By Lani Axman
Recently, I started reading Windows to the Womb by David Chamberlain. As I read his beautiful description of the conception process, I couldn’t help but recognize some familiar archetypes and symbols within it. I found it so beautiful that, once again, the words of the family proclamation rang true: “We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed.” The journey that brings the seed of a man and the seed of a woman together as one flesh is sacred and symbolic of the divine missions of men and women on this earth.
As Heather has so beautifully outlined in her “Two Veils” essay in our book (along with other LDS writers), the primary mission of women is to bring premortal spirits through the first veil (by partaking of the first tree), opening the pathway into the progression provided by mortal life and separation from God. Likewise, the primary mission of men here in mortality is to guide us to partake of the second tree (the tree of life) and to pass through the second veil which brings us to eternal life and reunion with God.
Lehi described the mission of fathers and the journey to the tree of life this way:
And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies. And it came to pass after I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld a large and spacious field. And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy. And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea, and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen. And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit. (1 Nephi 8:8-12)
He also described the other souls journeying toward the tree of life:
And I also beheld a strait and narrow path, which came along by the rod of iron, even to the tree by which I stood; and it also led by the head of the fountain, unto a large and spacious field, as if it had been a world. And I saw numberless concourses of people, many of whom were pressing forward, that they might obtain the path which led unto the tree by which I stood. And it came to pass that they did come forth, and commence in the path which led to the tree. And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost. (vs. 20-23)
The path Lehi (and others) walked to fulfill his divine mission sounds very much like the path taken by the millions of sperm entering a woman’s body in their effort to fulfill the measure of their creation.
David Chamberlain describes their difficult journey this way:
The epochal journey of sperm, once launched, stretches . . . from vagina to uterus to fallopian tubes. . . . Along that pathway sperm will face both barriers and blessings. . . . Only strong sperm can negotiate these narrow straits. Beyond the cervix, the uterus contains endless folds and recesses in which a sperm can become hopelessly lost. Weak or imperfect sperm tire and drop from the race. . . . Along this rigorous course in foreign territory, sperm are expected, perfected, and screened! The trip may take hours or days and require as many as twenty thousand tail strokes. (p. 18-19)
Just as Lehi took a dark and difficult journey along a strait and narrow course with mists of darkness and many dangers threatening to tempt him off the path, the sperm entering a woman’s body must also traverse a narrow course through inhospitable terrain. These numberless concourses can also become lost in strange roads as they seek the “most desirable fruit” of the ripe ovum waiting for them at the end of their journey. Though the analogy is not perfect, I found the similarities beautiful and meaningful.
The ovum’s journey to that point is also beautifully symbolic. I particularly love this part: “Within the ovaries, a group of nurse cells surrounds female germ cells. Collectively they form a follicle that embraces a developing egg cell . . . and turns it into a nearly ripe ovum” (Chamberlain, Windows to the Womb, p. 20).
What a beautiful object lesson. Just as the ovum is embraced, prepared, and ripened by a group of tender caregiving cells, ideally a young girl is embraced by a group of loving women who tenderly prepare her and assist her as she matures toward the threshold of motherhood. I rejoice when I see a new mother receiving this kind of sisterhood preparing her to partake of the first tree–as did Eve–and fulfill her mission to bring children through her body (the first veil) from premortal to mortal life.
If you view the conception process through the lens of the two trees and the two veils, the ovum within a woman’s body can be recognized as symbolic of both of the trees. The ovum is the fruit of the tree of life for the sperm seeking that most desirable above all other fruits. And the ovum is the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil for the daughters of Eve who beckon for the sons of Adam to partake and thereby become one with them.
David Chamberlain writes: “Generation after human generation, we have been participating in this passionate reproductive drama . . . based on largely invisible and unexplainable physical processes–and with scarcely a conscious thought of what it might have been like for us to enter, dwell, and exit that incomparable inner sanctum” (p. 2). In our modern world, we have the rare opportunity to see photographs and ultrasounds of the procreative process. We know more about how life is formed than any generation before us. And the more I study and ponder that procreative process, the more awe and reverence I feel for it, all the way from preconception to postpartum. The entire process is sacred, symbolic, and stunningly beautiful in every detail. What an honor to be among those given the gift of housing within my body that “incomparable inner sanctum” where the entire creation of human souls occurs. What a gift.