Recently I found myself watching the episode of Friends – The One Where Rachel Has a Baby. It was the only thing on TV that was even remotely appropriate for kids to watch when we got to our hotel room after 13 hours in the car. I hadn’t seen this episode in years and I felt a little curious about how well it held up. Also, being 35 weeks pregnant myself and pretty close to giving birth to my third child, I wondered if it represented labor and delivery in any way that resembled reality.
TV and movies and media in general frequently get so much wrong when it comes to birth, not to mention the experience of pregnancy and postpartum.
Friends is no exception.
First of all, Rachel is sitting in her hospital bed for hours. Not dilated. Not having close contractions. Not progressing. Most hospitals would actually send her home instead of keep her there, wasting bed space.
Second, when it comes time for her to give birth, her doctor comes in and announces it’s time. Not because she has checked her cervix or because she’s naturally starting to push. Just because her doctor says, “congratulations, it’s time.” Yeah…that’s not how labor works.
Third, her doctor discovers, while Rachel is pushing, that her baby is breech. That is HIGHLY UNLIKELY. I mean, it’s awesome that her doctor willingly helped her deliver her baby breech. Many doctors will not even try and will order a C-Section. However, they’d know if the baby was breech before she was in labor. It’s not something that catches doctors or midwives by surprise.
Here are a few others big things that TV and movies usually get wrong about labor, delivery, and birth.
That all moms give birth lying down
Fun fact: women did not always give birth lying down or sitting in a bed. In fact, it is quite possibly the most difficult way to give birth vaginally. Squatting, hands and knees, upright leaning against a bed or table or wall – these are common ways women have been giving birth vaginally for as long as women have been giving birth.
You know why this changed in popularity? Partially because King Louis XIV fetishized giving birth and wanted a better view of the birthing process when his wives and mistresses gave birth. Yeah.
Also a French obstetrician in the late 1600’s suddenly decreed that it would be more convenient for women to give birth in a lying down position. Convenient for whom, you ask? I’ll give you one guess. Hint: not birthing women.
So basically, birth position has been determined by the whims of men for the past 400 years. Men who will never give birth and either fetishize birth or are inconvenienced by it.
Perfect make-up and not a hair out of place
Both of my births so far have happened in the middle of the night, which is actually fairly common. The last thing on my mind was applying make-up and doing my hair. I mean, I’m not much of a make-up/hair person anyway, but even if I was I’m pretty sure I’d be too busy managing contractions and trying to push out a baby to worry about whether or not my hair is picture worthy.
I think the reason that TV and movies maintain this myth is because they’d rather their leading ladies look conventionally pretty instead of the sweaty mess that many of us are when we’re giving birth.
This is unfortunate because women are badasses when they give birth, no matter how birth happens. And they should be celebrated for being the sweaty mess that they are during birth. Not some weird, sterilized, prettified version of it.
This one really bothers me. The dad who faints. The father who gets all grossed out by the process of birth. Or the dad who panics and loses his shit and can’t keep it together to support his partner during birth.
I’m sure these dads exist, but parodying fatherhood like this doesn’t help men. And it certainly doesn’t represent the amazing, supportive, strong dads who help support their baby mamas through labor and delivery.
The complete lack of bodily fluids
I legit pooped while giving birth to my first child. In front of everyone. My husband, my midwife, my doula…and none of them was bothered by it. There was a lot of blood and amniotic fluid, too.
Birth is messy. Lots of bodily fluids are involved. I mean, I get why TV and movies might want to opt out of this. It makes birth look a lot less “palatable” and “pretty” which presents a problem for viewers and advertisers who’d rather see their leading ladies looking more visually appealing from a standard beauty perspective.
Still, this completely misrepresents the birth process and the women involved.
A perfectly clean baby
I just have to laugh at this one. Baby is covered in vernix, blood, mucus, and sometimes poop.
Yes, babies are often wiped down a bit before they’re given to mama to hold, especially in a hospital setting. Still, they’re rarely perfectly clean. Birth is messy for both mama and baby.
No depiction of skin-to-skin or nursing postpartum
This one really gets me. Usually in TV or movies, mom is handed her perfectly swaddled and capped baby. She’s not encouraged to try and nurse or even to hold her baby skin to skin.
Instead, she holds her perfectly wrapped baby and stares down at the baby lovingly. And the baby quietly hangs out there, enjoying their swaddle.
While I suppose this is what happens for some women, particularly in hospital settings, it’s not standard.
The lack of c-sections
I have never had a c-section but many women do. More often in mainstream media, we see women heading into vaginal birth deliveries. This simply doesn’t represent the many women who either choose a c-section or have a medically necessary c-section. All mamas deserve representation, period.
Mom is immediately back to post-baby body within minutes of giving birth
I could write a whole other blog post about what TV and movies get wrong about postpartum. I probably will. This particular wrong bears noting here because it is the most prevalent and also the most problematic when it comes to women’s self-image.
Most TV shows and movies show postpartum mom looking exactly as she did before she had the baby. Often this is because the actress wasn’t actually pregnant, so they just put her back into her pre-pregnancy outfits and situations. It’s just a huge misrepresentation of reality. And it’s a toxic way to represent women’s bodies.
While some women do naturally return to a shape that is close to pre-pregnancy, most women never do. Not because they are lazy or doing something wrong. It’s because our bodies radically change during pregnancy.
And you know what? That’s ok.
Truthfully, I sometimes miss my pre-baby body. I’m also stronger than I was before my babies. And I’m more aware of my body than I was pre-baby.
My body might not look the same or feel the same but it’s still mine.
Got any other ways that TV and movies get wrong about labor, delivery, and birth?
Share them in the comments below!