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.