Film & TV

What to Expect When Channel-Surfing: Childbirth Tropes in Film and TV

Image credit: John Loy via Unsplash

by Flora Tucker

Seven tropes in film and TV about giving birth: 

  1. The Useless Father 

I don’t know why, but in TV and film, the father is almost always useless when his partner is giving birth. At best, he offers inane comforts that fall short of the mark. More often, however, he takes up more attention than the woman in labour, or he barely makes it to the hospital… if he does it all.

While this is often portrayed as quasi-feminist move, showing strong women doing all the work, more often than not, it shows that the bar is ridiculously low for fathers before the baby is even born. 

  1. No Hospital

It’s too late to make it to the hospital. Without fail, the mother is giving birth in the back of a taxi cab. This goes hand in hand with… 

  1. The Worst Timing Known to Woman…

…But the only timing apparently known to script-writer. If there is a heavily pregnant woman on screen, and an imminent crisis, one can bet that the crisis and labour will coincide. It’s an evolutionary trait, don’t worry, it makes sense. 

This leads to its sister trope… 

  1. …The Christmas Special 

Similarly, if there is a heavily pregnant woman and a Christmas special coming up, one can expect some Madonna/Jesus-style birth giving. 

  1. It’s too Late for an Epidural 

In a move that seems staunchly anti-drug, even when to be so is to be anti-medication, one of the most common tropes on screen is when the expectant mother in labour demands her epidural, only for a doctor to announce it is ‘too late’. 

If this happened half as often in real life as it does on television, then hospitals really would need to be asking women to come in sooner. 

  1. The Unsuitable Midwife

Very often, in tropes 2 and 3, we find that the baby is delivered by somebody totally unsuited to the role. Either they are a close friend, a teen protagonist, or, best case scenario, a vet. Most surprising, though, is that both mother and child survive, for the most part, with no complications, and no postnatal infections. 

  1. It All Stops There

Image Credit: Filip Mroz via Unsplash

Perhaps the grossest oversight of the screen when it comes to giving birth is the idea that it all stops there. There is no need to deliver the afterbirth, despite the fact that failure to do so can be life-threatening. There are very few depictions of postnatal depression, or recovering from the physical trauma of giving birth. 

Unless the TV show is expressly made to demonstrate this, there is seldom any kind of indication that the new parents’ lives have changed at all. Babysitters are cheap and easy to come by, and their social lives–and relationships–remain unchanged, even if they do complain about having lost a little sleep.

Categories: Film & TV, TV

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