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Hollywood’s Version of Childbirth

The Lion and I are enjoying watching Scrubs, an American medical comedy-drama TV series, lately. The show is entertaining but also somewhat discouraging, given that it is reportedly the most accurate medical TV show when compared to House, Grey’s Anatomy, and ER (so… McDreamy and McSteamy don’t actually exist?!). As a preggo woman, I found this bit particularly entertaining (and particularly disappointing…)!

The following video is one of the fantasy sequences from Season 2 (text script after the jump):


Randy and Jackie, the parents, are beaming in the background.

Narrator: Congratulations! You’re expecting! Don’t worry — your doctor will tell you everything you need to know.

J.D. steps into camera shot in a lab coat and horn-rimmed glasses.

Narrator: Hi, Doctor!

J.D.: You’ll fart, pee, puke, and poop in front of ten complete strangers who’ll be staring intently at your vagina — which, by the way, has an eighty percent chance of tearing!

It is true that a pregnant woman will likely fart, pee, and poop during childbirth, but it certainly doesn’t have to be in front of ten complete strangers. And the vagina is much more flexible than this short sequence makes it out to be. Oh, and your Dr will definitely not tell you everything you need to know because, well, you’re a woman and not a doctor or scientist and definitely incapable of research and rational thought, and if you really cared about your baby, you’d listen to the experts!

What the video doesn’t tell its audience is that episiotomies (the procedure involving cutting the perineum to enlarge the vaginal opening) are routinely performed and recommended by doctors themselves (they are the ones encouraging intervention and injury!). According to Ina May Gaskin, a Certified Professional Midwife and described as “the mother of midwifery,” most women are well equipped to give birth without the slightest injury, as long as they have the appropriate help, preparation, atmosphere, and consideration. As Gaskin quips in her Guide to Childbirth book, 

Men take it for granted that their sexual organs can greatly increase in size and then become small again without being ruined. If obstetricians (and women) could understand that women’s genitals have similar abilities, episiotomy and laceration rates in North America might go down overnight.

Furthermore, [the perception of] ten complete strangers judging your bodily excretions as you perform a miracle certainly does not constitute the appropriate atmosphere! The techno-medical model of maternity care sees the female body as full of shortcomings and defects, and pregnancy and labor are seen as illnesses which must be treated with drugs, medical equipment, and technological intervention. Doctors and obstetricians commonly believe that birth is only safe in retrospect, and mind and body are considered separate. Because of this belief, emotional ambience and psychological well-being is only important in terms of marketing and not actually comforting to the woman. When I think of hospital births, I imagine a woman laboring in an unfamiliar bed smelling like bleach or other cleaning chemicals in an unfamiliar, uncomfortable gown, hooked up to electronic fetal monitors, intravenous tubes, and other pressure- or heart-rate reading devices, devices that the average woman does not know how to operate (and wouldn’t be allowed to operate anyway, as a patient). During labor, the woman is restricted from eating, moving, or drinking, and since labor pain is unacceptable and indicative of weakness, analgesia and anesthesia are encouraged. The woman is a passive object, she is the barrier to the baby’s birth, and there is no room for individual variation. Her decision-making ability is seen as part of her shortcomings, and she must defer to the doctor/obstetrician “if she truly cares about her baby.”

Since the aforementioned is the common belief of hospital staff and obstetricians, then yes, I completely agree with the sentiments expressed in this video–childbirth is indeed scary and unpleasant!

Of course, now that I know these things, my birth plan will be a little different… I will attempt to briefly explain the advantages that midwifery care has in a separate, later post 🙂

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