Kourtney Kardashian: Inspiring Women with her Zen-like Childbirth?

Two weeks ago I wrote about the way childbirth is generally portrayed, even mocked, in popular culture and how that often negatively colors women’s beliefs about birth. Sunday, however, on the season finale of the E! network reality show Keeping Up With The Kardashians, surprisingly, amazingly labor and birth were shown in a largely positive light. In the episode, which had a record 4.8 million viewers, Kourtney Kardashian, 30, calmly gave birth to her first child Mason Dash Disick (born on Dec. 14, 2009).

I have to admit I don’t actually watch the Kardashians, but thanks to Jezebel, I was able to watch some clips from the episode. (Go watch. I’ll wait.) My friend Denise, who blogs at Eat Play Love, told me that she saw the whole episode and said, “I have to admit for the K-women coming off as such primadonnas the episode/birth was shown in a great way. I was shocked.”

Instead of the typical Hollywood water-breaking all over the floor in one big “sploosh!” followed by the frantic Oh-my-God-I’m-freaking-out-and-have-to-get-to-the-hospital-RIGHT-NOW, after Kourtney’s water broke and was shown(!) slowly trickling out onto the floor, she was totally calm, did some laundry, said she needed to shave, took a shower and put on make-up all before going to the hospital. A reality TV show actually showing reality? Wow!

Then there was the birth scene at the hospital, which appeared very serene. Kourtney was surrounded by her family who all looked on in awe as baby Mason was born. She appeared very calm, even zen-like. Once the baby was half way out, the doctor asked Kourtney if she wanted to grab him and she did. She reached down between her legs and pulled her baby right out of her vagina and onto her chest. It was amazingly peaceful and really quite beautiful.

Of course that had to be followed by some commentary from her sister Khloe saying, “that’s not normal.” But uh, yeah, actually it is. That’s what normal birth can look like.

Photo credit: The Unnecesarean

I can’t find any information about whether Kourtney received an epidural or gave birth unmedicated, but she certainly looks very zen in the video. She said in this interview about labor, “It was surprisingly easy and just an incredible experience. I always thought your first is supposed to be really hard, but it was easy.”

Regardless of whether or not she had an epidural, the fact that E! showed (millions!) what a normal, peaceful birth can look like is seriously huge, especially when you consider the demographic watching this show. According to this LA Times article, “Kardashian viewers tend to be single, college-educated women with no children, white-collar jobs and annual salaries of more than $60,000.” Keeping Up With The Kardashians “is the highest-rated series on cable among women ages 18 to 34.”

The Unnecesarean had this to say:

Kourtney Kardashian and E! showing a generation of young women someone reaching down and pulling their baby out of their vagina was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time. Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles has gained a reputation as the celebrity c-section center, but there’s some mother-friendly stuff going on in the clips on Jezebel.

I didn’t watch the whole episode, but I smiled at the clip of her water breaking. When do you ever see that televised beyond the ridiculous images of actors having a gallon of water dumped between their legs, then instantly doubling over with contractions and being rushed down the hall to L&D on a gurney?

Momotics said Kourtney Kardashian renewed her “faith in birth.”

I was SO impressed to see Kourtney so calm, and cool while giving birth to her son Mason who was born in December. It seems like Hollywood has had a huge rash of scheduled cesareans, inductions, and over all just horribly medicalized births and this was just a huge refresh to the Hollywood natural birth stigma.

Carla Fran from Millicent and Carla Fran calls Kourtney “awesome.”

I cannot believe, I repeat, I cannot believe that the Kardashians are paving the way for positive images of childbirth. Last night’s finale showed Kourtney Kardashian going into labor, and pretty much backing up what doulas, Rikki Lake, and your friendly neighborhood midwife have been saying all along.

This finale is tremendous because of the audience the show has. If young girls see pop icons like Kourtney Kardashian having this kind of birth experience, their expectation of the event in their own lives is changed. I hope an entire generation of people saw this and thought “I didn’t know it could be like that.”

It would seem that’s exactly what some women thought. Here are a few of the comments on the Jezebel blog:

  • Kali Mama: “While am all for freedom of choice and choosing your own birth plan, big props for girlfriend not being too posh to push. No elective c-sections or nothing.”
  • Doyouloveit: “For years I’ve been chanting that I will get a C-section if I ever procreate, ‘Knock me completely out! I want to wake up like it’s Christmas morning with a baby under the tree!’
    But wow! Kourtney was really inspiring! Why can’t it always be shown this beautifully? Great documentary film making, Keeping Up With The Kardashians!”
  • Lilspitfire: “I am not a big fan of reality TV but the way they showed childbirth in this episode was nothing but positive.”
  • La Madrugada: “Okay, as someone who’s going to give birth to her first kid in a month and a half, I have to say, this is AWESOME. I’m not a huge fan of this show, but seeing a woman laughing and relaxed while in labor is extremely cool.”
  • Gra: “I have never given birth and therefore had NO IDEA that this was even possible. Its weird to realize that everything I know about labor and birth is based on what I’ve seen in the movies.”
  • Hotpants McGee: “It’s so crazy to say this, but I think I learned something from a Kardashian! Kourt was AMAZING. I had no idea you could just pull it out! I still can’t believe it. She could have just stayed home and done it all by herself!”

Yep, the Kardashians are changing the way women view birth – for the better. Who woulda thunk it?

Cross-posed on BlogHer

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For Better or For Worse? Childbirth in Popular Culture

After watching the live cesarean birth on the TODAY show last week and then the commercial for Jennifer Lopez’s new movie The Back-Up Plan during the Superbowl*, I’ve been thinking a lot about the way childbirth is portrayed in popular culture – on TV and in the movies – and how that influences us. In a perfect world I’d like to believe that women (and men) would learn about childbirth from reading books and websites and talking to their care provider (doctor or midwife), to a doula, to their mother, aunts and friends, but the truth is that unless ya live under a rock, women (and men) also learn about childbirth every time they are bombarded with images on TV and in the movies that depict childbirth as something scary, painful and out of control. Whether we want to believe it or not, our perceptions of birth are bound to be influenced – for better or for worse – by what we view and hear in popular culture.

Movie: The Back-Up Plan, photo credit: Jezebel

On Rixa’s blog Stand and Deliver she lists 61 film clips she compiled for a conference presentation about depictions of childbirth in cinema. That’s just movie clips. Think about all of the episodes of A Baby Story, or ER and many other TV shows where women are giving birth. Each one further reinforces popular culture’s birthing stereotypes.

Birthing Beautiful Ideas believes:

it’s pretty foolish to dismiss the effects that popular culture has on a woman’s beliefs and decisions about pregnancy and childbirth. In fact, I would venture to say that these effects are pretty widespread. Of course, I’m not saying many of us literally turn to pop culture when we’re deciding whether or not to consent to an episiotomy or to request pain medication in labor or to choose one care provider over another. That would be stupid, right? But that doesn’t mean that what we see on television or read in a (non-birth-related) book or watch in a movie has no effect at all on our thoughts about pregnancy and childbirth. Quite the contrary, in fact.

Because every time a woman reads that she “won’t be able to make it without an epidural”…

…every time she sees natural childbirth portrayed as something only for hippies and freaks…

…every time she sees a movie in which birth is a crisis or a catastrophe or a comedy of errors in which the mom is a crazed, expletive-hurling woman who is seriously out of control…

…those images and words start to affect the way she thinks about birth in general, and they may even have an effect on her specific beliefs about birth.

She goes on to give a real-life example (a positive example) of how a TV show changed her beliefs about birth. She describes an episode of Sex and the City where Miranda gives birth. Miranda asks Carrie to be there for the birth and tells her that when it’s time to push, she doesn’t want everybody getting all “cheerleader-y” on her and shouting “PUSH! PUSH! and shit like that.” She said that when she saw that scene, “it signaled a major change in the way I thought about how I was going to give birth some day.” Her birth paradigm shifted and she believes she has the ladies of Sex and the City to thank for that. She’s currently a doula and future lactation educator who’s working on a PhD in philosophy.

Not all examples of how popular culture influences women are as positive though.

Heather from A Mama’s Blog told me that watching TLC’s A Baby Story – which she described as “high drama” and ending more often than not in a c-section – “seriously warped” her view of childbirth.

The Feminist Breeder said:

When I first found myself pregnant, I was just like the vast majority of pregnant American women who never get truly informed about the birth process, and instead spend their pregnancies watching “A Baby Story” and reading Jenny McCarthy books. I got my hands on “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy” by Vicki Iovine, which told me that Lamaze was useless, as were all other birthing classes, and what I really needed to focus on was how quickly I could get the epidural.

Yeah — I got the epidural. The epidural that only went down half my body, that caused me uncontrollable shaking, that shut down my labor, that necessitated more pitocin, which put my baby in distress, which then necessitated a nice, traumatic cesarean surgery. Yep. That epidural.

Honey B., in her post Childbirth: Hollywood’s Take, wrote that after year of watching A Baby Story, 18 Kids and Counting, Knocked Up, Four Christmases, etc., she realized how much of what she thought she knew about childbirth was based on TV. She then shares sarcastically all that Hollywood taught her about birth. (The descriptions are longer on her blog.)

Natural Birth: The choice of masochists, women who don’t shave their armpits and have children named Moon Flower, and optimistic first-time mothers who don’t know any better. (My note: Case in point, The Back-Up Plan‘s home birth scene)

Birth with Epidural: This is the smart woman’s choice. This is what she does for the second birth, after going through the above ‘Natural Birth’.

C-Section (Emergent): These are completely normal, and happen all. the. time. And the doctor always knows best.

C-Section (Planned): This is the choice of the truly enlightened woman, the Real Housewives of Orange County type who view pregnancy as an invasion of their body. (My note: Perhaps this is why, according to the most recent data available (from 2006), the United States’ c-section rate was 31.1%, ranging from 21.5% in Utah all the way up to 37.4% in New Jersey. The World Health Organization actually recommends that the cesarean section rate should not be higher than 10% to 15%. When the rate is higher than 15% there is some research which shows it results in more harm than good. But who wants to talk about that in movies?)

Mallory who blogs at Pop Culture believes, “Childbirth in Hollywood movies is from a male perspective; rarely does childbirth show angles from the female viewpoint during the actual birthing.

We show killings, bombings, shootings, rapes and torture in movies, so why not show a woman giving birth accurately? Is it really that obscene and disgusting?”

Naomi, a birth doula, wrote her top 10 suggestions for an easier birth. Number two is “Prepare for an easier birth, now!” She cautions:

Don’t watch A Baby Story! Instead (if you are interested in watching birth videos), watch movies like The Business of Being Born, Orgasmic Birth, Pregnant in America, Water Birth, Special Women, and normal birth videos on YouTube which represent birth as it usually is. TV specials on birth are designed and promoted to offer drama and attract viewers, not to support women preparing for birth.

I also want to add What Babies Want and Birth Into Being to that list.

Teba told me that her sister was there when she had a home birth two months ago. “She said after seeing birth in movies she never imagined it could be so peaceful.”

That’s just it. Birth can be peaceful. It doesn’t have to be a hysterical emergency, but as a result of popular culture, most women are never exposed to anything that suggests a peaceful birth is even a possibility.

How has popular culture affected your beliefs and decisions surrounding childbirth?
* I didn’t actually watch the Superbowl, but have Lynn to thank for telling me about The Back-Up Plan commercial.

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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