced. They believe that the lost services will be costly in a state where a quarter of the population does not have insurance, and taxpayers already foot the bill for more than half of all births. But some worry that if they do not support efforts to curtail funding for Planned Parenthood, fellow Republicans will not consider them to be sufficiently anti-abortion.
 By "sex" I mean "intercourse", of course, which I don't normally take as synonymous -- I'm only doing it here because it sounds better. A shameful triumph of style over substance.
 Pregnancy *must* begin with implantation, because it's a state of a woman's body. A Petri dish can be the site of fertilization and blastocyst development, but clearly it cannot be pregnant.
 Huh. I had always thought I knew I was pregnant with Sprog the Elder due to certain strange physical sensations on a certain day, but I now realize it was almost certainly ovulation that I was feeling. Some women get quite a distinct sensation every time they ovulate, but I had never noticed before -- it was the first time either of us had ever worked without a net, and frankly we were both *staggered* to discover that yes, there was a reason to so scrupulously careful all those years! Anyway, running the calculations now I see that both Sprogs took 252 days from conception to birth, about 36 weeks of development time. That's less than the 38 weeks that is presumably standard, which may be why they were both less than 7 pounds. They still each felt approximately the size of a submarine, coming out.
MODERATION RULES FOR THIS POST
Starting now, I will delete EVERY comment with what I consider to be ANY level of ad hominem or personal attack. This includes just plain rudeness, especially to other commenters.
For comments already posted, I will edit them,
striking through the parts that would have gotten the comment banned.
I found it very difficult to even follow the discussion on the previous post, after a while, because so many of the comments were rude, ad hominem, and/or inappropriate.
Don't make me turn this car around.
COMMENTS ARE CURRENTLY CLOSED
I'm heading out for some "minor" gum surgery. I'll re-open comments when I'm in a state to read them again.
Wish me luck.