Saturday, April 9, 2011

Unreality TV

A friend of mine, and a fellow blogger, recently wrote about labor. About what she expected it to be like, and about how much it wasn't at all like what she thought it would be. And about why she expected it to be so.

Which made me chuckle a little.

It made me remember how I used to torture myself the same way that she did, even after I knew better. How I'd sit and watch those tv programs about pregnancy and labor. How I'd be on the edge of my seat as the mother started to feel the first twinges of pains, how I'd wait through the commercial breaks to see if the baby was okay.

Most women know which shows I am talking about. The ones with the cheesy music and the creative camera angles and the requisite drama in every episode. Those ones.

Here's the thing. Those shows are just that. Shows. Real labor isn't like that at all, even though the shows supposedly are portraying real life. They aren't. They are heavily edited real life, which isn't real life at all.

How do I know? I mean, aside from being a mother who has birthed four children and a doula who has witnessed the births of many more? Well, I know first hand, actually. I was taped for one of those shows.

When I was in labor with Ashley, they were filming Maternity Ward at the hospital I delivered at. I wasn't so much in labor as refusing to leave the hospital until the baby came out, truth be told. I'd been contracting all night and I knew that if I left, labor would fully kick in at any moment, and that when it did, I'd have to be at the hospital already or I'd be giving birth on my bedroom floor or in the car, neither of which sounded appealing.

I'm known for fast labors with insane progression and almost no time pushing. When a baby wants to come out of me, it wants out now.

So, given my history, the doctor opted to keep me there and break my water since that was safer than the alternative. Of course, I was deemed high risk since I had gestational diabetes (diet controlled) and she was a little less than a month early. Que up the dramatic music...will this mother get through labor safely? Will the baby be okay?

I was settling in to my room and not particularly uncomfortable when the producer for the show came in. He was all excited, since my labor was sure to be a dramatic one. With risks and speed, it had to be, right? For some reason I don't fully understand, I agreed to let them film me. Maybe deep down I knew that the shows were misleading and maybe, just maybe my labor could help communicate more reality in their show. Who knows?

The doctor broke my water and not much happened. They hooked me up to pitocin (the devil's contractor, I call it), and within mere seconds full blown labor arrived. I was talked into sitting on the birth ball and was managing the contractions fine. Never mind my friend sitting in the corner eating a sandwich and Tom doing squats at the foot of the bed to make me laugh...they sure weren't helping, those two.

After a short while, the contractions got stronger and closer together. I was still fine. I warned the nurse to prep the room and she looked at me like I was crazy. Then she checked me. And then she believed me. Asked if I needed any pain medication. Nope. Even on pitocin, she asked? Nope.

Chaos ensued. The doctors and nurses came in, the techs prepped all the stuff, the transformer bed transformed and in came the camera crew. At some point, my parents arrived and were trapped in the room by the onslaught of other people. Plus, I'd drawn a crowd. Every free nurse on the floor was peeking her head in the door. It's not every day you see a mom on pitocin go without an epidural.

I remember telling them to hurry up. The baby was coming, and I wasn't waiting to push. I was breathing and talking and not freaking out. I did yell/scream that one time, when she crowned, but that was about it. She was fine, though they took her to the NICU because of her gestational age for observation. I was fine.

Later that day, the producer came in and broke the news. I wasn't going to make the show. Though I'd had great potential, I hadn't come through for them. I didn't scream and carry on like a woman without an epidural was supposed to. I didn't have birth trauma, and the baby was fine. I had a fairly uneventful labor, and apparently that isn't tv worthy.

Normal isn't worth watching, at least not in the eyes of the producers. By extension, the only stories that make it on to those shows are the ones that aren't normal. Think about the ramifications of that for our generation of women, those who have sat and watched these shows with our first babies thinking they would tell us what to expect.

So, to all the women out there watching these shows now, keep my story in mind. The shows aren't really an accurate picture of reality. Normal and uneventful aren't exciting enough to make the cut. It's no wonder most women go into labor nervous and scared. When you look at how it is portrayed as compared to how it really is, there is a huge disparity.

Reality isn't exactly reality. I know, first hand.

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