Movies, Myth and Memory of Childbirth

Hollywood must think there is nothing funnier than a birthing scene featuring a hysterical woman in the midst of grunting out a child. Childbirth is one of the most natural and empowering events in a woman’s life, yet the movies portray it as a horrific ordeal and an opportunity for a woman to scream and accuse everyone around her. So when impressionable viewers seemingly witness a virtual birth they are forever imprinted with a negative and damaging idea that childbirth is overwhelmingly painful and must be escaped at all costs.

I’ll never forget when my teens had a sleepover at a friend’s house, and they watched Knocked Up, where Katherine Heigl is in position in her hospital bed, at the apex of pain surrounded by a group of green scrub clad doctors. My daughter came home and declared, “I’m never doing that” in reference to the humiliation and agony of giving birth. I cringed, knowing that that was her impression and it would be difficult for me to change her point of view.

The Back Up Plan mocks the alternative birth world of water birthing, which was created to simulate the watery womb for a gentler, kinder birthing experience. Instead, this film surrounds the birthing woman with chaos and confusion to the beat of a ‘loony metaphysical’ drumming circle. The woman bearing a child desperately needs her focal point who happens to be the unwilling Jennifer Lopez.

In Nine Months, Joan Cusack lambasts Tom Arnold in a toxic screaming blast of “You did this to me…” as he tries to film her birth. In this shocking exchange the whole idea that a couple could unite in love and joy and share in the birth process is thrown out with the proverbial ‘dirty bath water.’

While writers must scramble to add comedy or drama elements to a childbirth scene in order to make it memorable, I always worry about the responsibility of Hollywood to educate and change consciousness in either a negative or positive way. The extreme violence and the parallel rise of gun toting teens has a documented correlation. Could the way Hollywood presents childbirth explain why Cesarean sections and the attitude of being “knocked out and scheduling births for the convenience of the mother” reflect societies’ aversion to pain?