The Celestial Maiden

When I was a child someone gave me a beautifully illustrated book of children's stories from around the world. My younger sister's favorite was "The Celestial Maiden" and she begged me to read it to her over and over again. In the tale a poor Japanese woman prays for a child. One day she finds a tiny maiden lying on a leaf in her garden. She takes the maiden into her home and cares for her, happy that her prayers have been granted. As nightfall approaches, the maiden reveals that she is a celestial princess who must return home before sunset and promises to return to the woman who loves her. She leaves her tears on the leaves in the garden because she is sad to go. Each evening the woman looks into the sky to see her daughter and every morning she sees the dew, proof of her daughter's visits.
 
I think of the Celestial Maiden as I squint at the latest sonogram of my granddaughter—to—be, e—mailed to me by her parents. She's lying regally in the dark womb as the background is filled with tiny flecks of lights, like stars,
 
Her parents have yet to select a name for her. When they first learned of her existence they asked her Japanese—born grandmother, Mitsuyo, for a name. "Saya," she said. (It means clear, brilliant.) They asked her if she had a name for a boy, in case the baby was a male. "Why should I give you a boy's name? It's going to be a girl," she replied.

Mitsuyo has a connection with living things we can only marvel at. Each time we arrive for a visit, she shares with us exquisite orchids and luscious, exotic citrus fruits she's grown in her garden. (I, on the other hand, kill everything I plant; cannot tell the sex of unborn children; and would never have observed, as she did when my son and her daughter were friends, that their's was a perfect match. "You're wood," she told her daughter. "Stubborn and bossy. David's water. It doesn't matter to him at all.")

When the sex of the child was known, my daughter—in—law and son asked if I'd any suggestions for a name. "Hana," I said. "It's Japanese for blossom but sounds very much like Hannah of the Bible. Traditionally, we name our children after ancestors and Hana is close enough that Chaya (life in Hebrew) can be her Jewish name.

No decision has been made yet so to me she's still The Celestial Maiden sailing the dark heaven of her mother's womb.

Every Friday, my daughter—in—law sends us updates on the state of the baby's development, Two weeks ago the report noted that eggs were now forming in her ovaries. I e—mail back, "Judy, isn't that amazing? In this tiny creature the stuff of future generations is already being formed." She calls back, "I was thinking the same thing. It's a miracle isn't it?"

Later that afternoon my son calls to check if we had received the sonograms. He points out her arms in the air. She raises them and swats away the umbilical chord whenever it brushes her face.(We think she might be a first class volleyball player like her mom, a captain of the Harvard team.)

"It is astonishing how quickly they develop," I say. "I don't see how people can have late term abortions except in the most extreme circumstances. At five months she seems so human."
 
"At eight weeks" he replies. That's when we could first see the heart beating.
 
How quickly knowledge of fetal devlopment has made the issue very much more difficult.
 
*******
On March 6 National  Geographic is doing a special show on fetal development, See for yourself the wonder of life's formation.

When I was a child someone gave me a beautifully illustrated book of children's stories from around the world. My younger sister's favorite was "The Celestial Maiden" and she begged me to read it to her over and over again. In the tale a poor Japanese woman prays for a child. One day she finds a tiny maiden lying on a leaf in her garden. She takes the maiden into her home and cares for her, happy that her prayers have been granted. As nightfall approaches, the maiden reveals that she is a celestial princess who must return home before sunset and promises to return to the woman who loves her. She leaves her tears on the leaves in the garden because she is sad to go. Each evening the woman looks into the sky to see her daughter and every morning she sees the dew, proof of her daughter's visits.
 
I think of the Celestial Maiden as I squint at the latest sonogram of my granddaughter—to—be, e—mailed to me by her parents. She's lying regally in the dark womb as the background is filled with tiny flecks of lights, like stars,
 
Her parents have yet to select a name for her. When they first learned of her existence they asked her Japanese—born grandmother, Mitsuyo, for a name. "Saya," she said. (It means clear, brilliant.) They asked her if she had a name for a boy, in case the baby was a male. "Why should I give you a boy's name? It's going to be a girl," she replied.

Mitsuyo has a connection with living things we can only marvel at. Each time we arrive for a visit, she shares with us exquisite orchids and luscious, exotic citrus fruits she's grown in her garden. (I, on the other hand, kill everything I plant; cannot tell the sex of unborn children; and would never have observed, as she did when my son and her daughter were friends, that their's was a perfect match. "You're wood," she told her daughter. "Stubborn and bossy. David's water. It doesn't matter to him at all.")

When the sex of the child was known, my daughter—in—law and son asked if I'd any suggestions for a name. "Hana," I said. "It's Japanese for blossom but sounds very much like Hannah of the Bible. Traditionally, we name our children after ancestors and Hana is close enough that Chaya (life in Hebrew) can be her Jewish name.

No decision has been made yet so to me she's still The Celestial Maiden sailing the dark heaven of her mother's womb.

Every Friday, my daughter—in—law sends us updates on the state of the baby's development, Two weeks ago the report noted that eggs were now forming in her ovaries. I e—mail back, "Judy, isn't that amazing? In this tiny creature the stuff of future generations is already being formed." She calls back, "I was thinking the same thing. It's a miracle isn't it?"

Later that afternoon my son calls to check if we had received the sonograms. He points out her arms in the air. She raises them and swats away the umbilical chord whenever it brushes her face.(We think she might be a first class volleyball player like her mom, a captain of the Harvard team.)

"It is astonishing how quickly they develop," I say. "I don't see how people can have late term abortions except in the most extreme circumstances. At five months she seems so human."
 
"At eight weeks" he replies. That's when we could first see the heart beating.
 
How quickly knowledge of fetal devlopment has made the issue very much more difficult.
 
*******
On March 6 National  Geographic is doing a special show on fetal development, See for yourself the wonder of life's formation.