Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Desecrating my Temple on Primetime

I had a great conversation yesterday with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. I was telling her about my doula work and found myself talking about (and simultaneously realizing for the first time) the degree to which birth is the closest approximation of spirituality I have in my life.

Then a few hours later I found myself watching Discovery Health’s Birth Day Live! and getting sucked into nearly ninety minutes of unplanned T.V. watching. My reaction to the show went from delight at stumbling across LIVE BIRTHS on T.V. to shame at my persistent voyeurism in watching families shuttled through the show’s smashmouth football style production to anger, ultimately, at the complete lack of disregard the show had for birth. If birth is my religion, this show was pure sacrilege.

I finally turned it off when one of the “sideline” reporters was interviewing a mother in between pushing contractions. At one point the reporter said to the nurse, “I see [the mother] is trembling a lot and I remember that from my own births” – at which point a camera zoomed in on the pale face of this mother who was indeed shaking as most women do in transition or pushing – “why is that?”

The nurse said, “Well some people say it’s from the epidural, but I think it’s just birth.”

Reporter: “You mean the trauma of it?”

Nurse: “yes.”

Can I litinize all the things wrong with this? A nurse that presumably hasn’t seen natural birth to know that you shake even when you haven’t had an epidural. The reporter assigning the label “trauma” to a birth without asking the woman actually experiencing it. The conversation ABOUT the mother as if she’s not even in the room. The presumption that a side conversation about the physiology of labor should upstage this family’s real time labor.

Earlier in the show they were in the room of a woman in early pushing and they invited in all the nurses about to come on at shift change so they could show some of the important, caring faces that are an important part of birth. There were at least 10 nurses in the room, laughing at the reporter’s jokes and smiling prettily while in the foreground the mother was grabbing behind her knees and bearing down. Honestly!

In the time I watched, there were 7 births. Five were Cesarean and two were vaginal. They interviewed one couple on their way in for a Cesarean. Their doctor said “Well she’s been pushing for an hour and her baby won’t come down. It’s at plus one [station] and hasn’t made any progress. It’s too high up to do a vacuum extraction, so a Cesarean is the best option.”

The reporter turned to the mother and said, “Now you’re pretty disappointed about this turn of events. Can you tell me why that is?” The mother said she was really hoping to have a vaginal birth but that she trusted the doctor. Her husband said almost the same thing verbatim. It was almost like they’d been brainwashed. Trust the doctor. Trust the doctor.

I mean, you have to trust your doctor. But they weren’t saying “This is the decision we made in consultation with our doctor and we believe it is in the baby’s best interest.” They said we don’t want to do this but we trust the doctor. Very different dynamic.

Finally, at one Cesarean birth the reporter was talking remotely with the doctor, who’d been miked. She said, “I understand there have been some complications with this mother. She’s hypoglycemic?” The doctor said, “Yes, but that’s probably because she hasn’t been allowed to eat or drink anything all day. She’ll be o.k. We’re giving her everything she needs through her I.V.”

I think I should just stop now.
Did anyone see this? Were you repulsed?


Blogger Julie said...

Didn't see it, but am absolutely repulsed. And reminded of the time I told a pediatric nurse that my 9lb 14oz baby's birth was "terrific." She looked at me like I was crazy, and I hadn't even mentioned anything about birthing him at home with a lay midwife. Doule, what do you say instead of the book on menstruation we do a book about birth? I know there are already tons of books out there that celebrate the beauty and Mystery of birth, but only midwives, doulas, and earthy-crunchy pregnant women read them. Our goal could be to write a "creative nonfiction" book for the masses. I bet we could get at least as much media attention as the guy who wrote a book about cod, for chrissake!

7:39 AM  
Blogger doulicia said...

I think writing the book is one thing, getting people to read it is another. The same culture that puts Birth Day Live! on T.V. has the word-of-mouth mill making sure every mother reads What to Expect. (To wit: my officemate announced yesterday she's 8 weeks pregnant and today I noticed she spent her lunch hour reading it).

As you say, it would have to go easy on the woo-woo aspects that may turn a lot of people off, but get to the heart of the matter.

12:13 PM  
Anonymous Karen said...

Yes, I saw parts of the program and I was also infuriated. I am 26 weeks pregnant with my first baby and am planning a natural birth with a Doula. I couldn't believe how many cesaereans there were! The women who had vaginal births were all laboring on their backs and were being asked to push in unproductive positions and with all focus on speed rather than letting the perineum stretch over the baby's head, etc. Thank goodness that "A Baby Story" on TLC sometimes shows natural births, water births, women moving around in labor, and so on. But man, I was frustrated after watching "Birth Day Live" and I was sad for my friends who assume that that's what childbirth is supposed to be like.

7:55 AM  
Blogger doulicia said...

Congratulations on having a baby on the way Karen. You're a lucky (and wise) woman to educate yourself beyond the Discovery Health Channel's representation of normalcy!

2:30 PM  

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