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We Can't Take Our Eyes Off This MRI of a Mom and Her Baby

Photograph by Rebecca Saxe and Atsushi Takahashi / MIT

This is an image so timeless and universal that moms everywhere can't help but feel all the feels when they see it.

In April 2015, Rebecca Saxe, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at MIT, and her colleagues decided to use an MRI machine, not to medically diagnose a patient, but because they wanted to see what a scan of a mother and her baby would look like. To Saxe's knowledge, no one has ever made an MRI of a mom and child before.

So, Saxe herself held her then 2-month-old son, Percy, inside a 3 Tesla magnetic resonance imaging scanner, which they modified to fit both of them. (Don't worry, MRIs are non-invasive, don't use damaging radiation and aren't known to be harmful to babies.) The mom wore ear plugs and put pads over Percy's ears to protect them and drown out the machine's loud sounds. It took two days, a few hours and about 50 attempts before they chose the image shown here. Each image took several minutes to capture, and the slightest movement could create blurs.

As you know, babies are notoriously hard to keep still. But in this moment, Saxe kissed a sleeping Percy and held him firmly to her chest.

Photograph by Rebecca Saxe and Atsushi Takahashi / MIT

The MRI offered a glimpse inside the two human bodies, stripped of everything external. It didn't matter what they looked like or what they were wearing. Deep under all of that was the indescribable bond of a mother and her baby, the former protecting and cradling the latter, whose skull was still thin and fragile and whose brain was still developing.

The image itself has drawn so many different reactions and reflections.

"To some people, this image was a disturbing reminder of the fragility of human beings. Others were drawn to the way that the two figures, with their clothes and hair and faces invisible, became universal, and could be any human mother and child, at any time or place in history. Still others were simply captivated by how the baby’s brain is different from his mother’s; it’s smaller, smoother and darker—literally, because there's less white matter," Saxe wrote in Smithsonian Magazine.

This modern mother-child portrait portrays a connection that scientists are still trying to understand. For the first time in 2012, researchers at Charité University Hospital in Berlin created a 30-second time-lapse using cinematic MRI to capture a woman giving birth.

Saxe's image is a reminder that this motherly bond is more profound than we know and should not be overlooked.

(P.S. If you don't feel that bond with your newborn yet, that's OK, too. Sometimes it takes time to fall in love.)

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