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Birth in Today’s Media: Finding Help Without the Hype

“The Media” as a term encompasses all channels of content prepared for the express purpose of being sold to consumers, to encourage them to consume the information or entertainment. This includes everything from traditional news outlets of TV and newspaper (which sell commercials) to movies and television shows to sponsored content on social media sites such as Google and Facebook. This Media takes its sustenance from marketing the sensational. By its own design, these outlets never highlight the normal or the ordinary. Sensation Sells.

When this media mindset intersects with birth, the result is an inflated, dramatic rendering of the pregnancy, labor, birth, and mothering process. We should expect nothing else from the large channels, which highlight only “the exciting.” Visual media (like television and movies), along with print media (like newspapers), do not have the time, patience, or finished-product space to show the true nature of labor and birth – which at times can be slow, uneventful, and little appears to be happening on the surface. Instead, the frantic, dramatic birth scenes prevail. Even in the series Call the Midwife (produced by BBC), some normal births are highlighted, while many more of the scenes focus on the extra-ordinary. In Newspaper articles, almost never will one see a headline of  “Baby Born at Home in Peaceful Setting.” Instead, the babies born in cars on the side of the road or in hospital parking lots are disproportionately highlighted compared to those born in “normal” settings of hospital or home.

Whether or not the scene itself is portrayed as dramatic and frantic, the visual cues included are very likely to promote a medical model of pregnancy and birth. The picture of the ultrasound as a birth announcement. The scene of the parents during the ultrasound focusing on the screen. The birthing woman ready to begin pushing (when the doctor says so, of course), with feet up in stirrups and seemingly in the least comfortable position possible. All these scenes take power away from the birthing woman’s intuition and connection with her body and her baby. The impact on society and on women who give birth is one of disassociation with her own body and her own power.

Social media is – maybe surprisingly – providing quite a potent antidote to the otherwise pervasive cultural representation of passive and/or dramatic labor and birth. Through personal channels such as Instagram and YouTube, women are able to share more thorough representations of their experience with birth. Many times, these are personally inspiring and empowering. A powerful shift has happened with the art of birth photographers/videographers and midwives being widely shared across these social media networks. While still running a business, yes, with the intent to sell their services to clients, these women are first and foremost creating art to be shared with the world. Pictures and videos of birth experiences in various settings and levels of medical intervention are expressed as empowering and normal. I see this source of content as a powerful tool for woman as they grow into childbearing age and as they preparing to welcome a child. Great instagram accounts include @monetnicolebirths, @birthwithoutfear, @cradledcreations, and @lindseymeehleis.