Should We Push for Better Birth on Television as Well?

23 August 2008 at 8:46 pm 5 comments

Not every woman cares to watch television or even to have one in her home, but many of those who do, choose to watch the wide variety of birth shows available to them. But is there really any true variety to these shows? The answer is no. Many of the birth stories on shows such as The Baby Story, Babies: Special Delivery, and the new show, Deliver Me, are told in a way that dramatize and sensationalize the experience, especially when there is some sort of a problem. Everything from the narrator’s voice to the music played in the background and the clips chosen evokes anxiety in the viewer. Even worse, the shows rarely focus on the rarity of the circumstances they present, even the one percent situations.

Enter House of Babies, the only series I am aware of that tells the accounts of natural childbirth. Other shows might include the occasional, rare homebirth, but when they do so the title of the episode becomes “Unconventional Birth.” What is so wonderful and so beautifully normal and natural is deemed abnormal! In House of Babies, however, women finally receive a show that promotes normal, natural birth:

“In 2006, the Discovery Health Channel premiered a new factual show about natural childbirth, called “House of Babies,” shot at Shari’s Miami Maternity Clinic. The 26-episode, fact-based series follows the stories of Shari, other midwives and midwifery students, and parents as they experience the day-to-day joy and drama of drug-free childbirth. The footage of the births is raw and real; the pain and hard work of labor is evidenced.” http://www.houseofbabies.com.

Seeing as television has such strong influence in our society, it is good that shows such as House of Babies are out there, and that some women are willing to share their intensely personal birth experiences in an effort to educate about birth options. But there are only 26 episodes in this program, they are already becoming outdated, and I know of no other program other like it. Is there a place for a show that educates not only about midwifery, but about homebirth as well? A show that will educate and celebrate the safety, beauty, and normalcy of homebirth, and take the time to explain what is not being articulated to so many women as they sit and watch anxiety-provoking stories of hospital births with obstetricians?

Deliver Me, the newest of these shows, is particularly disappointing. All three obstetricians are women, which initially offers a glimmer of hope, but the medical model of care is clear as day as the story of each pregnancy and birth is told; The doctors are quick to offer intervention and equally as quick in their conversations with their “patients.”

Perhaps what women need to see instead are many different midwives, in many different homes, delivering many different babies to many different families, treating each one of them as though they are the only one in the world, their birth the only birth. Can television be a place for this? For those of us committed to the cause, inspired and empowered by our own natural births and those of other women, the stories we know are enough. What can we change in this realm of the media for the women who do not yet share and delight in the secret of all of this, to make it not so secret after all?

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. mfomcontributor  |  24 August 2008 at 8:53 am

    When I was having babies in the ’70’s and 80’s of course there were no tv shows depicting real births. Starting out knowing nothing about the best way to have babies I would have been drawn to them like a magnet and taken in. Thankfully, I was part of a group of women who were educated in the then unheard of process of natural childbirth and I owe them my natural births, especially my homebirths. I’m so glad I did not have these shows to train my mind to fear. Today women know more about their options, at least the relatively few options they have in hospital birthings. But these shows (and what pregnant woman doesn’t watch them?) incite fear and, as we know, fear is the worst enemy of natural birthing.

    Thank heavens for Shari and her show. Even now, decades after giving birth, I can’t get enough of House of Babies. Nor can my daughters. And, yes, there are way too few episodes. Shari is part of Florida’s wonderful childbirth environment. She and others have done so much for women like us and the state of FL has the laws to protect what they have done. My youngest daughter (who was born at home here in MA) lives there and is planning a homebirth next month. Not only did she have no trouble finding the resources she needed to do so, but her health insurance is paying all but her $25 co-pay and the rental of the birthing tub. Her LPM has an office called “The Red Tent” out of which she does prenatal care, childbirth classes, well-women care, as well as run a little store for natural products. My daughter felt like she had been blessed a million-fold when she found her midwife, especially after seeing what her (also homeborn) sister has gone through in MA to prepare for natural births hopefully to take place at home. Yes, Florida, Shari and all that is well for women in that state make us long for the same.

    Having said that, I will add that this article about the “tension and drama” birthing shows has reminded me of the power they have. That power hinders our cause. The media could be a mighty tool for us. Consider what Ricki Lake has done for us. But does Discovery Health show her movie? Does anyone know how to impact the media? Surely it is all a question of what sells, where the money comes from. Do they even know there is a market for women like us? I wonder how Shari’s show fares as far as sponsors go. My heart dreams of shows that educate women to the natural and safe aspects of childbirth, depict peaceful births, and advertise baby carriers and cloth diapers!! We have a lot of work ahead of us.

    Reply
  • 2. Gail  |  24 August 2008 at 9:34 am

    House of Babies sounds like an excellent program and one that is well needed. In our city we have started a program to begin to educate young women and men in middle school basic health information on pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and newborn care. Our childbirth association raises the money and then we create “Pregnancy & Childbirth DVD Kits” that are donated to the schools. We have had 90% compliance in the private school system with this new innovative health program. I believe we need to educate women about childbirth before they are pregnant and we are working toward this end in our city. Best wishes, Gail J. Dahl, “Pregnancy & Childbirth Secrets”

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  • 3. Navelgazing Midwife  |  24 August 2008 at 2:15 pm

    And I can’t stand House of Babies! Shari learned her birthing style in El Paso where that culture nearly insists that women deliver on their backs, even if, in the Miami scene way, that means in a birth tub. Women are directed how to birth no less so than in an L&D ward. Just because there aren’t drugs involved doesn’t mean birth unfolds unhindered.

    TRUE natural birth needs an agent.

    Reply
  • 4. Rebecca  |  25 August 2008 at 5:56 pm

    I am no longer able to watch “Baby Story”, “Maternity Ward” or any of the other shows that oversensationalize not just 1-percent situations, but normal, routine situations! Dramatic statements about heart rates dropping or labor “needing” to be speeded up – I can’t take it, and I don’t want to break my TV by throwing something at it! Yet so many women get all their impressions of birth from these shows. I agree that House of Babies doesn’t show every woman’s ideal birth situation, but it’s certainly a welcome alternative to the fear-based, overmedicalized shows everywhere else.

    Reply
  • 5. mfomcontributor  |  25 August 2008 at 6:08 pm

    So true, of course. But these women have chosen a birthing center over a hospital, based on the knowledge that they have. And that in itself is something good. Bottom line is that it is all about education and if we’ve never been educated about birthing on our backs, or whatever kind of birthing we choose, how do we know otherwise? They trusted in Shari because they did not want hospital interventions. And they got what they trusted her for.

    Education about birth begins, ideally, in the home. My mother birthed her four babies in the 1940’s and 1950’s. She was totally unconscious. But what she told me was, “I wanted to be awake.” That simple statement was the crack in the door for me. She was horrified when I told her I was having homebirths (and her presence at the first one was a real labor hindrance for me), nevertheless she also gave me the confidence to educate myself and decide for myself. One of my naturally birthed daughters chose a medicated birth, actually planned for the interventions. But she made her birthing choices with knowledge about other options. Her sisters chose, each on her own, to pursue the same path I chose. I’m proud of all of them for having the confidence to do their own things in their own ways, despite outside influence (including mine in the case of the one who chose a medical path). But all of them entered their mothering from a place of knowledge and a desire to learn, to never stop learning.

    I so agree with the writer who is involved in bringing birthing information into school settings and I applaud her efforts. Decades ago I spoke to high school girls, once in the public school and many, many times in our church youth group about breastfeeding and mothering. I can’t say that I had any feedback from the girls in the school, but a definite impact was made on some of the girls in the youth group. And I know it could make a huge difference in schools. Again, it’s all in education. Only education can stand up against culture.

    I’m basking in the fun of having one daughter tell me, with anger, about the placenta fiasco in Nevada where a mother had to sue for the right to take her placenta home from the hospital, and…. to my daughter’s righteous joy…. won (too late for her but opening the door for other mothers). Just today she filled me in on the whole Vitamin K controversy. The tables have turned. My daughters are educating me. And I love it. May you all, including my daughters, teach and teach and never stop. You will turn the tide.

    Reply

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