Jackass comes with that disclaimer. Even exercise videos warn you to consult your physician before doing a few stomach crunches. Lifetime’s new oh-no-they-didn’t reality show feels no such responsibility. New mom for the third time Audrey trumpets her cause with such reckless statements about how 150 years ago we gave birth at home until hospitals came along with their unnatural interventions and sterilized birthing rooms you’d think Lifetime would override her statements with a few captions. Like how 150 years ago so many women and infants died in childbirth, hospital intervention became somewhat of a necessity for millions. This little tidbit, from ahundredyearsago.com:
In the early 1900’s most births were at home—and the births and deaths of babies who were stillborn or died shortly after birth were often not recorded. Only 7 states calculated a neonatal mortality rate back then, but fortunately Pennsylvania—where Grandma lived– was one of those states. Pennsylvania’s neonatal mortality rate a hundred years ago was 140 deaths per thousand births which was about average for the states that calculated the rate. Today the rate is 5 neonatal deaths per thousand births. As it was a hundred years ago—Pennsylvania is still a typical state near the median of all states. Likewise the infant mortality rate was much higher a hundred years ago than now. Back then 150 infants per 1,000 births died in the first year of life. Now it is about 8 per thousand births.
Audrey even goes so far as to call birthing in hospitals a “trend.” “If birth wasn’t safe, none of us would be here,” Audrey says. What? Hey, Audrey, did you know a hundred and fifty years ago women couldn’t vote and Blacks couldn’t go to school with Whites? Yeah, let’s go back to those times. Ridiculous. Hospitals also supply a little thing called pain management. Some women appreciate that. Men used to bite wooden spoons during major operations, too. Forget the morphine; let’s go back to that spoon method the next time a doc is removing a bullet from someone’s chest.
Let’s focus on the premise of the show itself for a moment. When I first started seeing the trailers for it I was appalled. Pixellated crotch images of women being carried into the woods so they can give birth to a child. The big controversy this show wants to strike up at the water cooler on Wednesday morning deals with in-hospital birth as opposed to . . . birth in a forest? With a camera crew? Are they kidding? This is the same channel that canceled Prison Wives Club because it was too lowbrow. Sensational. Exploitative. Seriously? I vowed there was no way I was going to watch this show, let alone give it any afterbirth by blogging about it. Well, beautiful babies, here I go. Because after watching the Caps crush the Blue Jackets, my TV defaults to Lifetime and there’s a pregnant woman about to pop, building a shelter out in the Alaska wilderness with her husband and children and dogs, preparing for the birth of her latest family member. Even Mary and Joseph knew enough to find a stable to bring Jesus into the world. You didn’t see him laying out his robes among the sand dunes for Mary to give birth on. I know, I sound biased already. And I am. I’m going to try to put that aside, however, and watch the entire episode with an open mind and break it down for you. Here goes:
The information Lifetime does give us is that 98% of all births in the U.S. happen in hospitals. It also tells us we may find the subject matter disturbing. That’s the disclaimer they go with. As the happy couple, Peter and Audrey, exalt the beauty of giving birth in a forest as opposed to the barbaric confines of a hospital, Arty Party fumes, “There are hundreds of women in the West Indies who would love to have the benefit of modern medicine.” Yes, also in America in this time of Obamacare, but I digress. This program is trying very hard to sell us on the fact that there’s some big controversy surrounding where birthing should take place. At 98% vs 2%, the statistics don’t match the so-called controversy. Where are those other 2% births? I bet 1.5% are in a car on the way to the hospital. Hey, Lifetime: I bet 98% of kidney transplants take place in a hospital, too. Like to take a stab at where the other 2% are performed? Arty also offers this pearl before leaving me to watch alone: “Fuck you, Lifetime. If you’re going to sensationalize childbirth by having a show about having a baby in the wild then have the balls to not blur out the head pushing through the crotch.” I couldn’t agree more.
Our opening teaser scene is of an idyllic Alaskan frontier . . . shattered by the painful gurgling of a woman who sounds like she’s being murdered. Am I watching Born in the Wild? Or ID’s Murder Comes to Town? A male voice-over tells us, “Modern women are choosing to give birth in the wilderness, just like their ancestors. No hospitals. No surgical intervention. No drugs.” Notice they didn’t say, “No camera crew.” They should have said, “No brains.”
There are several birthing areas Audrey and Peter have set up along their property. One is by the water, a tent with foamy beds that soon get saturated. Scratch that. Another is a rotted-out wooden structure that collapses when Peter pulls on one of the beams. “Oh, good thing Audrey wasn’t in there giving birth,” he observes. Their other concern is bears, two of which Peter tells us he had to kill last week. He worries about having to shoot more, considering they can smell blood from miles away. So let me get this straight: you move into a bear’s territory, where they live and forage and give birth, and kill them so you can give birth on TV? Nice. I hope PETA gets all over this show’s ass. Speaking of ass, I wouldn’t even want to take a shit in the woods, let alone drop a baby there. You know that saying, “Does a bear shit in the woods?” Yes. Yes he does. And humans have indoor plumbing. Just saying.
There’s a lot of suspense time-fillers before the main event, a lot of verbal reminders about how they’re 150 (they love that number, huh?) miles away from civilization, how risky it is for Audrey (really? I thought it was perfectly safe). Peter goes to pick up Audrey’s mom and sis from the airstrip, which is across the choppy river. Will they make it back in time before Audrey goes into labor? Will the tiny boat capsize in the freezing water? Speaking of which, Peter comments on Audrey’s mom and sis not being properly dressed for the Alaska temperature in long sleeves and jeans. I guess he also supposes his baby’s going to pop out of Audrey’s vag wearing a parka, ski pants and a pair of Uggs. I fast forward through the next twenty minutes, not needing to witness the family reunion, because let’s face it: 98% of the people watching are doing so because, like me, they only want to see the remaining 2% of the program.
Lifetime was right with the disturbing comment. Not the childbirth itself, but watching Audrey scream in agony, and the looks on her children’s and mother’s faces listening to her. I’m not kidding when I say it sounds like she’s being murdered. It sounds like being burned to death hurts less. Want a cure for teen pregnancy? Show this to twelve-year-old girls. Guaranteed those legs are staying closed a long, long time. Or a lot more condoms being worn on their pelvic poky poky counterparts. Teen boys? If I had a daughter, it would be required viewing before he took her on a date. “Yeah, Johnny, Suzie will be right down. Before she gets here, though, there’s a little something I’d like you to see.” Guaranteed Johnny will NEVER want to touch Suzie “down there.”
Now, a little disclaimer of my own. Childbirth is beautiful, which is why I’m a little disturbed by it being exploited in this manner. It is being used for shock value. It’s something that happens thousands of times a day, but not something we see from ten different camera angles. American society has made certain body parts erotic and forbidden; this show feeds into that tragedy. That childbirth is a form of entertainment says a lot about us. That it is considered shocking entertainment that is labeled “disturbing” says even more.
If I’ve given the impression I’m opposed to home birth, I’m not. With research and precautions and proper preparation, I’m sure it’s a beautiful and safe feeling to have your baby in the comforts of your home. If I ever have a baby, I sometimes thought, I might consider home birthing. Mostly because I’m afraid of hospitals, and not for some natural order of things experience. But birth in the wild? We as a society have come a long way to afford women a less primitive alternative. As for you, beautiful baby, I neither recommend nor discourage you from watching this program. Make up your own mind. But I, for one, don’t feel the need to watch again. Unlike women who forget the pain of childbirth and have multiple children, I will never forget the pain of this experience.
A special thanks to the blog of Sheryl Lazarus, http://www.ahundredyearsago.com, for the childbirth statistics from 1912. Her blog deals with the sharing of her grandmother’s diary from the early 1900’s. Interesting reading. That I can recommend.