Pregnancy and Birth
In many cultures, procreation is the primary reason for marriage. Motherhood may be considered the woman's most socially powerful role, and pregnant women have elevated status. Enormous pressure may be exerted on newly married couples to have a family as soon as possible. When pregnancy does not occur within a certain time period, the marital contract may be dissolved, permitting the man to take another wife who will give him children, preferably sons.
The physiological aspects of pregnancy are universal. Conception occurs when a sperm from a male fertilizes an egg from a woman. Fertilization typically results from sexual intercourse between a woman and a man, but it also may be the result of such technological alternatives as in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination. The product of conception is referred to as an ovum for the first fourteen days. During the next six weeks, it is referred to as an embryo. During the remainder of the pregnancy, the embryo of conception is called a fetus.
The ovum implants in the wall of the woman's uterus (womb) about seven days after fertilization. Following implantation, the ovum grows through cell division, and a separate structure—called the placenta—develops. The blood vessels of the placenta serve as a link between the woman and the developing baby, bringing oxygen and nourishment to the baby and removing its carbon dioxide and waste products.