Monday, November 1, 2010

Knocked Up: A Hollywood Perception on Natural Birth?

E! apparently only has about six different programs to play on their channel, as the film Knocked Up can be watched there at just about any time of day. Seriously, I don't even watch much TV and it has been on or coming on within the next hour or so every other time I flip through the guide.

I saw this movie when it first came out, and I thought it was funny and successfully done. I like Seth Rogen a lot, and I enjoyed the acting and often sarcastic humor. I wasn't even thinking about getting pregnant at the time, and I certainly hadn't considered any aspects of a natural birth. I remember thinking that Katherine Heigl's character seemed a little silly and naive when it came to the birth. I was wondering what she was doing calmly sitting in a bathtub with candles when it seemed to me that she should be rushing to the hospital. I didn't understand why she had to interview so many OBs; weren't they all qualified doctors? Even though I knew that Kim Jeong's OB character was being bossy and pushy with her when she came in insisting she didn't want any drugs to speed up the labor, I still viewed her as trying to hold on to a fantasy that didn't connect with medical reality.

And then I saw it again.

I recognize now that, especially for a Hollywood portrayal of birth, there are some pretty nuanced views of natural birth and the process of deciding on one.

1) Katherine Heigl's character does a lot of research. She's shown reading several books about pregnancy. She is also shown asking lots and lots of questions of several OBs, choosing one only after she feels completely comfortable that she's found somebody who will respect her birth plan and do everything possible to help her have a positive experience.

2) Seth Rogen's character is an involved participant in the birth. As the father of the baby, he is an advocate for Heigl's wishes and confronts the attending OB about his attitude and forced interventions. Most fathers in movie birth scenes are present as bumbling fools that can't handle it or that get in the way. Rogen's character is involved, informed, and present.

3) Heigl's character is bullied into interventions she doesn't want when her plans fall through; perhaps this is a critique on our medical system. Her doctor isn't available (though he promised he would be) and the doctor that comes into the room immediately wants to give her interventions to speed up labor. After getting very upset, Heigl's character becomes discouraged and resigned.

4) She ends up giving birth (with a pretty graphic (for movie standards) vaginal shot of the head crowning) without any pain medication. Though this birth is put into the Hollywood trope of "there's no time for medication. We have to deliver this baby now"-panic, it is an unusual portrayal.

So, I know that the typical pop culture portrayal of birth is problematic. I also know that natural birth was a pretty foreign concept to me before I started researching on my own, and I think that a different view of birth in mass media would help women know more about their options. However, the first time I saw Knocked Up, I didn't view it in this way. I only noticed the positive (and complicated) messages about natural birth after I was already informed about the process. I still feel it's probably a step in the right direction, but I wonder about its effectiveness. What do you think?

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