Mad Men Birth Scene

29 September 2009 at 1:47 pm 2 comments

Birth bloggers, Mommy bloggers, and TV bloggers seem to have united in the past couple weeks with posts galore on the Mad Men birth scene: passive Betty, Twilight Sleep, rough nurses, absent drinking husbands–yep, birth in 1963 in a nutshell. This blogger at Reproductive Health Reality Check has a good overview, complete with a nice set of links to other key posts, of the episode.

I saw the episode, of course, but had pretty much refrained from discussing it–on the Web or in real life–until now, because it just aggravated me on two fronts.

1) From a literary perspective, I thought the dialogue between Betty and the nurse was pretty clunky and awful, relying more on “telling” rather than “showing,” and the scene as a whole felt heavy-handed to me and without emotional impact. On the show, birth in the 1960s seemed just another Issue to Cover–it’s checked off, now, apparently, and the writers can move on. Even with the advantage of visuals, the scenes didn’t have the impact of the birth scenes in A.S. Byatt’s novel Still Life or Margaret Drabble’s The Millstone (both set in the same period).

2) From a birth-focused perspective, I was scared that the reaction to the scene would–and indeed it has seemed to play out this way–focus on how much “better” women today have it than Betty did. And yes, some things have changed since the 1960s, but frankly, not nearly enough. I think most viewers didn’t get the all-too-real sense that birth as depicted on the show is frighteningly closer to reality today than it should be: in medically-managed hospital births today, after all, your OB won’t be there, a stranger will deliver your baby, you are expected to remain passive and behave, and the medical team will do things to you with or without your consent because that is hospital protocol.

Other reactions? What did people think of these scenes?



Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , .

Yet another reason for health care reform Massachustts. . . Families. . . of Midwives?

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Christine  |  30 September 2009 at 11:02 am

    I’ve never seen Mad Men but my mom started her career as an L&D nurse during the twilight sleep days and has crazy, scary stories including seeing moms wandering the halls begging for help getting the bricks out of their bottoms.

    The worst was when she checked on a mom / baby and found the baby had low heart tones. She told the doctor in charge and he said: “Oh I can get this baby.” He then used forceps to wrench the baby from the drugged mom’s body. The baby ended up with severe brain damage. I’m not even sure whether it survived. My mom was totally freaked and horrified and said nothing (nurses were lower than low on the totem poll in those days). That doctor was never stopped from practicing but my mom became a huge natural birth advocate after that, doing what she could to support mom’s wanting to go drug free. Her stories are endless and don’t really get more pleasant with today’s birth practices.

    Not having seen Mad Men I obviously can’t comment but I’ve long felt that if more of us were seeing positive, true to life birth we would be less inclined to fear it and seek “help” from a doctor.

  • 2. David  |  12 June 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Sooo I googled this looking to find a quotation from one my favorite scenes in Mad Men. The scene where Betty is in the hospital room, she is about o have the baby, she is wanting Don to come the the nurses are being extremely pushy. Betty starts to jump up and struggle so the nurse comes over with some more drugs to put her to sleep…

    Betty asks a question, and as she’s passing out…the nurse recites some verse quite compassionately consisting of “don’t worry, everything will be fine, something something what we studied in chapter 13″……..betty replies with an equally nonsense answer.

    I really want to know what they both say and discuss this.


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