She’s screaming! She’s crying! OMG, can’t you see…SHE’S HAVING A BABY? Her water just broke, because of course that has to happen on screen. And, oh no, something’s wrong. The doctor has to save the baby!
You get the point. Baby movies are funny and weird. They take on one of life’s most difficult roles and present it in an entertaining way. I love baby movies. Each time I got pregnant I broke them all out: Look Who’s Talking, She’s Having a Baby, 9 Months, even Home Fries.
Despite the cute moments and all the laughs, these movies make labor just one big scream fest. Women panting and crunching a man’s hand until he squeals and runs away. It’s entertaining, but having had four kids at home, I don’t often see positive birth experiences in movies.
Realism Versus Tension
It’s difficult to capture the full birthing experience in a 90-minute comedy, or even a long drawn-out drama, but Hollywood’s obsession with creating as much tension as possible in a story has pushed having a baby into caricature territory.
Basically all movies, with the exception of a small few, tend to portray childbirth as just a bunch of hysterics. It usually seems scary or terrible, because it draws more emotion from the audience.
But this does women a bit of a disservice. I was in labor for about six hours for each of my children. During that period I never laid on my back sweating and panting like a dog. I was up walking and dancing. When contractions came, I either laid on my side or got on all fours and propped my arms on the couch for support.
Laying on your back during labor is incredibly bad for your spine and doesn’t open the body up like squatting does. And I know Hollywood loves to standardize everything, but seeing a woman try to balance and push out a baby in this position is pretty hilarious. Even I was laughing afterward.
The Few That Get It Right Still Don’t Get It
I was pretty impressed with the birthing scene in A Quiet Place. Then again, I was overall impressed with that movie. But honestly, the idea of a silent birth is pretty insane. I know some women do it for religious or cultural reasons, but most of us need to at least breathe out in deep low tones to relieve some of the cramping that comes with labor.
Children of Men is another film that presented birth as an uplifting, beautiful experience. In this story (book and film), everyone has become infertile and no woman has given birth in 18 years. The movie depicts war and dangers everywhere. The main character Theo’s entire task is to safely smuggle a mother, Kee, away from all the chaos so she can raise her baby without everyone intervening.
He coaches her and delivers the baby in one of the most moving scenes known to film. But even so, again, the mother is laying on her back and scared. I give this scene some slack because the story is so different and the scenario is very realistic. Neither of the people involved know what to do. So it makes sense.
Then there’s Apocalypto. People thought this was so realistic that many fans believed the birth was real. The mother gives birth in water and bears down naturally. It’s such a short scene that if it were played in slow motion it would probably be more true to life, but again, there’s only so much time in a movie. Even taking this into account, with the mother listening to her body and doing everything that naturally comes to her, it’s probably one of the most accurate scenes in regards to how a mother behaves. Except, for the part that she’s trapped in a hole rapidly filling with water so she literally had her son sitting on her shoulders as she pushed her second child out. (In a normal scenario, when you’re in labor, you don’t want anyone touching you. Even the weight of your clothes is too much.)
What Mothers Want
Baby movies are compelling and often fun. Even with the outlandish antics, we like to get in the mood for having a baby. Unfortunately with most birthing scenes depicting horrible experiences, they can be discouraging.
There’s nothing wrong with fearing pain, or depicting some of it, but expectant mothers need to know that giving birth is not a television drama. The contractions eventually end, and they’re followed by a beautiful little bundle of hope.
The love that comes from snuggling with your baby after birth is something the movies do get right. Watching Kristie Alley talk to her son in Look Who’s Talking is one of the most heartwarming moments in film. Kevin Bacon’s relief when he finds out his wife and son are fine after a rough birth brings tears to our eyes. When Hugh Grant dances his baby to sleep at the end of 9 Months, every mother happily sighs.
We need more of that. It would be so easy to show moms reading to their baby bumps, or singing off-key because they can’t get enough of the kicks they feel when they belt out a flat note. For now, we have to settle for what we’ve got, but there’s always the hope that positive birthing experiences will grace more films in the future.
Movies aren’t real life. When directors, producers, and actors try to pretend that they made a realistic birthing scene, I expect to see something that embodies the true spirit of having a baby. The screaming and crying and emergency C-sections do happen sometimes, but they’re not the true focus of pregnancy and childbirth. Working to get the baby out and be a good parent is conflict enough for any story.
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