TV Review: Life and Birth may be the BBC's retaliation for Bake Off

Jodie with son Iuean and baby Phoebe in the Neonatal Unit at Birmingham Women’s Hospital. - (C) Dragonfly / Ryan McNamara - Photographer: Ryan McNamara
Billy Foley

Life and Birth, BBC 1, Tuesday at 8pm

It's almost a decade since Channel 4 had a huge hit with One Born Every Minute.

The observational documentary set in a maternity ward showed the first moments of life and attracted audiences of up to five million.

There have since been eight series and so successful has the format been that it's been picked up for versions in six other countries, including the US and France.

Perhaps it's a retaliation for Bake Off which went the other direction a couple of years ago, but the BBC has brought in the company behind the Channel 4 hit to make its own version.

Set in a maternity ward in Birmingham, Life and Birth's first episode was traumatic.

Two babies had difficult starts to life, but baby Athena-Reign was one of the scariest few minutes of television that I can remember.

Ashleigh and Luke already knew what it was to have a difficult birth. Their first child had difficulties breathing at first and it was seared into Ashleigh's memory that the baby didn't cry. She dreaded it happening again.

Sucking on gas and air waiting for Athena to arrive, Ashleigh (22) said: "A lot of people try to make out like pregnancy is full of rainbows and magic. It's not this big bubble of glitter that everybody makes out. But you are over the moon and happy when you are handed that baby at the end. That's the part that makes everything worth it."

She tells the camera she won't be happy until she hears the wonderful sound her new baby crying.

She has a difficult labour and when the baby did arrive it came with her worst fear. Athena was completely blue and floppy from a lack of oxygen. She didn't cry.

The incredibly calm midwife asked the granny to push the emergency button and started rubbing and massaging the baby with a towel to encourage her to start breathing.

There was some reassurance that a television programme wouldn't show the scene if there was a tragic conclusion (would it?).

Help arrived quickly but the midwife had already managed to get Athena to breathe. She cried and her colour improved very slowly, but by the time we returned to Athena again later in the episode, she looked fantastic.

Our second baby in difficulty was Phoebe. Mum Jodie found out towards the later stages of her pregnancy that Phoebe had suspected heart problems. You could only look on in awe as the cardiologist studied the tiny, grainy images from inside the womb and diagnosed the infant.

Because of this Phoebe was also very small and the plan was to give her some drugs to help with her heart and hope to increase her size. Unfortunately Phoebe decided to come eight weeks early and at two-and-a-half pounds was only half the weight needed to go for life saving surgery.

So life began with months in an incubator waiting for her to grow.


The Beauty of Maps, BBC 4, Tuesday at 7.30pm

There's something captivating about maps. I'm part of the sub-set of people who could stare at them forever, whether it's a plan of your own city or a map of the world.

I think it's probably connected to wanderlust, for as long as I can remember I've wanted to go to places first seen on a map.

If you're like me The Beauty of Maps is a series for you. This week, episode two looked at three maps of London, including the stunning 1682 Morgan Map, which sought to bring order to the chaos of the city.

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