If there was one thing I wish I would've asked other moms before I gave birth, it’s, “What was labor really like?” Until I delivered my first kid, the only exposure I had to childbirth was through sensationalized depictions of labor on television and in movies. Once I had been through the experience myself, it was glaringly obviously how most of the depictions of labor in the media are totally wrong. Like, I’m insulted by them. (All the more reason to hire more female filmmakers, by the way.)
I get that we use our screens mostly for entertainment, so it’s no surprise that childbirth scenes are often played for sheer comedy and, in dramas, tears (I’m looking at you, This is Us.) However, when you’ve watched these scenes play out your entire life, without being privy to more realistic depictions of what labor is like, it can be quite shocking to be delivering your own baby and realizing that it's nothing like the movies.
Luckily, we have plenty of options outside mainstream media to get our viewing fix. There’s a better chance now that a show will portray labor and delivery in a more relatable way to us parents in the audience. I’m still having a hard time finding a more “true-life” childbirth scene, though. I’ll be patient. Maybe by the time my kids are of childbearing age, there will be depictions of labor in the media that aren’t totally wrong and, you know, the opposite of these:
Labor Ramps Up Immediately
For first-time moms who don’t get induced, labor usually creeps in. You start feeling some occasional cramping, but it doesn’t slow you down much. As the hours pass, the contractions get closer together and stronger. With my son, I went into labor on my own (after having been induced with my first baby), and while the contractions did make me take pause, I was able to carry on with whatever I had been doing between contractions. That includes cooking, reading my daughter a bedtime story, taking a shower, and doing my hair. Granted, all that would be pretty boring to watch play out on your favorite television show, but it would be nice to see the media infuse a little more realism into these overly dramatic “OMG! She’s having a baby!” moments.
The Flood That Is Water Breaking
With my first kid, I was induced, so I didn’t even realize my water broke. With my second, it more like a slow leak. Some women may feel a sudden gush, but TV shows and films that depict women going into labor always lean in hard to the belief that the breaking of the water is a light switch moment. It’s usually not that dramatic.
Her Partner Is In Scrubs, And It’s A Vaginal Birth
My husband was with me at both our kids’ births, which were not C-sections, and he didn’t have to wear a mask or scrubs. Dress code was labor casual.
The Doctors And Nurses Are Frantic
For a vaginal birth that is progressing without incident, and the baby isn’t in distress, the medical staff is pretty chill. Nobody is barreling down a hallway with a screaming woman on a gurney, clutching her belly. I mean, maybe that happens, but it is definitely the exception. Hospital birth scenes in movies would have you believe otherwise, though.
Epidurals Don’t Appear To Be An Option. Ever.
I have yet to see one birth scene from a film or scripted show that includes an epidural. I wanted, and needed, my epidural both times I gave birth. But incorporating this very common procedure in movies means tamping down the drama, since it numbs labor pain. Screaming, manic births are what movies are training audiences to expect, which I guess isn’t that much of a surprise in this Marvel Cinematic Universe we live in. If things aren’t exploding, including our uteruses, it’s just not that interesting.
The Laboring Woman Is Linda Blair From ‘The Exorcist’
Can we just stop with the hysterical bitch in labor trope? It’s old, it’s sexist, and it’s inaccurate. Sure, there may be some screaming. There is some anger. Contractions really hurt, so we may not be our sweetest selves in the throes of active labor. I remember when the pain got incredibly intense, I was chanting “No, no, no,” as if to will it to stop. However, I was too focused inward to direct my rage at anyone in the room.
"I Can See The Head" Is Not A Thing Doctors Say
First of all, unless the epidural has left you totally numb (unlikely, by the time you’re actively pushing a baby out of your body), you can totally feel that baby’s head crowning. Nobody needed to alert me to that fact. Actually, I remember my doctor having me stop pushing at that point, which was excruciating. All I felt was the throbbing pressure of the biggest part of my baby’s body against the smallest opening of mine.
Everyone Is Yelling "Push"
Nobody better be yelling anything at a woman in labor. Back off. She is experiencing something that is probably the weirdest, most painful and empowering event of her life, and she has to go through with it. The voices in my delivery room, from my partner and the medical staff, were calm, low, and kind. Nobody had to yell at me to push this baby out of me. I had seen enough movies to know that was what was expected of me in that moment.
The Baby Comes Quickly
Biggest. Lie. Ever. While my second birth was a lot quicker than my first, most first-time moms endure quite a few hours of labor before being dilated enough to push.
The Newborn Actually Looks Like A Baby
Nature is an amazing thing. If a flood of feel-good hormones didn’t immediately start coarsing through my body at my baby’s birth, I might have recoiled in horror at the sight of her. All newborns, especially ones that have been squeezed through their mothers’ birth canals, are smushed. The ones freshly hatched in the movies are played by plump three-month-olds. My newborns had oval heads, squished noses, scrawny limbs and beet-red skin. That phrase “a face only a mother could love” was probably coined in the delivery room. Of course I thought my newborns were beautiful; I was high on oxytocin. I could have delivered 10 more babies in that moment. I was pumped.
The New Parents Immediately Bond In The Wake Of Their Child’s Birth
What husband? I swear, as soon as that baby was out of me, it was all about that baby. I did not have the energy to show my man any love in that moment. Was he overcome with pride at my achievement, having watched me labor and deliver our child? I guess. I wasn’t really paying attention to him. I had a baby.
(Though I was grateful when my husband ran out to get me the biggest, sauciest eggplant parmigiana hero he could find for my first “new mom” meal.)
Friends And Family Rush In Shortly After The Birth
Do movies not get the premise of “visiting hours?” My daughter was born in the evening, so she couldn’t meet her grandparents until the next day. And honestly, I was grateful to have some alone time in the next several hours after pushing a human being out of my body. I wanted to feel like a mom for a minute, before my own mom entered the fray. It’s a weird time, those first few hours after giving birth. I didn’t really know who I was yet; one second I was pregnant, and the next I was somebody’s mother. Give me a minute to process this before letting the visitors in, please.