Egg (2)

‘The strategy of the egg is to provide the embryo with as much nourishment as possible. The cytoplasm of the ooctye is a cornucopia. Indeed the fully grown oocyte contains about 200 times more RNA than a typical body cell, about 60 times more protein, 1000 times as many ribosomes, and 100 times as many mitochondria in which to generate energy. It also builds up energy resources in the form of yolk, glycogen (a storage form of glucose) and lipids. To stock this larder it has sacrificed everything else; only a few eggs are produced (relative to the number of sperm) and mobility is abandoned… Other ‘helper’ cells that surround the oocyte within the ovary, known generally as ‘follicle cells’, also pile goodies into the oocyte cytoplasm.’ The Facts of Life revisited, Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

The egg is a small universe

The egg is a small universe - self-sustaining,

charged with the whole creature in potential;

similarly a miracle, scripted invisibly, energised,

self-generating everything required for a writing

into life - chemical art of whatever being contained

in primaeval elements. Speedily practised Evolution

from first cell into multicellular something; breathing,

stomping, swimming, flying - capable of making eggs.

‘The peculiarities of eggs… As in males, the female gonads - the ovaries - with their germinal layers are laid down in the young fetus. The first surprise, however, is that they do not wait until the fetus is born, and becomes sexually mature, before they begin the process of egg production….Once the ovary has produced a good stock of oocytes in prophase 1 it never produces any more. This means that by the last third of its gestation a fetal mammal has all the eggs she will ever possess. Human baby girls are born with about three million eggs in their ovaries, and that is their lifetime’s supply…. Only a small proportion of the millions of eggs with which a female mammal is born mature and are released at ovulation. The rest just fade away as the years pass.’ The Facts of Life revisited, Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

What a clutch!

What a clutch! what a haul, like a salmon, a frog -

Three million eggs in the woman’s dark hatchery,

And screeds of men with their willing willies,

Requiring no more encouragement than a snog.

But how can these statistics be so cruel -

Finding one decent man for a single egg,

Out of all these millions, it just doesn’t seem fair -

I can’t find one bloke compatible in the whole gene pool.


No wonder men think women are in a rush

to have children – they’ve got all their eggs

ready and waiting before they’re even born!

‘…chance decrees that one particular egg from among the many is to be selected for release.’ The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

Already within

Already within - the halved root,

dormant egg; dreaming a person.

Forever printed,

leaving a mark

inside – white and shining,

like the handprint of a star;

this is how love lights me,

makes me a lantern of life.

My father saved the blackbird’s children

My father saved the blackbird’s children,

fallen, fluttering like dead leaves, ghoul-

eyed - flying like Dodos from next door’s shrunken

panther, like those he rescued from the hungry road;

cold, rain, murdered parents, starvation, other deaths.

And one day next spring…Mother Blackbird knocks

upon his front door: it’s true! With her beak he thinks,

a small sharp rap - he opens the door, and in she hops,

eye fixed, passed him to the sitting room - up high on

wooden bookshelves fusses and settles, fusses, settles.

And when she stands, an egg is nestled there, perfect.

It is a gift - one child for the many he gave her back -

such solemn gift, symbolic grandeur, total generosity.

Anxiously she peered, twitching serpently side to side;

millions of years of Evolution stood, from the dinosaur

to splitting bird and mammal - vanished between them.

But how could he save her potential, communal bird-child;

stop a pain he felt twitch between his bony shoulderblades?

Each egg lost

For an older woman

who cannot conceive,

each egg lost is a burning,

imprinted coal - unwritten

sorrow; small, dumb,

darkly poetic death.

Blood and hurt clotting -

transfused from her heart.

‘This phenomenon, whereby the parent puts his or her own stamp on the gene, according to their sex, is called ‘genomic impirinting’. Its existence is surprising: it is not what a century of genetic studies had led biologists to expect.’ Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell, The Second Creation, Headline 2001

From my own scripted beginning

From my own scripted beginning,

which is the beginning of you -

and further back to Eve,

her mother-worm, cell -

water, light, star, energy;

your materials waited -

for daddy, his milky potion,

animated seed, liquid script.

Only then could you be made,

just this once - showing now

the magnificence of life, magic

of organic and ethereal lottery -

in a shining, living product

of mysterious circumstance.

‘Women having IVF treatment and undergoing sterilisation may come under increased pressure to ‘donate’ some of their eggs for research. If cloning research proceeds these two sources are unlikely to provide enough eggs, thus adding to calls for women to be paid, or to be paid more than current rates, to give their eggs. This pressure would be greatest for poorer women with fewer economic opportunities, either in countries where the research is being conducted, or in other less affluent countries with an adequate medical infrastructure and in which ‘IVF tourism’ is already developing. Romania is one country where the selling of eggs is increasing, and there are concerns that an international trade in women’s eggs could develop, as it has for human organs and body parts. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in the UK is considering whether it should start to allow payment for eggs – currently only expenses can be paid.’ Genewatch, 2006

Organic half-poem

What price for my script,

organic half-poem of me;

printed with all my stories,

as I was, back to the start -

generations of my families;

human to lizard, fish, bird –

and their interpretation,

amendments to my life.

What money for dictation

taken by my body - mind,

from Earth and Universe -

the creative improvisation

embroidered onto possibility;

choice, circumstance, fortune.

‘[Mendel] was one of the great geniuses of all science.. But he did get one thing ever so slightly wrong. In his seminal paper of 1866 he stresses that it makes no difference at all whether an organism (a garden pea, in his experiments) inherits a particular character from its mother or from its father…Male and female gametes are entirely equivalent. In the 1860s this result was far from obviouls. A great deal of folklore still prevailed; and one ancient folktale said that all the inheritance came from the sperm, and the egg’s job was merely to nourish. The absolute genetic equivalence of the two parents was in absolute contrast to such ancient conceits and was well worth emphasising. For more than 100 years Mendel’s idea of absolute sexual equivalence was genetic dogma. But dogmas in science are not sacrosanct and in the 1980s it became clear that in some cases in does make a difference whether a particular gene is inherited from the mother or the father. The same gene inherited from a diffent parent may have a different effect in the offspring.’ Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell, The Second Creation, Headline 2001

Thoughts of a Dissatisfied Wife and Mother about Genomic Imprinting

I gave you the gene for creative art;

from him - it would have expressed

as finally painting the spare room in

an unsuitable colour; lime or brown.

Or sculptural poses, in which to fart.

I gave you genes for working in a team;

from him it would have been cut-throat

competition in the local crap five-a-side,

Thirtysomething squad, puffed out, red,

pudgy dads; being serious, getting mean.

I gave you the gene for witty conversation;

from him - it would have been droning on

about cars and boobs, peppered with laughs

over rude-part jokes - only funny to blokes -

the combustion engine with long explanation.

I gave you the genes for being sensitive and tender;

from him it would have come out as being touchy,

bristly, or unable to stutter a generous compliment -

too scared to mention the words ‘love’ or ‘children’;

jealously brooding - while polishing his car’s fender.

‘In all vertebrate embryos a clear division arises early on between the somatic cells which form the body of the individual, and the primordial germ cells, which will give rise to the gametes. Exactly what the signals are that tell certain of the cells to become primordial germ cells is not known; but the ones that are so chosen migrate into the developing gonads (testes or ovaries)…the diploid germ cells that will give rise to spermatozoa are called spermatocytes, and the diploid mother cells of eggs are called oocytes.’ The Facts of Life revisited, Headline, 2000

The Bottling – Primordial Germ Cells

Early, we are bottled - the germ of us, core;

encapsulated, preserved, forever enshrined.

Passed down, inherited - already the blood

of my grandchildren beats with continuous

script; word of me, poem of me. My writing -

letters Evolution writes, has written, sent into

the recording genetic world, royally preserved;

a complete unbroken lineage - to fish and stars.

In harmonic dark, melodious cells create music

of hand or eye, intestinal labyrinth; ringing iris

sounding coloured notes, rushing hair scales

shining, behaving as crops, wind instrument.

While in silence, replete germ cells sleep -

waiting like Sleeping Beauty, Snow White.

‘Is this for your sister?”, simpered the librarian, as my small boy plonked down the Barbie in the Nutcracker video. He giggled, rolling his eyes at such stupidity – “I don’t have a sister’. I looked indignant, and I hoped, the very image of uncowed feminism – quite tricky due to it being a Barbie-related incident. I may abhor the plastic Anti-Feminist, but it seemed more important to support a wee boy wanting to take the video out than explain why you’d like to melt Barbie with a red hot poker. The librarian stamped his Power Rangers video with delicate approval, but smashed the stamp, SNAPPED Barbie shut judgmentally, before handing it over like a decayed haddock. I haven’t faced such public opprobrium since taking him out in a pink baby hat. Or cradling his baby doll. But, like many parents no doubt, I was rather relieved to hear that it may be the variable testosterone levels in mothers’ blood during pregnancy which actually affect subsequent girliness and boysiness in children. Tomboys had experienced high levels, and glitter princesses, low. You see, little did sniffy librarian know about our losing battle – or non-violent confrontation – against toy guns. One day fwuffy-wuffy bunnies, the next plastic kalashnikovs. Like all peace-loving parents, we banned guns – then had to compromise with bows and arrows, spears, swords… then light sabers, space phasers… “They’re for fighting too mummy,” he pleads with compelling logic, and can we keep calling what he now calls ‘shoulders’, ‘peace-keeping forces’? How long can Talking Captain Scarlet stay banned for blurting out – “He’s all right, his wounds have healed,” during my father-in-law’s funeral?’ Gillian Ferguson, column, Scotsman newspaper

My Little Boy’s Babies

Peak into the breathing night room,

the peering Moon will show you

sleeping neatly, peas in a pod,

my little boy and his babies.

He has dressed them gently,

fed milky bottles - brushed

and washed with such clumsy tenderness,

we feel we have made it as mother, father.

His arm crook, dimpled star hand,

keeps them safe. He loves them

so much, sometimes I think I see breath

smudge the chests of the little future ghosts.

‘This research might also explain anomalies in women’s later life – one minute I’m reading Proust, then irresistibly drawn to Glamour mag’s ‘Ten Celebrity Eyelash-curling Tips’. Brought up a staunch feminist, but find myself painting sparkly nail varnish instead of emptying bins. Or why confidence in achievement does not lend women overall confidence unless also looking like Claudia Schiffer – i.e. a perfect princess. Maybe if mothers took testosterone during pregnancy, we could punch rudely critical men in the puss rather than irritatingly bursting into tears, even when caring more for the family hamster’s opinion. Unfortunately, to satisfy the girliest trait of all – that frequently inconvenient need for a male – girls must often hide their dazzling spotlight under a bushel so 20 Watt partners may shine. Most men go in the huff if you overtake them in the swimming pool, never mind win a Nobel prize.’ Gillian Ferguson, column, Scotsman newspaper 

The story of my little boy’s babies

He wanted ‘a baby’, my little baby boy - and why not?

Daddy cared for him just as much; being a daddy was

rightly the same as being a mummy, so I gulped down

the hesitation – not just sexism, but fear of what people

would say, so ready to take a preservation of gentleness

in boys as mollycoddling, making him ‘a mummy’s boy’,

‘tying a child to your apron strings’; dammit, I don’t care,

he’s my baby - and if he was a girl I wouldn’t hesitate, so

why on earth because he’s a boy? Let’s take a stand here…

The ladies in the shop looked at us; except one, all smiling,

who clearly knew about little boys - and their secret babies.

We found all toy babies are girls, pink clothes with bunnies

and bows; bought a cheap baby just in case this was a craze,

short-lived as Fimbles. But he loved his baby from the first;

you see the blue eyes glinting in the dark like a Siamese cat,

because it cannot shut its eyes. He named him, cared for him,

worried about him alone in any dark. And... the nursery boys

loved the baby too! Fought to play with him, cuddle him too.

And I realised, then, that most little boys love babies, playing

at being daddies - but aren’t allowed: ‘Here, have a tank, son,

a gun instead’. And he loved to tuck him under his arm, snug,

grubby, to go around, would show him off as any proud daddy

should, oblivious to any snickers and stares, disapproving rays

aimed at me; and I would just hold my head up, even though I

wanted to shout: ‘He loves swords and lightsabres - and robots;

phasers, soldiers, pirates, trucks too, you know - he wants guns!’

And his family grew... He saw an advert for the grandest baby

doll of all; she cries, she laughs, burbles, sucks, burps, smiles…

She has the most extensive, most expensive accessories; has a

bigger wardrobe even than me (not really). Though everything

is pink and white with a little fluffy, squeaky sheep. And, after

a month of yearning - being as good as always - how could we

refuse - angry at ourselves for hesitating again, when the child

is right - and everyone else is wrong. And this should change...

He did not forget his first baby though, just made room - but

now he wanted to take his new baby out, show her off, as you

would, this little boy with holes in his knees – a Jedi Knight -

expert swordsman - skilled wizard, alien investigator and spy.

We had to make up reasons – excuses - plausible explanations

why she should stay at home - ‘in case she gets dirty - broken’,

but it is his heart we fear being broken - piss taken - mockery,

because little boys aren’t allowed to have babies, play at being

daddies, or encouraged to be tender, take a nurturing fair share. 

And just once - he was allowed to bring her in at the end of a party -

when she had been lonely in the car all evening; and I saw this other

mother sneer when he came, proudly carrying her in her ghastly pink

car seat Santa had generously brought – animal sneer, not a wry smile,

amusement – or finding it funny; but mocking him, and us, for having,

for letting him have, a baby, for no other reason than he is a boy. What

are we trying to do; be so right on - prove a point - make a sap, a softie;

a poof? And no mother can have someone sneer at her little son - sweet

wee boy, without burbling anger in her gut; only soothed when the other

mother’s own toddler boy grabbed the baby - then refused to give it back!

Ha, ha, ha…She tried repeatedly, humiliated; ha, ha, ha, ha - ha, ha, ha!!

So we bought his third baby - a tiny, Thumbelina-sized baby to take around - to go in a pocket, a handbag; not for shame - but just to protect his tenderness from being trampled by the world before it needs to be. But seeing contempt, the looks that even this wee bit baby brings, makes you realise how far there is to go. Daddies should also be equal; not mothers wanting to have it all, but men and women, both. But things are changing - as my little chap wants to be ‘a daddy’ - a daddy and a fireman, a daddy and scientist, daddy and spaceman. So God Bless my little boy’s daddy for changing things - in helping to advance men’s evolution, society’s genome; and God Bless David Beckham, for making fatherhood trendy, manly - little Brooklyn and Romeo’s babies when they come.

Note from the author
exploring the project

    Gene Story
    Romantic Science
    Some Special Genes
    X & Y
        Y Chromosome
        SRY Gene – Master Switch
        Sex Wars
        X Chromosome
        Some notes on the
        Gender of Science

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