Birth: It's Not Like The Movies


Above is a preview for Laboring Under An Illusion, a documentary (available at Amazon) showing how representations of birth in the media tend to freak us out rather than prepare us for what labor is really all about. I came across this preview when reading a fascinating profile of the film-maker, Michelle L’Esperance, who is also a midwife. She made the film to help dismantle some of the myths around childbirth and steer women back to the idea that this is just our bodies doing what they do.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately. It’s amazing what images of births in movies have done to us. Some of them are pretty good– most convey the idea that this is an important event and that parents are nervous, which is mostly true in real life. But movies rely on drama, and so does television, even so-called “reality” television. The narratives tend to follow an emergency-to-relief trajectory. Women are often rushed down hallways on gurneys like car-accident victims.

Pam’s birth on The Office was actually more realistic than most Hollywood fare. We never saw her pushing the baby out but we saw her at work in early labor. For many hours. Not that all women work through early labor but it’s entirely realistic to *not be* in the hospital in early labor. Even when the husband gets nervous (as was the case in The Office and often in real life).

Then today I saw this old preview for that Jennifer Lopez movie, The Back-Up Plan:

I’m so peeved and grossed out by this clip I don’t really know what to say except that home birth is NOTHING like this. Seriously, even if there is a woman there beating a drum (often there is not) it’s still not like this. Even if the laboring woman makes unbelievable sounds– which is common in all locations–they are not like these sounds. The only real thing about this unbelievably annoying clip is the shape and color of the birthing tub.

Now you may think I have no sense of humor about this stuff because I’m a crazy birth expert, but trust me I’ve made a lot of jokes about women in labor, at home or otherwise. I laughed at the parody of crunchie, home-birthing parents in Away We Go. But this Back Up Plan trailer–which premiered, appropriately, at the Super Bowl– is really just depressing. And not a little misogynistic. If you want to see a real home birth video, check out this one. If you never want to see a birth, fine. But please ignore the blockbuster births, they are consistently unhelpful.
Here are some more completely inaccurate and annoying birth scenes from movies.