TECHNICALLY SPEAKING

From Here to Maternity
Written by Denis Faye

(March 8, 2012) 

WHERE TO LOOK

Every now and again, the expert we talk to for Technically Speaking also happens to be the ideal person to look to for more information. Ann Douglas is such a soul, in that she’s the author of The Mother of All Pregnancy Books, The Mother of All Baby Books, The Mother of All Toddler Books, and The Mother of All Parenting Books, as well as co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Having a Baby and Trying Again: A Guide to Pregnancy after Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Loss. Ann’s books focus on capturing the woman’s experience, not just the science and technique. 

If you want to speak with an expert, Ann suggests interviewing doulas, midwives, and other professional who spend a lot of time with expecting couples. A day hanging out in a clinic wouldn’t be a bad idea either, to really get behind the scenes. 

Online, the Lamaze International blog, Science & Sensibility (is filled with insight and information regarding childbirth. 

Childbirth Connection is another excellent resource that takes more of a whole person approach.  

You can also lurk around the Just Mommies Message Board to get some insight into the perspective of some soon-to-be mommies. 

Finally, getting back to our expert of the hour, Ann’s blog, Having a Baby offers the latest news and views on the subject, as well as links to the author’s many articles. 

Ah, the miracle of childbirth in the movies – the shrieking mom being wheeled down the hospital corridor at 100 mph as she demands drugs, the scattered dad in hospital scrubs, completely out of his depth. The surgical staff prepping for the horrific complications that will no doubt ensue. You’ve seen it a thousand times. I’ve seen it a thousand times. Noted Canadian pregnancy and parenting expert Ann Douglas has seen it a thousand times.

And she’d rather stop seeing it. As the author of numerous pregnancy and parenting guides, including the upcoming American edition of The Mother of All Pregnancy Books, she often talks to other professionals who mirror her sentiments. “I was interviewing a doula the other day, and she was saying that she’d just love to see a show that was just horribly boring where the woman just had a baby,” Ann says. “Then we agreed that probably nobody would want to watch that show. But sometimes it gets so over-dramatized that women become afraid and they think, ‘Oh my God, every birth ends in a disaster.’”

Although Ann is a busy woman these days, featured everywhere from The New York Times to Good Housekeeping, she took a little time to talk to Technically Speaking about pregnancy and childbirth ala Hollywood. While subtlety isn’t something most people associate with bringing life into the world, when it come to writing on the subject, it should be the first instrument on your operating table.

What does Hollywood get right about pregnancy and childbirth?  

It gets the excitement of finding out you’re pregnant and the drama around that kind of moment. It does that beautifully. Everything from the woman’s reaction of finding out… Because it can be everything from “Hooray! I’m pregnant!” to “Oh my God, I’m pregnant,” you know? It can be every reaction under the sun. And likewise, telling your partner, Hollywood does a much better job of saying your partner sometimes get freaked out. It can be a crisis moment because otherwise you wouldn’t have a movie if instantly your partner said, “Oh, let’s live happily ever together.” Otherwise, where’s your conflict and your drama, right?

What does Hollywood get wrong about pregnancy and childbirth?  

What it does horribly is the birth. The sad part is that most of the time childbirth is a natural event. It goes really well but the drama of childbirth gets cranked up so much in both TV and in movies where it tends to be shown as either a crisis moment of the woman having some emergency thing.

TV is much worse in this than the movies, like there are all these horrible new reality shows where every single person who’s having a baby is having an obstetrical emergency.

We don’t see too many movies where it’s just a lovely relaxing, warm, intimate kind of birth. There has to be some comedy or some conflict or something, I understand that part, but sometimes it just seems to be so skewed that way that it just doesn’t seem to be reflecting real life – or they make the husband look like an idiot, where he’s just running around like a jerk. That’s really demeaning to the dad.

Do you think that Hollywood has some kind of responsibility not to do that?  

I do. It’s just like the recent controversy on Facebook regarding how breastfeeding images were being yanked off the site. They’re huge, right? They have the power to make or break how women see their bodies and feel about their bodies. Likewise, if Hollywood gives women the message you should be very afraid if you’re pregnant because you’re going to have to go through this horrible ordeal… Little girls who see things growing up can carry that fear at a subconscious level all through their growing up years and think, Oh my God, I don’t even know if I want to become a mother. It looks horrible getting the baby out.

So make it clear that it’s just a ridiculous satire thing where it’s over the top, it’s not meant to be taken seriously so that people don’t internalize it to the same degree. And likewise, don’t make men feel like they’re bumbling idiots or else they take those messages to heart, and they can feel very nervous all through pregnancy. Will I be able to support my partner the way I’m supposed to during labor, or will I be that dumb guy that stands there and doesn’t know what to do or say? Because that’s a big burden for him to be carrying around.

I’ve interviewed FBI agents and people who go undercover in the Mafia. For writers to portray that wrong is understandable, but who hasn’t – either from one end or the other – experienced childbirth? How come we keep blowing it?  

It’s because it would be like if your mission was to portray a family having dinner, doing it the normal way is just not going to provide that degree of drama if you’re after the drama. Maybe what Hollywood writers have to realize is that you don’t always have to go for the high drama to write something profound. If you think about some of the moments in movies that are about relationships between men and women, sometimes it’s the little breakthrough things that happen. Like we don’t think of great love stories always about somebody shoving somebody or somebody grabbing somebody passionately. I’m thinking of Bridges of Madison County [Screenplay by Richard LaGravenese], for example, when he’s standing in the kitchen, and he has his hand just on the back of the chair behind her. It’s one of the hottest moments in a movie as far as I’m concerned. It’s just so understated, but you can feel the electrical current at that point. It doesn’t have to be high drama. Likewise, in Junebug [Written by Angus McLachlan] when the character is pregnant, and she’s like feeling so unprepared, and she’s trying to read pregnancy books and figure everything out, and then there’s a tragedy. It’s heart wrenching. But that movie actually treats pregnancy in a real way. It has a terrible, sad outcome, but it’s honest all the way through. It’s not like everything goes perfectly, and it’s not all a big joke or anything. It’s raw and honest.

What are some of your favorite movies and TV shows that portray pregnancy and childbirth?  

Junebug and Juno [Written by Diablo Cody] I would say are the big ones. They’re both really sort of quirky movies. I have to say I really love quirky movies, and I really liked Juno because it shows different reactions to the pregnancy, you know, some people shunning the teenager and some people providing support. And the teenager not being terribly thrilled with it but coming to terms with it over the pregnancy. I really liked the character development, and I really liked the fact that it wasn’t like a sappy Afterschool Special from the ’70s which it could have been with that subject matter.

And Junebug, the pregnant character is so over the top. She’s like the bizarre Southern woman who’s now pregnant and not terribly bright, and then this terrible tragedy happens, her baby dies before birth. Having been through a stillbirth myself, my heart was going out to her. Having to go through a stillbirth really challenges the family.

There’s also Away We Go [Written by Dave Eggers & Vendela Vida] starring John Krasinski from The Office. The whole movie is about the two people thinking about whether or not they should be parents and then going around and traveling and seeing all these wacky parents they know and thinking, Oh my God, this might be the stupidest thing we could ever do.

And I loved — my very favorite one of all time — Raising Arizona [Written by Ethan Cohn & Joel Cohn] where they kidnap a baby. The way they talked about the infertility and the longing for a baby and stuff like that was so awesome and how it would drive you to steal a baby if you really wanted one. I’ve watched that movie about 100,000 times so I know it by heart.

You know at the very end when they’re sort of musing about the future and how they say that they saw these old people, an old couple and how there were kids around them and the kids weren’t too messed up? I just loved that because that’s all we ever want for ourselves as parents is, to have our kids turn out and not be too messed up.

You really have to have a sense of humor as a parent or else you’re never going to make it.

What are some movies that you’re not so crazy about?  

I have to tell you that I avoid a lot of movies that have births in them because I find them really stupid. Like I didn’t go and see Knocked Up [Written by Judd Apatow] because just the trailers for it really put me off.

You sort of said this already, but what would you like to see in a movie about childbirth just once, you’ve never seen before?  

What I would say is to really honor it, to take away the fear, drama thing, to find ways to just capture the magic in the ordinary. I’d love to watch a short film that just captures everyday life in a really new way and sort of makes us think about what is really magical about that.

It would be the way that the person gains strength as they go through labor, or the way the couple comes together, or the way that there’s a point in childbirth where you swear you just want to get up and walk away but you can’t because you have no choice, that you’re in the middle of a process that is now out of your control. Some of that is huge human drama, and so we don’t have to hype it up by having stupid things happen like the lights go out or a fake obstetrical emergency just to add drama. We don’t need to make it silly and more dramatic than it has to be because there is a lot of drama in that.

So really honor the subtlety of life.  

Yeah, exactly. To anybody who has had a baby, just seeing that presented in a reverent way is going to touch them more than all the hyped up stuff.