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The Human Body Wednesday, 24 February, 1999, 14:37 GMT
The miracle of being
Pregnant woman taken from The Human Body
Waiting to be born: the final stages of pregnancy
Did you know that only one sixth of all pregnancies actually make it past the first eight weeks?

That is after one of hundreds of millions of sperm has negotiated its way past the lethal acid coating the vagina and made its long journey up to the egg.

Yet most people assume getting pregnant is easy. The second programme in the BBC's flagship biology series, The Human Body, shows that things are more difficult than you think.

Presenter Robert Winston says: "Having a baby is a common enough experience and we feel we know a lot about it, but more than half of what's actually going on inside our bodies is a mystery, even to doctors."

An Everyday Miracle follows the pregnancy of Philippa and Jeff Watson from Bath. Both are in their 30s and have been married for seven years.

Technicolour journey

Using new techniques and equipment, the programme looks and feels like a rollercoaster ride through the reproductive organs.

Fallopian tubes in close-up
A fallopian tube in glorious technicolour
In glorious technicolour, we see the ovulating egg, the fleshy fallopian tubes and the egg making its way down them.

The film, by Emma De'Ath and Liesel Evans, also shows the surge of sperm racing towards the egg, the moment of conception and, for the first time, the dividing of the egg in close-up.

Viewers who were taught the facts of life through technical pictures of the internal organs of rabbits in grey biology textbooks will be amazed at how science has moved on.

At first, the baby looks a bit like something out of the Alien films.

Embryo in early stages of life
Is it an alien or is it a human embryo?
But, by superimposing several pictures of the tiny embryo on top of each other, the film-makers build a 3-D picture.

And later in the pregnancy, they show how the womb, far from being a peaceful place for the baby, is full of noise: the mother's thundering heart beat, the roar of her lungs and the rush of blood and food.

Pain and nausea

The programme also shows the early effects of pregnancy on the mother's body: painful, swollen breasts and nausea. Fortunately, it gets better, although, as Robert Winston says, it is hard to see why.

The camera shows how the mother's uterus grows 200 times bigger during her pregnancy and her blood supply increases by a third.

Her spine begins to curve due to the weight of the baby and her colon moves up into her rib cage. Her heart expands and changes position and yet she is still able to function relatively normally.

In a special sequence, filmed every three weeks, we see in less than a minute how Philippa's body changes over the nine months of pregnancy.

Philippa says her body seems to have taken over. "I just marvel at the fact that all this is going on, with no real intervention from me. It's my body taking over and doing it all." Jeff feels a bit left out.

Even though the brain is not fully developed at birth, the baby has to come out while the head is still small enough to get through the cervix.

Wellington boot

The programme is there at the birth of Philippa and Jeff's baby. It says it takes an average of 10 hours for the cervix of a first-time mother to crank open.

Philippa, Jeff and baby
Two become three: Philippa, Jeff and baby
Robert Winston says birth is "like forcing a foot into a Wellington". It looked a bit more painful than that.

But, by the end, having gone through every step of the journey with the parents, it seems well worth it.

The Human Body is accompanied by a 19.99 book and a CD Rom, priced 29.99.

BBC News
The Human Body goes inside a baby's heart
BBC News
Nine months of pregnancy in one minute
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