Pregnancy and birth

One Born Every Minute

I’m sure most people will have heard of this TV programme – I think there have been series filmed in the UK, New Zealand, and the USA. In case you don’t know what I’m on about, it’s a documentary series filmed in a maternity hospital, with each episode typically following the birth story of two or three couples.

I’d known about this programme in the past, but had never been remotely interested in watching it (to be honest, I couldn’t think of many things that I would have wanted to watch less). And since being pregnant, the most recent UK series has screened on TV here, leading a few people to ask me if I’d seen it and, in most cases, warn me off it.

The negative comments I heard about the programme seemed to fall into three categories:

  1. “It’s like a Jeremy Kyle episode filmed at a maternity hospital”;
  2. “The women all carry on like banshees, shrieking and wailing, which must be horrible for the other people in the hospital and must mean that their babies are born in a terrible, traumatic environment – it’s awful”; and
  3. “The women are all forced to give birth flat on their backs, with masses of intervention – it’s an appalling advertisement for the birth experience”.

At least two of these dire warnings came from, amongst other sources, our antenatal teacher. She was a nice woman, but to describe her charitably I’d say that she was slightly pointless. Some of the things she did that didn’t really work for me included:

  • Spending the first few minutes of the first session telling us how amazing it was to deliver her two daughters in drug-free home births, even though she was talking to a room full of people having twins: people who opt for home births for twins are slightly more comfortable with risk than those of us in the ‘normal’ spectrum, to put it mildly (to put it bluntly, people who opt for home births for twins are, in my opinion, absolute nutters who are recklessly endangering their unborn children’s lives for the sake of their own experience – the likelihood of the second twin getting into difficulties are pretty high during vaginal births, and the speed with which any complications can become life-threatening is extremely rapid indeed). Twin home births are considered so dangerous by most people that it’s actually incredibly difficult to find a midwife who will agree to take part – and this is amazing in itself, considering many NZ midwives’ devotion to drug-free home births.
  • Telling us that, as her two daughters were only 18 months apart in age, it was practically the same as having twins. [insert dry chuckle from parents of twins]
  • Telling us about our drug options during birth, including epidurals, but saying more than once that epidurals can cause problems during birth, slow down the process, etc. And then telling us that, as women having twins, we’ll have little choice but to have epidurals. OK…
  • Showing us a DVD about how to settle a baby and help it to go to sleep – one baby. When I then asked her what I thought was a fairly reasonble and unsurprising question – how would this work when dealing with two babies (for example, would you be best advised to settle an ‘easy’ baby first and then focus on a more restless baby, or would the reverse strategy work better), she said that she really didn’t have any idea and that we’d just have to figure it out. I kind of thought that the purpose of antenatal classes was to receive some kind of practical guidance, but never mind.

Anyway, I’ve digressed. To recap: I’d been told that One Born Every Minute featured a horde of chavvy scumbags who screamed a lot and gave birth while virtually strapped to their beds. But then I actually watched the programme while I was hanging out in my hotel room in Wellington, a few weeks ago, and I realised that it wasn’t really anything like I’d been led to believe.

For one thing, the whole ‘Jeremy Kyle’ accusation is a bit wide of the mark, and – in my opinion – has more to do with people assuming that people with Northern English accents are all uneducated benefit-scroungers. I’ve now watched four episodes, and I think that there have been a couple of Jeremy Kyle-esque women featured: a 17 year old who was a bit peeved that she wasn’t able to go out for a cigarette during labour (and who flatly refused to let anybody perform an internal examination on her during her labour, which made things somewhat challenging for the staff), and another teenager who had got knocked up to her on again, off again drug dealer teenaged boyfriend. But the other women I’ve seen on these episodes have been much more mainstream: in their 20s or 30s, with jobs and in stable relationships.

And the thing about the women being forced to stay on their backs through the birth and accept loads of medical intervention also hasn’t been evident in the episodes I’ve seen – the women have had water births, been on all fours, have walked around in between contractions, and certainly haven’t been restricted to the bed until foetal monitoring has required it. I guess that some birth ‘activists’ might describe foetal monitoring as ‘unnecessary medical intervention’, but it seems to me to be fairly sensible.

One thing that has surprised me has been the number of women who have chosen not to have epidurals, or who have very begrudgingly had an epidural but made it clear that they feel like they’re ‘cheating’ and not really experiencing birth in all its hellish glory (and the only instance I’ve seen of staff on the programme urging a woman to strongly consider an epidural was when a woman was giving birth to twins – this is because it is, apparently, excrutiatingly painful if the second twin has to be manually shifted into position, as so often is the case. Unfortunately, the woman in question was one of the ‘I’ll be cheating if I have an epidural’ brigade and took so long to say yes that it was too late for her to have one. The scenes where the doctor had to pretty much put one hand in to elbow depth in order to get the second twin out before it died from oxygen deprivation are now burned on my brain – if I have a natural birth, I will be demanding my epidural as soon as we arrive in the hospital foyer).

I believe that women should be welcome to choose a drug-free birth if that’s what floats their boat, but I’m buggered if I can understand the rationale behind deliberately choosing to go through an incredibly painful physical experience without taking advantage of the miracles of modern drugs. Would these people also have a wisdom tooth extracted without pain relief, or get an appendix removed? It might just be that I’m a wuss, but I thank God every day that I live in an era where safe pain relief is freely available.

The point that has annoyed me most, however, is the criticism of women who have made a lot of noise during their labour. On this point it seems that I’m in the same camp as the natural labour crew. I can understand the argument that, by making a lot of noise and expressing pain, a woman in labour might freak out other women who are waiting to give birth, but really – is that the woman in labour’s problem? Would soundproofing the rooms more effectively enable everybody to make as much or as little noise as they wanted, without feeling judged or restricted? And I don’t buy the whole ‘how distressing for a baby, to be born into that environment’ line, either. After all, the woman has stopped making a big noise by the time the baby emerges.

What really annoys me about all of this is the idea that there is a ‘right’ way to deliver, and that we should judge women and criticise them as mothers even before they’ve delivered their child. You’re ‘cheating’ if you have an epidural. You’re ‘distressing other women and probably traumatising your baby’ if you react to a really painful experience by making noise. All I can say is this: if I give birth naturally, best of luck to the first person who tries to tell me to keep the noise down.

Anyway, I like this programme. It’s really touching to see the parents’ reaction when their children are born, and it makes me even more excited at the prospect of meeting my two children in a few weeks’ time. And it makes me wonder whether it’s worth running a sweepstake on who will cry the most: Tristan or me.

8 thoughts on “One Born Every Minute

  1. I can’t watch it without a box of tissues beside me. Bloody hormones have me absolutely bawling most episodes. I have mixed opinions on it but every birth and every labouring woman is different so it’s just one of those things that you can’t put in a nice square box. The one where they broke the babys arm was a huge eye opener for me and overall its given me a lot to think about for my own birth – mostly that i must pack a little bag of things for Dave to do!
    The epidural thing got me a bit mad though – if you’re giving birth with an epidural its not less of an experience. You still give birth to a whole baby. If it hurts I’m all for an epidural, I’m there for a birth not to become a martyr. That twin birth was a bit rough, I don’t think she should have had a choice about the epidural if she was going to have to have a vaginal birth.
    My dad actually told my mother not to make so much noise when I was being born. Talk about a death wish!

    1. Blimey! Your Dad was either very brave, or extremely foolhardy!

      I agree, Steph – the tendency of women to view childbirth as an opportunity to be a martyr is strange to me. I don’t fully understand how people end up with that attitude towards childbirth – maybe they watched Gone With The Wind too many times and think that childbirth should be like what Melanie Wilkes experienced?!

      As far as keeping partners occupied goes (because I agree with you that the men often seem to be hanging around, being unproductive), Tristan and I have talked recently about, rather than having a birth plan (for how the birth itself ‘should’ go), we’re more likely to have a post-birth plan, which will involve all the things that he needs to take care of after the babies arrive and I’m in recovery mode – stuff like wrangling the lactation consultant to come and see me as soon as possible, calling our health insurer to add the babies to our policy straight away, contacting friends and family with our news, etc etc…

      1. A post-birth plan sounds brilliant. I have no idea how much of birth will go as we planned it and frankly I have little idea what to expect this early – it might be breech and ruin all my plans and I’d rather not set myself up for disappointment if I have a concrete plan that doesn’t happen. But yes, Dave knowing what his role is aftrwards will help us all out. Also very important – learning to install the carseat(s) and fold the stroller up and down as early as possible – both parents!

  2. I absolutely love this show – not the American version though – but I’ve seen two season of the UK version and yes, you get all sorts. It never fails to make me cry – and I love, love, LOVE newborn babies.
    I read lots of blogs and some of them feature women who are pregnant. It frightens me when I hear them say that they believe that natural births are the way to go and it’s all in the mind set. I was extremely lucky to have three natural, complication free births without drugs (amazingly, as I’m am an absolute wuss). But, every birth is different and you just never know what will happen. Like I told a friend one day who was distressed over her C section – you get pregnant to have a baby, not just to give birth. I think it’s important to go in with a birth plan but to understand that everything can change in an instant and it’s best to go with the flow.
    Me personally, I wanted oil burners, relaxing music, lots of massage. When I got there I couldn’t stand smells, noise or anyone touching me…..
    Every birth is a miracle and every baby is an absolute joy….

    1. Your poor friend! I also had a friend recently who was intending to have a water birth in hospital with her third child (which is what she had with her second child, and which went really well that time) – this time, she ended up having to try with a forceps delivery, and then the baby got stuck and she went on to have an emergency c-section. When she told people on Facebook at least one of her friends commented how sorry they were that the birth went ‘wrong’, which really annoyed me – there is a perfectly healthy baby in the world now, and my friend made it through safely as well: that’s an awesome result!

      My little sister delivered both of her children without epidurals (although, with her second one, I seem to remember that it was because things progressed so quickly that they didn’t get time to give her one) – if I was having one baby, I think I’d be inclined to see how it all went and decide from there.

      I’ve read that some women actuallly end up depressed after their birth, if their birth plan doesn’t work out and they have to accept more intervention than they anticipated. I find that really sad and I wish that these women were getting better advice about what’s important in all of this: getting a healthy, live baby out!

  3. Every midwife/doula I have encountered so far absolutely hates and reviles ‘One Born’ saying it’s doing a world of harm for the “birthing experience”. ( I should point out that a lot of these people are pro-placenta smoothies though… uh-huh, my thoughts exactly!)
    The main argument seems to be that because it’s a TV show, then tend to problem or complicated births – because that is good TV. If there is a ‘normal’ uncomplicated birth, it gets glossed over pretty quickly because that is regarded as uninteresting for the public to watch. I watched all of the last series and was always in tears when the baby finally arrived but must agree, a lot of the births shown were problematic in one way or another, or felt exploitative in as much as, if a woman was losing it from the pain, the midwives didn’t seem very sympathetic.
    I like to hope I’m a realist. I am quite taken with the idea of a home birth but only after attending a talk on it and establishing quite firmly that: (a) at the first chance of something being wrong I get whipped into hospital (which is the way they operate anyway) and (b) if I’m screaming for an epidural at 3cm, I’m not going to be judged by pro-home birth midwives and will be taken very seriously!
    I agree with the comment above – every birth is different and what women ‘should’ and ‘should not’ agree too is too often the argument, whereas we are all individuals and I say, whatever works so that Mum and Baby come through unscathed is the right thing to focus on. And if that means screaming the roof down – as long as it doesn’t completely knacker your vocal chords, if it feels right – go for it! I’m also planning the oil burners, relaxing music and lots of massage…. and have a funny feeling I may also end up telling the world to ‘f off and leave me alone’ when the time comes. And I have NO QUALMS with agreeing to a C section if there is any danger that Thumper is in trouble.
    Here’s to safe deliveries all round, however they turn out! x

    PS. why is your antenatal lady taking a class on twins?! She sounds utterly useless!

    1. The thing that’s really struck me with the programme is how often women are begging for an epidural when it’s far too late to give one – there seems to be some general lack of understanding about how it all works and when an epidural can be administered.

      I think that you’re absolutely a realist about a home birth – after all, lots of people do manage it and find it to be an incredibly rewarding experience, but I agree that it’s crucial that a) you’re ready to race to hospital if things get tricky, and b) you’re being tended to by a midwife or doula with the good sense to recognise quickly if things are, in fact, getting tricky!

      God only knows why our antenatal teacher is teaching twin classes. I suspect that they don’t actually have any antenatal teachers who have had twins themselves. The awesome president of our multiple birth club has been involved in twin antenatal classes in the past, but this time round the teacher told us that the president ‘wasn’t available’ – and we later learned that the president hadn’t even been told that the classes were taking place! Hmmmm!

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