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Heather Munn

March 15, 2013  10:50pm

Well, Janet, my point wasn't about the show as such. My point was that fiction means something, the event in the show means something. It seems you believe that what was presented in the show does reflect important realities, so I would say we agree on the idea that fiction means something. I was not really making a point about the show (which I haven't watched) but making a point that "it's just fiction" is not an adequate defense of it. It's appropriate to criticize fiction for giving its audience a false perception of reality, because giving a perception of reality is what fiction does. One BIG problem I have with the general trend of fiction is its portrayal of miscarriage--in fiction, miscarriage is almost always someone's fault, which is very untrue to reality, and harmful. That would be worth a her.meneutics article sometime! Oh, and thank you, Tim!

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S Griffin

February 06, 2013  2:35pm

Since the article is about a "show" you can always change the station and find something else to watch. No profound answers needed here. It's real simple. Watch something else.

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JANET W

February 04, 2013  12:56pm

Heather, I don't know if I get your point. The author of the article wasn't necessarily saying that the scripting was poorly worded or the scene was somehow not "true to life" -she was commenting that viewers would equate childbirth with being a dangerous and possibly life-threatening condition (which, quite honestly, it is). She then went on to comment that because the vast majority of physicians are men, that women are set up to wait for their "knight in shining armour" in the guise of a physician during child-birth. Ridiculous. The truth is that in 3rd world countries, a whole lot of women die in child-birth. Not just babies. Mothers. And the reason this is so, is because there is no one trained (whether it be a male or female) with the know-how and medical technology available to save that mother's life. We should be marveling that in our industrialized countries that women no longer hold a real fear of dying in child-birth. That wasn't the reality for our grandmothers.

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Tim Fall

February 02, 2013  8:29am

Heather Munn, that is one of the best and most concise defenses of lit crit I've ever read. Well put. Cheers, Tim (timfall.wordpress.com)

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Heather Munn

February 01, 2013  11:25pm

How come whenever someone criticizes a work of fiction, have a dozen people show up and yell "IT'S JUST FICTION!" I've seen it on Amazon too, and I honestly do not understand it. Yes, it's fiction, that's the point. What, you think she should criticize someone for dying in childbirth in real life? I write fiction. When I decide to have something major happen in a book--like a character dying--I think it over carefully. It means something. I am saying "This is what life is like." If I set up a major event in a book a certain way and someone came along and criticized what she thought it said about life, and someone else popped up and defended me by saying "It's just fiction!" I'd be way more angry at the defender. Because what *she's* saying is that my work means nothing, says nothing about life, and I wasted my time putting thought & sweat & care into it because its only purpose is to distract people briefly from their problems.

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Hannah N.

February 01, 2013  12:33pm

You know what I liked about it? The portrayal of the fact that C-sections are sometimes necessary and life-saving. After having it drilled into me through birth education classes and whatnot that the U.S. has too many "unnecessesareans," I ended up having a medically necessary emergency C-section. It took a lot of processing for me to come to terms with it, but I do genuinely believe it was the right decision. My doula was very helpful in this process of understanding, too. She was not a natural birth advocate, but an advocate for me. Sometimes I wish well-meaning natural birth advocates would consider that many of us would love to make those "choices" but weren't able to. Maybe our higher death rates in childbirth are attributable to lack of quality prenatal care for underinsured women? And not to caesareans or "overuse of technology"?

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LAURA C STEEL

February 01, 2013  10:18am

Lady Sybil had to die because the actress portraying her did not renew her contract for next season. If Sybil hadn't died in childbirth, some other cliche would have had to be employed: being pushed down the stairs or eating the wrong mushrooms. There weren't a lot of good choices.

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Christian Lawyer

February 01, 2013  4:24am

Rachel, come on, "modern media" hasn't portrayed childbirth stories as "ones in which women lie passively waiting for their prince to come in the form of an OB-GYN to perform surgery, stat." at least since Marcus Welby, M.D., which is almost certainly before you were born. Today, they show women actively participating, even when the birth is in a hospital or involves a C-section. Plus, the OB/GYNs are almost all women now. That's hardly a comparison to the passive women in Christian fiction or Harlequin romances waiting for their prince to come. As you suggested, I found your articles at Sojourners and liked the one comparing the health care systems in various countries. But, I also found your article last year on maternal mortality and birth control, where you said "[r]ecently I’ve become aware that unwanted pregnancies are nothing new," and my jaw is still hanging.

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Kathi Vande Guchte

January 31, 2013  7:09pm

This is rediculous. It's TV SHOW, and a show I watch every Sunday and then discuss with my colleague, Paula on Mondays. The whole article writing about 1. the best way to give birth; 2. where to give birth; 3. how to feed babies. Oh good grief, enough already. No one cares.

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Samantha Blythe

January 31, 2013  10:07am

I have had 5 homebirths, so I totally agree that 1) a woman's body is designed to give birth and 2) that unnecessary medical intervention often causes problems...however, toxemia is a very, very dangerous condition and is probably the main thing midwives are looking for at prenatal appointments - that is why they have you pee in a cup (to check for protein in your urine), ask you if you have been swelling, look for high blood pressure and are concerned if you have a strangely large jump in weight. They want to catch what is known as pre-eclampsia before it becomes full-blown eclampsia, which is what killed Sybil. Samantha http://nospringchickennomore.blogspot.com/

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Shannon Schrage

January 31, 2013  7:39am

How in the world did this article make it pass the editor's inbox? Poorly reasoned and poorly written. Indeed it is just a fictional show and way too much is being read into Sybil's death. I can understand an article rant about moden maternal fatility rates, but not this. I believe the point of the Downton drama was not Sybil's death, not home birth vs. hospital birth, but rather the parochial control of every matter in the household and the hierarchy of doctors. What brought tears was not so much that Sybil died (clearly that's just plot) but that no one would listen to the mother, Sybil's husband had no say, and they stood around and debated Sybil's fate like they were betting on horses. Yes, it was dramatic!

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Kathleen Mch

January 31, 2013  12:00am

Poorly reasoned article. Death in childbirth means women's bodies are dangerous? This author seems to have an agenda that keeps her from understanding simple truths. The fact is, full-term pregnancy and childbirth ARE often dangerous or deadly to women, including women in Western countries. Pregnancy kills around 550 American women every year -- dying in childbirth might be statistically unlikely, but it's hardly unheard of and cherry-picking the stats from one unusually lucky midwife strikes me as dishonest.

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Mary Mueller

January 30, 2013  10:38pm

OK, I'll grant you that the death-in-childbirth plot device has probably been overused. I haven't done the research to get the numbers, but it is certainly easy to find a lot of examples of it, so I don't have a problem with your opinion. But that is about the only assertion you make that makes sense to me or has (sort of) decent data behind it. Maternal death is a way of "portraying the female body as dangerous"? This doesn't make sense at all. It's childbirth, not the female body per se, that is dangerous. And maternal death is not so rare, globally speaking, as you make it sound. And yes, the medical establishment does overuse C-sections and other high-tech medical interventions. But you made no attempt to explore why. Could it be a fear of malpractice for anything other than a "perfect" outcome? (Yes!). Could it be partly due to everyone (docs, moms, extended families, etc) liking the convenience of scheduled c-sections? (Yes again). Plus other reasons. This is a sloppy article.

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Christian Lawyer

January 30, 2013  3:19pm

This seems a bit overwrought. Maybe because you're an advocate, these story lines jump out at you, but I doubt if you listed the most often recurring female plot lines and counted them in major works of fiction, death in childbirth just wouldn't be at the top. From a Christian feminist perspective, the more overused and dangerous plot lines for women are those in which the woman somehow is rescued by some man or is waiting patiently for her prince to come. So, I would say "Stop with all the Christian fiction and Harlequin Romances already." And the whole idea of women's bodies as "dangerous" is fed more by the "modesty" and "purity" teachings by some evangelicals than it is by frank portrayals of maternal deaths in childbirth, particular those portraying times when medical care for women, even among the privileged, was less advanced than it is today. BTW, during the healthcare debate, did you advocate for free prenatal and delivery care here like the UK has in Call The Midwife?

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K SHAW

January 30, 2013  2:20pm

And let's not forget the death of Phineas' wife when she heard of her husband's death and the ark being taken by the Philistines in the Book of Judges, from whence we get that wonderful name "Ichabod." I really can't see the death of a woman in chld birth as a "plot device". It really happens, though not every day, as is pointed out in the blog. And when it does there are serious emotional and other consequences. Oh, and let's not forget Cinderella either.

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Tim Fall

January 30, 2013  2:17pm

Rachel, awesome analogy from childbirth to the New Creation: "Looking into the face of a freshly emerged baby is surprising and yet, in a way that's hard to explain, familiar. I can only think that the New Creation will be something like this." The every-day miracle as hint of the grand miracle to come is a wonderful bit of God's grace. Cheers, Tim (timfall.wordpress.com)

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erin gentry

January 30, 2013  1:56pm

I also thought this article was a little overreaching in its message and point. Honestly, I thought it was a very moving episode and one that effectively handled the passing of a beloved character. It also highlighted that eclampsia can be deadly without proper intervention. Yes, we do live in a far more medically advanced society than the one in which the DA characters exist, but eclampsia still exists and can still cause maternal death, and it can't hurt to draw attention to that. Your mild ire would be understandable if DA had portrayed Lady Sybil's labor and delivery in the caricacture-type-way that other shows and movies use, but very little was seen of her labor process other than some moaning and sweat. As a woman who has yet to birth a child, the episode didn't frighten, upset, or scare me - it reminded me of my friend who thankfully recognized the symptoms and sought medical help immediately and it reminded me why medical interventions in labor/delivery are not all evil.

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James Wartian

January 30, 2013  1:05pm

Ok. Just saw "spoiler alert" on the side. Easily missed. Would have been better in the text of the article.

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Sheila Lagrand

January 30, 2013  1:01pm

"The "death-in-childbirth" device also confirms an understanding of the female body as dangerous and diseased." Really? I'm familiar with the concept of women being portrayed as uncontrolled, dangerous, and dirty, but in this case it seems to me it's the childbirth that is portrayed as dangerous. And while I did not watch the episode under discussion, when I hear of a childbirth death (as my maternal great-grandmother suffered, about 100 years ago), I don't think "disease."

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James Wartian

January 30, 2013  1:00pm

Hello? After 3 seasons they have someone die in childbirth and it is an issue? (And thanks for no warnings on spoilers for anyone who recorded but had not yet watched it!) Sorry, but drama is about conflict. It is not about illustrating the real world which is mainly boring in comparison. (And sometimes it is also about actors who don't renew contracts or are written out of a show for a number of other reasons.)

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Cheryl Okimoto

January 30, 2013  12:04pm

I too am puzzled by this post. I don't really get the point, Rachel. How do you feel about the Bible reporting that Jacob's Rachel died in childbirth (Genesis 35:16-20)? You casually used the term "c-section." Are you aware that it's the informal term for a "Cesarean," which is called so because legend has it that Julius Cesar was cut from his dead mother's womb? Death in childbirth does happen in reality, and the few examples you used of death in childbirth in FICTION don't prove that it's an overused plot device. How many times do fictional women give birth WITHOUT dying? I'm with Janet and Brandon on this one. The rudimentary rules of fiction require a crisis that must be overcome, and it must be a serious one, one that will keep the audience's attention. When it’s TV and an actress wants to leave, would you rather her walk out on her husband and child? Like Adam said, Cybill didn't want to renew her contract, so she had to die. Childbirth was as good a device as any other.

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JANET W

January 30, 2013  11:18am

This is kind of an odd article to me. I can't help think, "You know this is fiction, right?" The reason that we read or watch fictional stories is because things happen in these stories that are bigger than life. That's why we're interested in it. So now the author wants writers of fiction to somehow put a disclaimer (perhaps running in fine print at the bottom of the screen or in the back of the book) that tells readers/watchers that these fictional things don't happen all that often.... Perhaps we could just have main characters get a good old fashioned cold/flu and be sick for a few days then get better -- bet that would keep the audience riveted.

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Brandon Ambrosino

January 30, 2013  11:10am

As an actor and writer, I think this post is a bit misguided. Having watched all three seasons of DA, I can tell you that misfortune befalls both men and women alike. The first death on the show was the messy death of Pamuk -- a man, who wasn't in labor. If your point is that writers should stop creating plots where laboring women are in danger because it freaks out real women, I don't think that's a great point to make. So television should stop killing off characters with car accidents, and falls, and heart attacks because audiences will become worried that those same tragedies may befall them? Where does it end? I'm sure you're a fine writer, but this article just seemed really naive about the nature of fiction, in my opinion.

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Adam Shields

January 30, 2013  10:26am

A very close to birth friend was freaking out on facebook. The best response I saw was "Don't worry, Cybill decided to not renew her contract. You won't have that problem when it comes time for you to give birth."

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