Primetime Pregnancy: Why We Need Birthing Films
Candice, a regular Her.meneutics reader, wrote to me recently in response to this post, asking what I thought about women sharing their photos and videos of giving birth. Another Christian website had called this practice "immodest"; Candice, who is pregnant and planning a natural childbirth, told me that she has found these videos "inspiring and educational, since I've never seen an actual birth of any kind." She also wondered whether categorizing birth videos as "immodest" might be related to the ongoing discomfort in North America with public breastfeeding. Does Christian "modesty" really mean not viewing or posting pictures depicting these intimate events?
Birth videos show women accomplishing some of the hardest work women ever do. They show great pain resolving into great joy. They show us an event that many of us never see in "real life," an event that Hollywood can depict only in clichfamp;copy;s. In movies, labor begins suddenly, with a frantic cry of "it's time!" or an embarrassing gush of amniotic fluid. In reality, for many if not most women, labor is so gradual that it is only later that they can look back and say, "Oh, that's when it started." Usually there is no need for rushing around panicking; it's more a slow leak than a blowout. Also, doctors don't deliver babies from under a sheet anymore, not every woman screams, "you did this to me!" at her husband, and women don't need to be shouted at to "push." But crises make for better drama and, not infrequently, comedy.
Because birth is for most Americans an event that takes place in the hospital—and, increasingly, in the operating room—there are simply fewer opportunities for women to see other women give birth. By contrast, in early America, as in virtually all traditional cultures, to attend another woman's birth was expected and routine, more or less like attending a baby shower today. You would help your friend during her "lying in," knowing she would help you at yours, a phenomenon that historians and anthropologists have called "social childbirth." It's worth noting that that while, officially, only women who had already had a baby were included in social childbirth, homes and society were structured in such a way that it's unlikely a woman would go into labor without a strong understanding of the process of labor (if not the, ahem, crowning moment).
And so YouTube birth videos in some way are a gesture toward social childbirth in the age of social media. Many of the videos are mixed with sentimental songs and inspiring quotes, their obvious intent to motivate others hoping for a natural childbirth as well as to celebrate the beauty of birth. It's true that placing these private moments and sights on YouTube removes the traditional taboos (read: men) on who could view childbirth, and has a flattening effect by listing them alongside clips from Girls Gone Wild and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. I wonder if they might not be shared more effectively if they were viewable by e-mail request only. But might they still have some value for women seeking understanding about birth—and seeking connection with other women who have birthed successfully?
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