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Hollywood offers mythical version of childbirth

It continues to amaze me that women in the Western world have babies at all today.

Why? Because of the excruciatingly painful — and very loud — way that childbirth is almost always portrayed by Hollywood. My girls are already terrified at the prospect.

Again this past weekend, one of my daughters and I had to suffer through a depiction of incomprehensible torture, as Debra Messing’s character, “Edie,” birthed a baby in the remake of the classic 1939 film “The Women.” (Overall, though, the 2008 version was still very funny.) I’m convinced such Hollywood portrayals of birth are also partly responsible for the high rate of planned Caesarean sections in the United States today, too. Why not just avoid all that in the first place?

And, by the way, the women in these films are always screaming expletives at their husbands as they give birth, but I really don’t know why that is so hilarious. I once wrote a controversial column arguing that husbands not be forced into the delivery room. In fact, that they may not even belong there at all. While I myself had succumbed to the cultural pressure to have my husband there for our first three babies, by number four I gave him a pass to play golf until I called him. The whole thing couldn’t have been more peaceful.

But I digress.

I’ve written before about the childbirth-as-Hollywood-sees-it nonsense. But now that my own daughters are getting into their teen years, this largely mythical version of events is already plaguing them. So now it’s personal for me. I want grandchildren some day!

So, I thought I would step in for the record:

I’m not necessarily making the case for heavy doses of pain medication for childbirth. I will just say that for all four of mine I was what I called “an epidural waiting to happen.” While many women will not plan to do so ahead of time, most in the U.S. will end up getting some medication for pain relief when they have their babies. So what? There are no ribbons handed out for doing without it. Still, even my friends who have chosen to go through childbirth with no pain medication don’t recount the screaming or the expletives that are inevitably the stuff of Hollywood childbirth portrayals.

In any event, sure I can’t make any promises that things will go smoothly and comfortably for anyone. I do know that they very often do. Personally, I never found childbirth myself particularly magical or transcendent — another Hollywood depiction — but I did think it was really cool. Any pain was manageable. And, of course, it’s really fun when it’s over and you’ve got this weird-looking little thing they put in your arms. Moreover, most of my contemporaries had very similar experiences.

Anyway, here’s a reality Hollywood rarely reminds us of: Historically, women and babies died in childbirth all the time. (They still do in parts of the world.) Yet, women kept having those little ones anyway. In the end, I suppose something very innate takes over when it comes to how much we want those babies and, thankfully, here it’s hard to be deterred by fact or fiction.

By the way, there are some things no one ever told me before my first baby, and this is information I could have used: Your belly does NOT fully deflate after the birth — that actually can take weeks or even months; and those first few months after the baby is born can be particularly “unmagical.” Little sleep, lots of worry about how much he or she is eating, a great deal of crying, and he or she isn’t smiling at you for weeks. So, no emotional payback.

But hang in there. In fact, you’ll find that some of those things will happen again when they are teens. (A part Hollywood often gets right.) But this time you will likely be a little more prepared for reality. And, just like your foremothers and forefathers, will get through that experience, too!

Scripps Howard News Service

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