Childbirth in the Media: Scary on Many Levels
This article about portrayals of childbirth in the media is really interesting. Never mind the dramatic “war stories” mothers sometimes tell about labor, the depiction of childbirth on screens big and small would scare even the toughest young woman. For a long time I’ve hated seeing childbirth depicted in films and TV, because I do think it gives a false impression of extreme danger and unbearable pain. Some personal pet peeves:
- Women immediately know when they go into labor. Latest example: Snow White in Once Upon a Time has a single pang, and cries, “The baby’s coming!” Reality: you walk around for weeks having contractions, weird pains, and a somewhat dilated cervix, always wondering if labor is really starting or you have three more weeks of this to enjoy.
- Women giving birth naturally in an emergence situation need to be told when to push (usually by an untrained male bystander). Reality: authority figures standing around telling women when to push are an artifact of epidurals and such that make women unable to feel what is happening. Most women can push just fine without coaching, breath-holding, or counting, if they’re unmedicated. Memorable offenders: Lost, Fringe.
- Women scream and yell and are out of control the whole time. Sure, this is more dramatic or funny in a movie. But it makes people think labor is a giant crisis, when there are different stages, some calm, some that involve yelling for some moms. Every comedy about pregnancy ever has used this trope.
- Women lie flat on their backs. This is the worst position for giving birth, short of actually standing on your head with your legs crossed. Again, almost every TV depiction of birth, including reality shows, has this.
- Speaking of reality shows, they want to create drama and tension, so just about every birth becomes a life-threatening crisis at one point or another. There’s not a lot of advertisers clamoring to buy spots during a show that depicts a mother sitting in a tub, closing her eyes, and occasionally giving a soft moan. (The fact that many of the emergencies shown may be iatrogenic is a topic for another post.)
Birth isn’t THAT bad, in most cases. It is, after all, a normal bodily function. I won’t lie – my births involved pain and a LOT of work, but I’ve had stomach viruses and headaches that made me wish for anesthesia a lot more than labor did. And I never once turned to my husband and screamed, “You did this to me!”