Unwrapping a Present This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 8, 2013
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The class gathered around as Ms. Hood made a midsagittal incision in the pregnant rat's motionless abdomen. Under heaps of muscle and connective tissue, each baby rat had its own sac that was part of a long, convoluted chain. With a gloved hand, she slid the first fetus out of its amniotic sac.

I forgot to breathe. A tiny, hairless baby rat emerged, about half the size of my thumb. Its centimeter-long tail was tucked between its tiny back feet. Its eyes were sealed shut, its mouth slightly open. It was beautiful.

She took out a couple more fetuses, and the crowd around her dwindled as people took them back to their lab tables. Before long, I was the only one left.

“Would you like to remove one?” Ms. Hood offered with a smile. Timidity nearly stopped me, but then I thought, When in your life will you ever get the chance to hold a fetus? Don't pass this up. I nodded with childlike eagerness.

I ran over to get some gloves and hastily pulled the stubborn latex over my ring-adorned fingers. Then I stood over the mother rat's open uterus for a few seconds. A deep sense of respect settled within me as I observed how her internal organs had been pushed out of the way to accommodate her large litter. Then, I picked up one of the remaining amniotic sacs. It was incredibly delicate between my fingers.

“Wow,” I whispered. Ms. Hood smiled.

Holding my breath, I slit open the membrane with a scalpel. As my fingertip traced each miniscule vertebra, the whole room melted away. I held the dead baby in my fingers for a moment before setting it down in a tray with some of its siblings.

“Can I remove another one?” I asked quietly, subdued by the gravity of the experience.

“Of course,” Ms. Hood said. I picked up a second section, and freed the fetus from its sac. I slowly and gently brushed off the excess membrane, and stood in solemn silence for a while with the tiny rat resting in my palm. I looked at the mother and her eleven babies, knowing their eyes would never open to witness the world. Sad though it was that they were dead, a positive feeling swelled in my heart that I couldn't quite place.

Minutes later, the bell blared. The usual cacophony of passing time barely penetrated my thoughts. As my bubbly classmates streamed out the door, I finally recognized the feeling. It was gratitude. These animals' lives had been sacrificed so I could learn about life. Their bodies had been given to us in the name of science, the pursuit of knowledge. I was so fortunate to have been provided this license to explore a real body and observe the incredible ­integration of its ingeniously evolved systems.

“It's like unwrapping a present,” I reflected. My words reverberated off the empty classroom walls and returned to me. Contented, I lifted my backpack and walked out serenely, carrying my gift deep within.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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