The hows and whys of pregnancy, from conception to lactation, not for pregnant women seeking advice, but for anyone curious about the process.
Bainbridge, a reproductive biologist who lectures in comparative anatomy and physiology at the Royal Veterinary College in London, tackles his subject by posing five major questions about pregnancy: Why do humans reproduce the way they do—in other words: why sex? How does the maternal body “know” that it’s pregnant? How is a baby put together, that is, how does it develop from fertilized egg into fully-formed fetus? Why doesn’t the maternal immune system reject the intruding fetus? And how do mother and baby survive the birth process? Within his answers to the big questions are explorations of smaller but equally fascinating ones, such as why eggs are big and sperm small, why women menstruate and experience menopause, why identical twins aren’t truly identical, and what triggers birth. The author provides information not only on what is now known but on what was once thought, referring, for example, to the work of Gregor Mendel on genetics, William Harvey on animal reproduction, and Ernst Haeckel on embryology. To put human reproduction in a broader context, he also shows how the process differs in various other mammals. Throughout, the writing is both lively and lucid and the line drawings pleasingly simple and clear. Daring to go out on a limb in his conclusion, Bainbridge predicts that in a hundred years human pregnancy will be very different. He foresees the possibility that, just as conception has been altered by modern reproductive technologies, pregnancy may one day be made redundant by technology’s perfection of ectogenesis, the making of babies outside the human uterus.
Meanwhile, all the wonder of the natural process is captured here. (16 halftones; 6 line drawings)