theatrical perspectives of childbirth

I saw a birth on television today. Not a real birth. A fake one. On a television show.

Usually I just roll my eyes and not give fake births on television any more thought. But today I really watched it, and it got me thinking: why are births portrayed the way they are on TV?

This birth began in the traditional television way: her waters broke. Of course I have actually only ever met one person in real life whose waters breaking were the first indication of impending labour. But until I was pregnant myself I was none the wiser that this is not the normal way for a labour to start.

From the moment of waters breaking, the next scene included the mother-to-be being rushed down a corridor in a wheelchair with a flood of anxious people running behind her. She, typically, was making wild accusations at anyone who would listen, yelling and carrying on about how much it hurt.

From there we enter the hospital theatre, where in a sea of blue plastic, about a million people coach the screaming woman to “push harder!” She responds by screaming various insults at them. When the head begins to crown the father-to-be takes a peek underneath the blue sheet covering the woman and grimaces in disgust at what he sees under there. The people around the bed frown and clasp their hands together. The fifteen odd people waiting in the waiting room pace and worry.

A few minutes later, as the mother lies expectantly and neatly in her bed, a nurse walks into the room and with gloved hands passes over a clean and shiny four month old baby wrapped in a blanket. They smile at each other and everyone sighs.

I understand that a real, true and natural birth in all its powerful glory, would probably be too boring to get ratings. I just wish that birth on TV might sometimes be shown in a relatively real way. I wish that TV didn’t matter, and that people didn’t gain so much of their “knowledge” from watching it. But sadly, the media has a huge influence on what we think, say, believe and do.

I doubt that the portrayal of birth on television will ever change. The main reason it concerns me is because I have my own two girls, who may one day decide to have children of their own. I don’t want them to think that the story above is anything like what birth is all about. From now until that day arrives, I will be doing everything in my power to teach them about real birth. In my house, birth will never be something that is disgusting, painful, horrible, gross or worse: unspoken.

I hope that when my babies watch fake births on TV they will be able to watch and laugh, knowing a fact that is fast becoming a secret in our society: fake births on TV are just that, fake.

My hope for them is that they will reach down and be the first to touch their babies being born into this world. That they might be the ones to first see if they have birthed a boy or a girl. That they will enjoy the power of their bodies being unleashed as they meet their baby for the very first time. That they might lie quietly in the moments after giving birth holding their babies and feeling the warm, slick weight of them on their bare chests, no matter where they choose to be. That they don’t listen when people doubt or scoff at them. That even if things don’t go to plan, that they spend their pregnancies, and their lives, believing that they can give birth and that normal birth is a normal thing.

I hope that they grow up knowing that as women their bodies are capable of more mystery, subtlety, grace, power and miracle than they will ever be able to fathom. And that that is the real normal.

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11 thoughts on “theatrical perspectives of childbirth

  1. Absolutely! Isn’t it terrible that television (and movies!) depict such a fake scenario? :/ I agree, I want my daughter to know the truth as well. Thankfully, she was already 11 when I had her youngest brother, in 2011. I labored at home for the majority of the time and she saw me leave the house to deliver at the hospital – 59 minutes later baby Samuel was born! My water hadn’t broken before leaving (it ruptured while I was pushing) and I wasn’t angry or screaming in pain at the house. I don’t know why they make it like women are vicious while in labor. I haven’t been for any of my births! Great post – it got me thinking. πŸ™‚
    I wrote about the experience of birth, after surveying a number of women, if you’re interested: http://atlantamomofthree.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/the-pains-and-sensations-of-childbirth/

  2. I remember watching my first ‘TV’ birth just shortly after having my first daughter. I don’t ever watch TV and boy, did I laugh! The lady was yelling and screaming like she was having her arm chopped off with a butterknife! I love that my older daughter was there for the birth of her sister. We openly talk about birth (I think you commented on my last post on her remembering her own birth), she knows that a baby comes out of a vagina and that you have to push very hard and that it’s a very special day πŸ™‚ She even knows what the red thing (the placenta) in the freezer is for πŸ™‚

  3. Ha ha!

    I always point out to people how we can’t trapeze out of airplanes like in spy films and that lawyers aren’t like on Boston legal and we all don’t look like supermodels and so why should we expect TV/film to be any more accurate about pregnancy/labour/birth/parenting?

    In my family we grew up hearing our birth stories on our birthdays each year. The story would progress though the hours of the day to time with what happened all those years ago. We all know each story by heart now and join in as mum gets to the good bits!

    Char
    XX

  4. Hi! Wonderful, wonderful post. I’m so often saddened to see birth portrayed on film as (at best) a comedy and (at worst) a horrific emergency. So I tell expectant friends about my two normal, boring, empowering, amazing births whenever I can; just so they know it doesn’t have to be the way they’ve always pictured it.
    I almost didn’t comment, but then saw that you posted this on the day my daughter was born! It’s a sign πŸ™‚ I’ll be following your lovely blog now.

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