The other night, the Cap’n and I watched the final episode of Season 4 of “The West Wing.” Recent Toby plot-lines have his ex-wife Andrea pregnant with twins (his). In this episode, Andrea’s water breaks, Toby rushes her to the hospital, and she is shown lying in bed in a hospital gown, her hair slightly bedraggled, but none the worse for wear. The doctor (a bigmouth in a baseball cap) comes in and tells her she’s 10 centimeters (i.e. fully dilated), both heads are down, there’s no time for an epidural, and that they’ll be meeting at least one of their children within 15 minutes.
Andrea returns to normal conversation with Toby, apologizes for her remarks in an earlier conversation, and only then shows any kind of distress: her eyes close, she moans a little, then they open, widen, and she begins to puff.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, the writers of “The West Wing” usually do a great job. They write engaging story lines, have a host of interesting characters, address real political issues, occasionally provide the viewer with important civics lessons, and rarely show true ignorance or stupidity. But when they write about Israel or childbirth, they clearly have no idea what they’re doing. (I may blog about their Israel stupidity another time.)
When someone writes a natural childbirth scene, I’m never sure where to lay blame for the absurd outcome: the writers or the actresses/directors. In the “Star Wars: Episode 3” movie, Natalie Portman’s Padmé is also supposed to be birthing twins and does a lousy job. I’m sure many of these actresses have never given birth. And are all the writers male and/or childless? But I suppose they think they’re doing the viewers a favor by “cleaning” it up, toning down the yelling and cutting out most of the contractions that would otherwise interfere with conversation between the characters.
And yet, I guess I’m just a little disappointed. In a film age that brought Meryl Streep’s amazingly convincing accents, Dustin Hoffman’s Best Actor Oscar in 1989 for playing an autistic man, and the stunningly beautiful New Zealand landscapes against which Peter Jackson shot the “Lord of the Rings” movies, I expect better. Viewers today can spot a fake a mile off, and people in the film industry know this. So why has no one (except possibly Bill Cosby in his stand-up routines) represented childbirth with any accuracy?
My guess is that no one cares. It isn’t pretty, and since the babies “born” on TV and in films are several weeks (to several months) old, verisimilitude is already shot. I also suspect that while viewers can tolerate some pretty graphic displays of bleeding and vomiting, the fact that actors in staged fights rarely show any sign that they’re in pain after a good smack in the gob shows that body fluids are okay, but real pain is not. And besides, how many women out there who have experienced natural childbirth are really going to complain?
Besides me, that is.