This past week's episode of Mad Men, titled "The Fog", included an extended plotline about the main character's wife giving birth to their third child. This series is set on the cusp between the fifties and sixties, and thus very much in the grip of the Twilight Sleep era.
Sure enough, Betty Draper was wheeled away from her husband (left to drink and smoke in the father's waiting room, both cliched and authentic), and injected with scopalamine in short order, and in no time, her mind drifts off, free-associating, while the restrained body left behind writhes in pain and snarls at the staff, freed from the inhibitions of consciousness. Asked later how it was by another mother, she replies distantly, "Oh, you know. It's a fog."
I thought this treatment was a bit more historically honest than many other shows and films set in the same time period, which was refreshing in a way (appalling as the treatment actually was). We've all been influenced by the media's portrayal of childbirth - asked to think of the earliest impression of birth I have, Little House on the Prairie comes to mind, followed by a medley of sitcoms.
Think about the stereotypical sitcom scenario - how many times have we seen a woman "go into labor" by falling instantly to the ground and writhing and screaming like she's being attacked by invisible panthers? And of course, the baby is arriving immediately, and she has to be rescued from this by the nearest male. Another cliche is the naive woman who foolishly think she's going to labor naturally, and initially refuses medication - and is later shown begging for it, only to be told it's TOO LATE! Ha ha, joke's on her. Message clear: don't be one of these silly feminists, just get the drugs ASAP like we told you.
And don't even get me started on the reality "birth drama" shows like A Baby Story, Maternity Ward, Birth Day, and the like. "Reality"moniker aside, they're about as helpful to birth as The Bachelor is to actual dating. I yell at the TV like a disgruntled soccer hooligan. (You can probably picture this.) I was thinking that if I ever worked as a childbirth educator (springing out of doula work), I would show some clips of these shows to my clients and we could discuss them critically. But with this new film, I might just be able to loan out this DVD!
So without further ado, enjoy this peek at Laboring Under An Illusion, which looks both insightful and entertaining:
Looks like it's slated to be shown at the upcoming Lamaze conference, as well as some other dates some of you might want to check out.