Dear Lifetime: It’s not Weird, it’s Normal

Dear Lifetime: It’s not Weird, it’s Normal


Talk about the latest labor and delivery unit reality show, “One Born Every Minute,” has been ablaze since The Feminist Breeder published her scathing critique of the Lifetime premiere of the series.

Despite the risk to my own health–these shock-and-awe-chasing reality shows about childbirth generally cause a dangerous spike in my blood pressure–I decided to watch the episode yesterday afternoon.

Sure enough, I found myself seething with rage throughout much of the show.  And it wasn’t just for the reasons that TFB mentioned in her post.

What frustrated me most about the show was the way it was produced: the way it forced a manufactured narrative upon each of the women’s labors*, the way that it framed the stories with as much heightened drama and strife as possible, and especially the way that it drew an artificial line between what’s normal and what’s not.

This, I know, is the beast of reality television.

Nonetheless, I worry about pregnant women and their partners watching “One Born Every Minute.”  And it’s not because I think the show is going to make them want to run out and ask for every birth intervention in the world as if they’re candy.  Rather, I worry that the show will create or even reinforce in women’s minds a pretty bogus distinction between  “What’s Normal and What’s FREAKY-DEAKY-WEIRD-AND-ABNORMAL During Labor.”

So I want to fight back:

Here are some behaviors and choices that are, in my opinion, completely normal during laborBut “One Born Every Minute’s” producers would have you thinking that they are a) abnormal, b) cah-RAZY, and/or c) worthy of finger-pointing, eye-rolling, and general balls-to-the-wall mocking.

  • Vocalizing during labor. Watch this episode of “One Born Every Minute” and you’ll see that the producers have a grand old time making fun of the “Natural Birther’s” moaning and vocalizing during her labor.  (Who wants to bet that a lot of the nurses’ eye-rolling during this segment had NOTHING to do with the sounds the woman was making and were simply camera shots from other situations or contexts?  And seriously, did they NEED to play silly circus-like music to show just how “CAH-RAZY” these sounds were?)  In any case, vocalizing–making low, deep sounds throughout one’s contractions, or even chanting words like “oooopen”–can really help some women to cope with the intensity of their labors.  It can also help them to keep their mouth and jaw relaxed, which can in turn help them to keep the rest of their body relaxed.  It’s not weird–it’s normal.  (And just so you know, I’ve worked with women who wanted an epidural before labor even began and still used vocalization to help them cope with their pre-epidural contractions.)
  • Creating a birth plan. I’ve expressed my thoughts on birth plans before.  In a nutshell, they can’t plan the way that one’s labor unfolds.  Yet I think they can be great tools for articulating one’s birth preferences–especially when those preferences might diverge from hospital and/or care provider protocol.  And they’re not weird–they’re normal. (And it makes me downright angry when a care provider or hospital staff member states from the outset that birth plans automatically mean that a couple is inflexible/unrealistic/destined for the OR.)
  • Not wanting pain medication during labor. Laboring is not a contest of strength or ability or agility.  And I have yet to meet a woman who has decided she wants an unmedicated birth because she wants that damn medal or trophy or mounted head of a 10-point buck proclaiming that she did it without the drugs, bitches! Some women may choose an unmedicated birth because they want to avoid the negative side effects associated with epidurals and/or with narcotic pain medication.  Others may have had a bad experience with pain medication during labor in the past and wish to avoid it.  Still others may have back or spinal issues or allergies that preclude them from receiving pain meds in labor.  None of these choices are weird–they’re normal. (Yet the producers of OBEM would have you thinking that those who forgo the drugs are inflexible hippies who only care about forcing their rigid wishes upon their birth, and that those who get the drugs are the only ones doing what’s best for themselves and their babies.)
  • Wanting to move and change positions during labor. There are loads of benefits to walking, moving, and changing positions during labor.  (And yes, changing positions every so often is even important when one has an epidural!)  Birth balls, labor stools, walking the halls, getting in the shower or tub, using wireless monitors to gain more freedom of movement when continuous monitoring is needed, getting in a hands and knees position or a side-lying position or slow-dancing or squatting: they’re not weird–they’re normal.
  • Not wanting to stay in a position that causes pain rather than relieves pain. It’s difficult to tell what the context of the situation was when the nurse, Pam, tried to recommend a position change to Susan (the “Natural Birther”).  But it was quite clear that Susan felt most comfortable in the positions of her own choosing.  And unless there is a situation where a particular position is causing more harm than good–or where a particular position might help to alleviate a problem (such as lying on one’s left side when there are non-reassuring fetal heart tones)–it should be up to the laboring woman to choose which position she labors in.  It doesn’t mean that she’s being a Problem Patient.  She’s just being an autonomous, mobile, sentient human being.  It’s not weird–it’s normal.
  • Only wanting someone with whom you are comfortable to check your cervix during labor. Stop.  Think for a minute of what a cervical check entails.  It is a vaginal examSomeone’s hand reaching into your vagina to touch your cervix. Why should anyone be surprised that a woman (such as the one featured in OBEM) might want her midwife (whom she has gotten to know over the past nine months) and not her nurse (whom she only met a few hours ago) to check her cervix?  It’s nothing personal, and it’s not weird–it’s normal.
  • Wanting to know the risks and benefits of a particular birth intervention. Susan had questions about using Pitocin augmentation.  Tasha (the woman who ended up with a cesarean section) had questions about narcotic pain medication.  Neither of them was trying to cause problems.  Neither of them was trying to be bothersome.  They simply wanted to know the pros and cons and risks and benefits and alternatives of these particular interventions.  It’s not weird–it’s normal.
  • Wanting to have a partnership with your care providers. Here are some things that women should not be faulted for during labor: Asking questions.  Asking for “more time” before consenting to a non-emergency intervention.  Asking for an explanation of alternatives and options and pros and cons and risks and benefits of any particular intervention.  Having an opinion.  Wanting respect.  Desiring compassion.  Seeking a care provider who is willing to talk with, and not at, her/his patients.  Being autonomous.  Being scared.  Being confident.  Being a woman experiencing one of the most intense and sacred and monumental experiences she will ever have, and thus wanting to be surrounded by people who respect and care for herIt’s not weird–it’s normal.


*Jenn, the doula featured in this episode, confirmed in a comment on TFB’s site that the show did force a particular narrative upon her client’s birth.  I urge you to read this comment to get a better idea of what this birth was really like–and how truly supportive the couple’s other three nurses were!

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  1. Sarah @ Dysblogger
    Sarah @ Dysblogger02-03-2011

    Thank you for cutting to the heart of it. Great review!
    Sarah @ Dysblogger´s last blog post ..Right Brained Living- Outside of the Box

  2. samara

    would you share this with lifetime?!

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas

      That’s a great idea, Samara! Don’t know if they’ll respond at all–or even read it–but it’s certainly worth a try!

  3. FoxyKate

    RE: your next to last bullet point: not only is it normal, but it is a part of *informed consent.* If, after a long chat with the doc/nurse/anesthesiologist, there are any questions left unanswered about the risks/benefits of each and every procedure, they should be asked and answered with no judgment. None! Labor and birth are not things that should be done TO women. They are done BY women as they have their babies.
    FoxyKate´s last blog post ..grey yoga pants- green deep-V- glasses

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas


      For what it’s worth, my mom (a nurse who worked in the NICU for many years) continues to be appalled by how infrequently some doctors and nurses she’s encountered lately really take the time to sit and answer patients’ questions. She’s often wondered if this is a product of different teaching styles in medical and nursing schools, and that possibility makes me truly frightened for the future of medicine!

      • Renee Smith
        Renee Smith02-04-2011

        This is truly disturbing. I think it has more to do with academic pressure to get a grade rather than to internalize information and think critically (I’m probably preaching to the choir of Liberal Arts majors here). This was a topic in the film “Race to Nowhere” that I found particularly terrifying: Med students today tend to “learn a script” and expect that every issue they will encounter has been covered to the last crossed “t” in their text books. This is not the case, and in a service profession like medicine, it is paramount that practitioners at every level internalize a sense of respect for patients and desire to best serve their patients. The med. school professor who was talking about this issue in the film even made the comment that she has concerns about how the current generation of med. students (doctors) will handle the emergence of new diseases. Scary.

        During my hospital stays after both of my sons were born, I found the ladies who came around to clean my room or take my temperature, bp, etc to be some of the kindest and most genuine personnel at the hospital. I would guess that those women had very little education in a formal sense, but seemed to grasp the most important elements of human interaction and empathy… which is far more valuable than being able to work from some kind of medical script. Of course some of the nurses were phenomenal, my midwives were awesome (wish I’d used them for the first birth, too!), but on the whole, I ran into people who did not give a crap that I am an individual with individual needs (this is especially true of billing/insurance personnel).

    • TheFeministBreeder

      Okay, check this shit out – this is going to TERRIFY you.

      I know a guy who works for a software development company who specializes in software development for hospitals and doctors. They are pushing a service that COMPLETELY ELIMINATES human doctors from the informed consent process. Patients will be given a video to watch that explains the procedure, and at the end, they have to click that they’ve understood it (kinda like a Terms of Use) and if the patient clicks “Yes, I understand” – this is supposed to be the end of the consent process. It’s already being used in hospitals. I’m not eeeeeeeeven joking.
      TheFeministBreeder´s last blog post ..The Big Fat Announcement- I’m Live-Blogging My Homebirth!

      • BirthingBeautifulIdeas

        It terrifies me. But what terrifies me more is that it doesn’t really surprise me.

        How the hell are women supposed to ASK THE VIDEO QUESTIONS?

        • Renee

          Questions? What? Those clearly have no place in a hospital… doctors know everything and are certified to be free of human fallibility (especially when they are video-doctors)! Excuse me while I go vomit.

  4. Jen

    I agree 100%! I can’t bear to watch those shows.
    But I think I DO deserve at least a t-shirt with the buck and the “I did it without meds, bitches” on it. :-)
    Jen´s last blog post ..The Place Beside

    • Jenny

      I need a like button for this comment!

  5. Juliette

    Thanks! I’ll be sure NOT to watch. LOL

  6. TheFeministBreeder

    “she wants that damn medal or trophy or mounted head of a 10-point buck proclaiming that she did it without the drugs, bitches!”

    That had me in stitches. SERIOUSLY!

  7. Susan... yeah, it's me.
    Susan... yeah, it's me.02-05-2011

    I must say that I loved Gina’s review of the show on Feminist Breeder, but I love yours even more because it includes education about normal, natural childbirth that I’d been so naive to hope might be the outcome of participating in the series. I’d love to tell you much, much more about what actually happened during Eleanor’s birth (which was really beautiful, despite what was shown), but I’ve written it so many times over the past few days. The best repository for the real story is a thread on Babycenter’s Natural Unmedicated Childbirth board, found here:
    My comments are found on pages 4, 6, 16, 18, 21, 25, 26 and 29.

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas

      Susan, thank you SO much for taking the time to stop by and share your comment here! I’m even more thrilled that you had a beautiful birth experience. I only wish that the show had been produced in a way that truly conveyed that beauty. (In many ways it did, but there was too much snark and ridicule about “natural birth” to really let much else shine through.)

      Looking forward to reading your story on the Babycenter board!

  8. StorkStories

    Excellent! I still haven’t seen the show, only the clip on TFB last post about Susan’s interview. I applaud Susan for her courage to participate, share her beautiful birth, taking time helping us all understand more and I want to say CONGRATULATIONS on Eleanor’s birth! I sincerely hope breastfeeding is going well for you now!
    As an RN for so many years and working to keep my patients informed of options, embracing evidence-based practice and encouraging co-workers and providers to do the same….. I must say that the portrayal of Pam was to me– another example of the health-care staff’s inability to relinquish control. [It is HER(3)patient(s) after all so it’s HER birth.] It’s sad for me to go to work and experience situations where I feel it’s important to keep pushing them to educate themselves. Their patients are getting smarter than them….
    Just overheard one of them yesterday…

    “Did you see that new birthing show on Lifetime Tues nights? It’s pretty good and realistic. Especially when the nurse is totally frustrated with the doula and says ” I’m so glad my shift is over!”

    Owh Yi yi… my work is never done!
    Gonna post this over at TFB also…..
    StorkStories´s last blog post ..Wordless Wednesday- Fabulous Skin to Skin &amp The Latch Connection

  9. Eve

    I just can’t for the life of me understand, as long as the baby and mom are tolerating labor, which a vaginal exam isn’t going to tell you… Why that nurse thought doing one is taking care of the little one. Disrupting her labor, for checks and 20 minutes of monitoring every hour is moe likely to slow things down than speed things up… But I guess I’m preaching to the choir! I’m thankful that I had my natural births at a supportive hospital and that they were quick! I actually remember when I was moving from the tub to the bed, moments away from delivery, I had to stop for a contraction, I was swaying and vocalizing. One of the nurses must have made a quiet comment to another and I heard the other say “That helps the baby move down and her open up”. That boosted my confidence sooo much. If only all LD nurses were so educated!
    Eve´s last blog post ..Oh the Anticipation!!!!

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas

      I LOVE hearing stories of supportive nurses like that! And since information and attitudes and education are often passed from peer to peer or colleague to colleague in the hospital, knowing that this nurse was teaching her colleague about the benefits of swaying and vocalizing is just FABULOUS!

  10. Kristi H
    Kristi H02-07-2011

    Very well said!!
    I, too, found all the eye-rolling nurse shots obnoxious, especially since they were probably all used out of context.

    • BirthingBeautifulIdeas

      Thanks, Kristi! And yeah, I would literally bet money that most of those shots were used out of context. This was, in fact, the moment that really made me question the production of the whole show.

      With that being said, I think that I’ll still watch the other episodes. I almost feel as if it’s my duty as a doula here in Columbus to see what’s going on, both to help me when I work at Riverside and to help to respond to any future concerns raised by clients birthing at Riverside! But I do think I’ll need some emergency chocolate for each episode. :-)

  11. Margaret

    My favorite nurse from my four deliveries told my husband to sit down and shut up or go outside and smoke when he said “if you get pain medication you wont be a good mother” to dh’s credit he is from a culture that excludes men from childbearing/childbirth/child raising shortly after conception thus generating a whole country of adult men in their thirty’s who would benefit from a good sex education class. I don’t think it is just this series on lifetime that takes an alarmist danger danger danger stance at childbirth. Does anyone remember a series called Maternity Ward? The local consent process where I am living overseas consist of the doctor saying you are having this test/procedure.

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