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:
- “It’s like a Jeremy Kyle episode filmed at a maternity hospital”;
- “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
- “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.