The birth of an egg

A human egg!

During a hysterectomy, scientists witnessed an egg emerging from a woman’s ovary. These are the first known photographs of this event. Here’s the link to the full story, with pictures. When you look at the pictures, be aware that these are greatly magnified or very close-up. The human egg (a beautiful golden yellow) is just barely visible to the naked eye, but appears quite large on the photographs. The swollen dark-red maroon-ish mass is just one mature follicle of the ovary. The ovary is only a couple of inches big, but apparently makes most of the pink “background” of the picture. (My thanks to American Mum for bringing this to my attention.)

One doctor said that some theories of ovulation indicate that the egg “explodes” from the ovary, but this proves them wrong. Rather, it was more like a birth , the egg took some 15 minutes to slowly emerge from the swollen follicle.

Looking at the picture, and hearing the description of how the egg just emerged from the ovary, I was struck by the similarity of the birth of an egg from the human ovary, and the birth of a baby from the womb. During ovulation, a follicle “matures” and gets bigger, swelling much like the uterus does to hold a baby. (Unlike pregnancy, however, several follicles mature, but only the most mature one releases the egg. If more than one egg comes out, then fraternal twins, triplets, etc. may be conceived.) This process happens on its own time, although doctors may be able to interfere with the process or alter it with the help of drugs (birth control pills, for instance, have as their primary method of contraception inhibiting ovulation; women undergoing fertility treatment may have to take many drugs every cycle in order for ovulation to occur).

When the egg is fully mature, it slowly releases, with the opening of the follicle gradually getting bigger and bigger, to allow the egg to come out (look at the pictures, to see what I mean) — much as a full-term baby helps to gradually dilate the cervix (by means of pressure from the head), and once full dilation has occurred, to move down the birth canal, gently stretching it as he slowly moves down and emerges. After the egg is born, the follicle’s work is not over! It secretes hormones so that the lining of the uterus is ready to receive the fertilized egg (should conception occur). When the fertilized egg implants in the lining of the uterus, the follicle (called the corpus luteum, from the time the egg is released until either implantation fails to occur, or until about 3 months of pregnancy) continues to secrete enough hormones so that the fertilized egg (perhaps called a zygote, blastocyst, or embryo at this point — I’m not going to get technical here — it’s all the same thing, just at different stages, much like the terms newborn, toddler, and adolescent all refer to a single individual) can continue to grow into a fetus. This reminds me of the hormone changes that occur after birth which signal the breasts to produce milk, to sustain the newborn until he or she is old enough to be nourished from other things. The similarities are amazing!

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