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The Media

by Tara Thompson,  Doula Student   BWI

I truly believe the media as a whole does a grave disservice to mothers-to-be when it comes to pregnancy and childbirth. The majority of what we see on television inaccurately portrays birth in ways that leave women feeling fearful and having unrealistic expectations of their upcoming birth. It also misleads society which effects how women are treated in pregnancy and in childbirth. Overall, normal physiological birth in its rawness is very rarely even seen in the media. I believe this has impacted medical treatment in ways that have led to more interventions, as most providers have likely never seen normal birth and have a difficult time applying the lack of familiarity to their practice. Ignorance can lead to fear of the unknown.
Growing up, I loved watching The Learning Channel “TLC” and their shows that I thought depicted real life. They had shows such as “The Baby Story” or “Maternity Ward”. Many of the episodes portrayed birth as painful and I almost always felt as if it was an emergency in need of medical interventions.  This was my first glimpse into birth, and like me, it was likely many other’s first view into “real life” birth.  It was scary!  Fortunately, I have grown to learn, through education and personal experience, that birth is not often an emergency in need of such interventions, but I often wonder how many people still believe these older shows to be a true depiction of childbirth.  How many people lack trust in their body’s and in women.  The introduction and opening credits to the show says it all.  Here is an episode of Maternity Ward:  http://vimeo.com/12675921

An older movie, The Blue Lagoon, was able to allow viewers an opportunity to see an uninterrupted birth being acted out.  Because the plot of the movie was how a boy and a girl would behave naturally without any influence from society, it was able to show that birth could happen naturally.  The film came with its harsh criticism, and or course, it was acting.  I did appreciate the idea of the human capability of giving birth uninterrupted.

The Business of Being Born made huge strides in showing the world what birth could look like.  It was a great way for mass media to reach a larger crowd on the effects of society and medical intervention on birth and its consequences.  It allowed natural birth to have the spotlight without ignoring that emergencies can happen (though not with every birth) and that modern medicine can play a positive role in birth (when it is needed and necessary).  I had already given birth to my first son before I saw this film, but I am not exaggerating by saying it was this film, paired with my instincts that changed my perception on birth.  I gave little thought to the effects of something as simple as hearing a machine beep during labor to having pitocin.  I didn’t think of the impacts of lacking skin-to-skin immediately after birth, even if my gut was telling me I wanted it.  This film put the science and facts behind what has always been instinctual to mothers.  These include being private in labor, limiting stimulation of the frontal lobe, avoiding unnecessary interventions and encouraging the body’s natural hormones to foster labor, coping with labor, and the mother/baby bond that also affects breastfeeding.  While the Business of Being Born was impactful in many ways and arguably showed birth more truthfully, the audience tended to be those who already agreed with the message.  Here is a clip from Monty Python that was used in the film:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arCITMfxvEc.

I find that as a doula, I encourage women to look within for information on childbirth.  Birth is instinctive!  While the media may or may not get childbirth right, it is never beneficial to ignore one’s natural instincts and adhere to what we see on TV.  Trust your body, respect your body and listen to your body.  Most of preparing for childbirth is relearning what we already knew all along, but perhaps the media has led us astray from that.