1. I am convinced I had a succesful vaginal birth of a 9.9 pound 22 inches long baby boy because I didn’t fear labor and delivery. There is nothing to be afraid of. Why can’t everyone just read Ina May’s Spiritual Midwifery?? :-)

  2. I should add that the hospital staff tried their hardest to pump that fear back into me, but I ignored them!

  3. I definitely think I was influenced. I had ZERO idea about the serious risks associated with an epidural and was not the slightest bit educated about home birth or the use of a midwife/doula. I just assumed that I would give birth in a hospital and I just assumed I would get an epidural. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle the pain.

    I didn’t get the epidural the second time around and my recovery from a natural birth was a million times easier than the epidural birth. And now that I know I can handle the pain, I’m a little disappointed–in myself and in popular culture–for not being more confident in myself and my body’s ability to do what it was intended to do. We’re done, but if we were going to have another, it’d be midwife and homebirth all the way.

    Honestly, I hear stories about women who “had” to have c-sections and wonder how many of them were truly needed.

  4. Ugh. I’m feeling sick to my stomach/angry about that homebirth scene in The Backup Plan. With all that’s going on there, the beating of the drum pushed me over the edge. Grrrr.
    I wonder how they’ll show the J. Lo character’s birth.

  5. i love these types of posts from you.

    absolutely, pop culture teaches us to fear chilbirth, and it’s a cliche joke that the out-of-control woman will hate her partner during the whole “ordeal.”

    using bradley methods made my births so differnt than the hammered in cultural images. i felt strong and so connected to my husband who truly helped me to relax and encouraged me to do what my body was created for–giving birth.

  6. I definitely worry when I think about how popular culture is making all my fellow women of the world view natural, normal birth as only for “masochists, women who don’t shave their armpits and have children named Moon Flower”

    I do know that I definitely did grow up thinking that hospital births with pain meds were normal and the doctor was always right.

    I actually wrote a blog post about birth and culture and fear of birth at my own blog: http://anthrodoula.blogspot.com/2010/01/how-get-lowdown-on-birth-in-our-culture.html

  7. You hit the nail on the head. Why wouldn’t women be afraid of their ability to labor independently and successfully when the only behaviour that is modeled for them is of the “good” passive woman who does what the doctor tells her and the “bad” hippy woman who screams and flails about uncontrolably? I have a memory of a war movie in which a woman is giving birth in a tank or a submarine (for whatever reason) and even in THAT situation, the men know better than she does how to labor–she’s forced to lie down and put her feet up in two bandoliers suspended from the ceiling as stirrups. Just absolutely ridiculous.

  8. LOVE this post. I get so sad when I see pregnant women reading “what to expect” and “girlfriend’s guide”. As a doula, and pregnant with my 4th, I can stomach watching A Baby Story because I end up yelling at the TV, “Just let her get up and walk around and she’ll do fine!!”

  9. Amy, thank you so much for this post. In the past year or so, since my husband and I have been thinking more seriously about having children, this topic has been in the forefront of my mind. Like you mentioned, I watched too much of TLC’s ‘A Baby Story’ and honestly thought childbirth was all about screaming, pain and men telling you what to do.

    Two things have changed my entire perspective: Ricki Lake’s documentary ‘The Business of Being Born’ and the book ‘The Red Tent’. Both of these show the beauty of natural childbirth and the power of women. Additionally, after talking with MANY mommybloggers, I realize that this is the way I want to go. I’m strong and I’m excited to give birth the way my ancestors did.

    Thanks again. Loved this post.

    (Not even preggers yet…so it’s easy for me to say such things.)

  10. I’m sure my pregnancy and birth would have been ENTIRELY different if someone had given me a GOOD book, instead of giving me a BAD BAD BAD book when I first got knocked up.

    Ironically (or perhaps not) the friend who told me that I should read “A Girlfriend’s Guide” is a friend who smoked and drank the whole way through her pregnancy, and thought breastfeeding was disgusting. She also didn’t live with her kid, and was out partying half the nights of the week with me before I had a child. She was probably the last person in the world to be taking baby advice from, but I didn’t know any better. She was certainly the only person I had known in recent history to have had a baby. I was so terribly clueless.

    What I HAVE noticed though is that the movie Knocked Up is surprisingly natural birth friendly. The woman goes to great lengths to choose a provider who she’s comfortable with – she labors at home in a tub in a totally peaceful, relaxed environment instead of freaking out, and she refuses the cesarean that the hospital is trying to force on her. I think that movie has the potential to have sent some positive subliminal messages.

  11. Excellent article! Thanks for referencing my post on how to have an easier birth. It’s important that women understand the difference between REAL birth and HOLLYWOOD birth, and every time a thoughtful person speaks out on the issue, more women are likely to learn that there is an alternative to emergency childbirth. Keep up the good work!

  12. All that birth in pop culture does is motivate me to be as healthy as possible as I work towards a home birth with a midwife I trust on my terms. Scary or buffoonish scenarios are not what I visualize when I think about my baby being born.

  13. I definitely think that culture skews towards birth as disgusting and traumatic and excruciatingly painful. It disappoints me. I don’t find birth pleasurable, but it also was not the most agonizing experience of my life. And I didn’t go from having a normal conversation to being unable to stop screaming all of the sudden. But I guess my births wouldn’t be very exciting and/or funny. :(

  14. I used to watch “A Baby Story” religiously until I finally got to experience a Bradley Birth with my second baby. From my first birth to my fourth (a home birth), I’ve learned a lot about childbirth over the past ten years. These days, I cannot watch any so-called “birth” shows because, sadly, traumatic hospital births are a reality for women who simply don’t take the time and effort to educate themselves about their other options.

    I’m one of those “hippie” weirdos who loves birth, though. :P

  15. Okay, so… first let me say I’m due March 9 and am planning a natural birth. I agree with much of what you wrote. HOWEVER, I also have watched a lot of natural birth videos (for example: Orgasmic Birth) and THOSE PEOPLE OFTEN ARE FREAKS… even to me. I’m no normal person myself. No, I don’t want my whole family there when I give birth, and I don’t want beating drums, and I don’t want chanting. I’m sorry, but why can’t they ever show a normal woman having a natural birth? The majority of the women in my family have given birth naturally, and except for my mom and my mom in law, I never knew it. I assumed they had gotten drugs because they were normal people, and it seems, from all these natural birth videos, only weirdos have natural births. Sorry to be blunt, but that’s my experience.

    We can blame popular media for showing “normal” women having medicated births, but I think that the media that shows strange (by my account) women having “natural” birth is also to blame.

    When I stepped away from the media entirely, and spoke to my mom, mom in law, aunts and grandmothers, I realized that HEY these normal women had NATURAL births in the HOSPITAL. I don’t have to be at home with a goat being sacrificed (ok, that’s an extreme example, I admit.)

    When I first announced my pregnancy, I asked for positive hospital birth stories. And you know what? I got a LOT of responses from people who had a positive, natural experience in the hospital. Which is what I want.

    All in all, I wish I spent less time in my early pregnancy watching YouTube videos and reading blogs and worring about fighting with the hospital and doctor, and more time doing what I’m doing now: talking to people who actually live where I do and have given birth at my hospital, who had positive experiences. Talking to my doctor about my desires. My doctors and hospital are fully supportive of natural birth. Perhaps it’s because I live in a progressive area, but my hospital (Yale) is working to reduce their C-section rate, has an episiotomy rate of 5%, teaches VBAC classes and breastfeeding classes, and I’ve heard wonderful natural birth stories from many people who gave birth there. I wish I spent less time online reading about who knows where, and more time learning about the reality of my future birth.

    That’s my advice. GET OFFLINE, and away from the TV, and talk to real people.

  16. @abbie First off, congrats!

    If I may, I think that for the most part, when women *actively* seek out advice on pregnancy, childbirth, and babycare, they DO talk to real people (if they actually know people in real life who have those sorts of experiences, of course). But oftentimes, I think that pop culture has its most nefarious effects on a person’s views of birth when it affects a person’s subconscious. I know, it sounds a bit hokey.

    Sometimes I describe it as forming the “lens” through which a person views the world (and, in this case, birth). And it’s one thing to change a belief. It’s totally another to change the lens through which you view all of your beliefs. And this is why I think that creating more positive images of birth in popular culture could go a long way in changing people’s perceptions of birth–and for the better!

  17. Lovely post! I was just talking about how messed up our views of childbirth are these days, going back to when men decided women should lay flat on their backs to deliver their babies.

    I recently listened to an interview on NPR with Randi Hutter Epstein about her book on the flawed history of childbirth. It was very interesting and I really want to read the book: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=122805624

    This is one reason I want to get more involved with helping women during pregnancy, labor & delivery.

  18. Even if you don’t want to hear it, when people find out you are pregnant, the advice comes fast and furious. So I think it’s pretty much impossible to NOT talk to people about it. However, even having done that, I still came away with an impression that babies are born in hospitals and you should get the epidural. I don’t know anyone in my close and personal life who has had a home birth. Maybe that would have changed things for me.

    I do think pop culture has portrayed people who question doctors as “freaks.” I know a woman who suffered through hours of labor because her baby was stuck sideways and the OB had her hand up there trying to force him to turn. She said there was no way she would have gotten up on her back to try a new position, and I wondered why. If it might avoid hours of useless pushing, why stick with the traditional way if it’s obviously not working??

    There are plenty of women who, when presented with all the information, would still choose to deliver via planned c-section or epidural or whatever, and that’s great. It’s their choice. But I feel like I didn’t have all the info. And I wish there had been someone to tell me, “Take everything you read in What To Expect with a grain of salt. And read these other books too.”

  19. I definitely agree that popular culture impacts how we see birth. My first was an induction at 9 days late – I wish I had known to tell the doctor I insisted on one more day at least. He wanted to go on vacation; I would have been fine with one of his partners.

    My second was a necessary C-section. Likely saved my son’s life.

    My third I did some looking and found an OB willing to encourage VBAC. I was crushed and my OB was disappointed (she’d wanted the evening off) when I showed up at an appointment near my due date with the baby still breech and 3 cm dilated. She gave me exercises to try to turn the baby and instructions to show up at the hospital in several hours to see if we were doing a C-section. Such a pity more OBs aren’t trained to be comfortable with breech delivery!

    I ended up with the C-section. Disappointing, but also fascinating because I didn’t tell anyone that one of the lights gave me a perfect view of what was going on. Got to watch my baby girl being born at least!

  20. Thanks for the comment at PrettyBabies! I stopped by to see what you had to say, and clicked through to your guest post at Today. Great work. You said everything much more eloquently than I did, and with better research!

    Adding you to my RSS – nice to “meet” you!

  21. My LIFE changed when i watched The Business of Being Born, thanks Ricki! I had a completely natural childbirth and was blessed! The Bradley Method help so much that i plan on teaching it ASAP. It’s a shame our culture is so twisted on medical businesses. sad really.

  22. Your post is right on! What we are taught about birth, effects our birth. Sadly many women today are using The Baby Story as their Childbirth Education Classes.

    If moms take some time to learn about their choices and take an Independent Childbirth Class (not hospital based) or read GOOD books (not WTEWE) then they will be in a better position to have a positive birth experience which can empower them!

  23. I forgot to add that in Hypnobabies we explain to moms why NOT to watch those shows. Because it can and does effect them. So we encourage them to read and watch positive birth messages!

    I have over 200 positive birth stories and a lot of videos too at http://www.pregnancybirthandbabies.com


  24. It’s funny… I am sure I was influenced by all kinds of things before my first child, but I don’t remember what. I read and knew I wanted a natural birth. My husband wasn’t open to a homebirth for our first, but we both wanted all natural. I labored at home. Finally went to the hospital and was an 8. I was loving every minute of it. I had swallowed every one of the natural birth encouragements. I believed that the only beautiful birth was a natural birth. I had to have a c-section because of bone disorder I have. My dr. let me labor and even push because he knew how much I didn’t want a c-section. I refused to believe the info about my own body. I refused to believe that if a woman embraces the idea of a peaceful and natural birth she still might not have it. I refused to believe all the ‘nay sayers’ and ‘epidural junkies’. I can not tell you the disappointment and emotional trauma I suffered. Even when my second child came, I hoped I could still do it.

    I think childbirth is beautiful. I think a woman should not be scared of it. I think a woman should embrace the beauty of welcoming a pregnancy, carrying a baby and delivering a newborn. I think the medical profession doesn’t encourage any of that.

    I also believe the women who are trying to help other women embrace all of that are often intolerant and look down on women for having c-sections. They often aren’t even willing to know why and even if they are, they very often look at c-section havers as gullible and not enlightened enough or strong enough to have gone through with natural child birth.

    It makes me sad. Sad because I wanted it so badly. Sad because I couldn’t have it. Sad because these women compound my grief.

    My problem with the way our culture views childbirth is its flippant view of c-sections. Not because of the risks, but because it then starts affecting family size. Loving homes who might be willing to have more than 2-3 kids, get scared out of the sculls by the AMA on multiple c-sections. I know because I’ve had six and my doctor is beside himself. My husband simply can’t stand up the barrage of fear tactics we’ve been hit with so, if we want more children, we have to adopt and the financial burden with that is more than we can bear.

    I wish our culture would be more real in more than one way.

    I’m sorry this is so long. You hit a nerve and I’ve got an empty house tonight. ;-)

  25. Ah! That trailer made me so frustrated! I had a c-section that started out as a homebirth, and my (very very long) labor at home was WAY less dramatic than that homebirth scene. It was actually kind of boring, I think (I mean, not for me, but the handful of pictures of my midwives and husband demonstrate how chill everything was). I definitely think it’s these sorts of pop culture references that make people even more leery of homebirth–or even natural child birth!

  26. I am loving all this discussion about natural childbirth! I just went over to your Today Show post and mentioned how A Baby Story totally shaped my concept of birthing. After my VBAC, I was amazed at how smoothly everything went and how far a cry it was from the drama main stream media makes it out to be. I am now the mom of two daughters and am determined to provide them with realistic images and ideas about birth. I think a great way to do this would be to talk about their own birth stories. What would be great to see is not another medical drama but a show about midwives and doulas and birth advocates helping to bring babies into this world – and sure they could add in a hunky nurse for eye candy! Seriously, tho, thank you for these great posts.

  27. This is why I insisted on my other half watching hypnobirths on Youtube – to undo all the conditioning he had recieved regarding births. I would recommend every pregnant mother do the same and see what birth can be like.

    There is a show on in the UK where they have put cameras in a Delivery Suite – I’m not sure if this will work in the states but they have online playback here: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/one-born-every-minute/4od

    It is infuriating but compulsive viewing.

    Charlotte xx

  28. Great post – could not agree more! Media affects the culture strongly. I hope & pray that more people can see birth for what it really is, not a medical emergency.

  29. I saw the preview for the new Jennifer Lopez movie too and I was very disappointed that they took something so beautiful and made it into something so laughable and gross. I watched Baby Story a lot before I got pregnant, and then once I was the novelty sort of wore off. I was living the reality and didn’t feel the need to watch other people’s birth stories. Also, I became acutely aware that 90% of the births were hospital births and c-sections and I wanted to watch homebirth and natural birth footage. I’m not sure how I went from loving A Birth Story to wanting a home birth. But thankfully I did.

  30. Great post. The more we can all share REAL experiences of birth, the more people have some chances not to get all freaked out and fearful. When I gave birth it was such a POSITIVE (and intense) experience. Thanks to my husband, our preparation together, and our fantastic doula, it was one of the best body experiences of my life.

  31. I watched a lot of A Baby Story in the years before I got pregnant. My biggest take from that show was to wonder why women had to have hands up their hoo haw so damn much!

  32. I remember watching an episode of some legal show where the pregnant lawyer’s water broke and she immediately had the baby. That’s how I thought it would be for me.

    I was in a hospital with a doula and a midwife. The nurses were awesome and heeded my wishes to the nth degree. The pain, and the pushing, were pretty much everything I’ve seen on TV. Except for the pooping. No one talks about the pooping.

  33. I KNEW you would write a great post! Sorry it took me so long to read it!

    When I was taking hypnobirthing, my instructor gave me a large button to wear that said something like “Only Peaceful Birth Stories, Please!”

    She spoke to us a lot about tuning out the negative, scary stories of childbirth which permeate our culture…and she was so right.

    You did some great research here, too…can’t wait to explore all the links!

  34. Proud to say I had my first daughter at 21 years old and had no pain relief at all. I also had my oldest son and little daughter with no pain relief. My youngest I had at home all natural.
    I watched birth video’s before I had my first and was told about the pain, but said right from the start I want a natural birth.
    The midwifes followed my wishes. I am a strong person anyway and don’t show pain. They in fact where amazed at how well I coped with the pain.
    I think what is fed to us makes up our mind alot.
    Might I add I am a normal now 29 year old I shave my armpits. I was not to optimistic well I’ve done it 4 times what more can I say.
    Brilliant post.

  35. I really enjoyed this post! I couldn’t agree more that the way media and pop-culture portrays birth is very damaging. I would invite you and all the ladies who’ve commented here to check out the movie Laboring Under An Illusion: Mass Media Childbirth Vs. The Real Thing by Vicki Elson.

  36. Another “normal” homebirther here. Or, at least, I think (hope?) I’m normal. I shave my pits and legs too, like pretty handbags and take my kids to get happy meals every now and then. We’re not hippies. If anything, we fall under the umbrella of evil conservatives. :P

    I’ve heard some women were able to have lovely natural births in a hospital setting. Sadly, I was uninformed and had a negative hospital experience that put myself and my child in unnecessary danger. It was fear of repeating that process that led me to seek out other options. For baby #2, I sought out a qualified midwife and had the baby at home. Baby #3 will be born at home as well. Like many of you, I thought natural birth and home birth were things that granola eating hippy-ish freaks did. I never even considered it an option for my first. Fear of childbirth, as well as being told we should be compliant and that the doctor always knows best, permeate our culture and it’s hard to get past that sometimes.

  37. I’m hippieish in some ways, but very much not in others, and if I do have kids, I feel like natural is the way to go, from what I’ve read!
    My mom is definitely NOT a hippie, and she had all 4 of her kids naturally, from ’77-’86. After hearing all the epidural stories, she wondered if she was “stupid” for going the natural route, but actually, she was induced with most of us…and from what I’ve read, tearing is much less with natural births!

    I saw an episode of Frasier recently, from late in the series, and it was pregnancy-focused, with a doula and her coterie of drummers, chanters, etc played for laughs. Initially, a friend [?] convinces some clueless main characters that they need a doula, etc, but after watching part of a video that the doula has, the doula is kicked out, and the MC declares, “I’m going to have my baby in a hospital with drugs, the way God intended!”.
    Funny but sad.

    Great post.

  38. Grateful – I’m sorry to hear that you had such dissapointment in your births. I try to encourage women, to educate themselves and make good choices. If they end with a c-section, I hope that they have a good relationship with their DR, and were able to discuss things and it was for a good reason, and not because they were bullied or scared into it.
    At least you should be able to know that your baby came when it was ready, and was able to receive the benefits of laboring before coming by c-section. You should be proud of that, and of all your peparation. Perhaps your bith education helped with your preparation for parenting as well and was a benefit as well.
    Abby – I understand what you are saying, I think that sometimes once we get ‘into’ the birthy world all things natural become so ‘normal’ for us, that we often forget that others aren’t coming to it from the same perspective. I had a doula client ask me once if she “had to be naked to have a natural birth?” Of course not! I have had a difficult time as a Childbirth educator finding video of natural births in hospitals, (that are not horribly expensive). Perhaps it is because it can be very difficult with hospital policy, and common medical practice to be able to achieve a natural birth in a hospital in some areas. I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently – I feel like I am setting my students up for ‘failure’, since I know that the things in the video’s I show are not very realistic or possible in the hospitals in our state/area. I am concerend with how to help them. I try my best to encourage them to educate themselves, and to find a care provider who will agree to work with them on the things they desire for their birth. I show them the video’s like Gentle Birth Choices, and just say things like, “I’m not showing you this to try to push you to have an out of hospital birth, etc… but to show you what Normal natural birth looks like.”

  39. I am a birth doula, and have the fortunate opportunity to see real births first hand. I am extremely passionate about educating women about their bodies and what birth is really like. It is true that the media has warped birth into a terrifying thing, which is unfortunate. The key to diminishing fear of childbirth is EDUCATION. PLEASE, women, FIND OUT the realy story on c-sections, epidurals, inductions, pitocin, etc. etc. etc. The natural births I have attened, as well as the 2 natural births I experienced myself were peaceful, calm, wonderful experiences, even though there were times that were trying during those births. Childbirth is 100% managable if you PREPARE yourself! Please take childbirthing classes, enlist your partner (husband, boyfriend, mom or sister) and let them know how much their help will mean to them if they are educated as well. Thank you for this article, I hope it opens some eyes. Birth is beautiful!! check out http://www.childbirthconnection.org to see some actual researched based articles on different aspects of labor and birth.

  40. Fantastic post! After 6 vaginal births (including twins) I can say that my birth process truly evolved with each one. I started out watching Baby Story and reading all the mainstream books and although I was fortunate to have vaginal deliveries they were completely controlled by medical staff and somewhat scary and I felt helpless. By the time I had been through it a few times I learned I could call the shots and had some amazing natural births.

  41. I only wish I’d be as informed as I am now when I gave birth to my daughter (emergency c-section). I went in to be induced and I was already in labour – they gave me pitocin anyway. I think that may have caused us to go down the c-section path and cause early breastfeeding problems. We battled through the early days of breastfeeding and had a wonderful breastfeeding relationship, but I never really felt like I actually gave birth.

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