Monday, March 22, 2010

Reality 301 – Labour Pains

I’ll never forget the day someone decided that the time had come to expose my students to the mystery of childbirth. I was teaching in a suburban high school and a 16 mm. documentary film had just come out which purported to uncover, so to speak, the actual event for all to see. I think there was some faint hope, on the part of the management, that witnessing this travelogue down the birth canal would put the teenagers off sex, the not-so-hidden agenda, in the days before the pill. There were many such plots in the health program in those days. ( I wish I could evict from my own memory the sight of our very kind but extremely unappealing school nurse peeling a condom down over a banana to encourage safe sex in the AIDS assemblies inflicted on our students. It certainly put me off the fruit, which you know, I like).

At this point in my life, I was recently married and several of my friends had started their families, but I can assure you that no one I knew, except for doctors and nurses, had ever seen anything like this - not even the people actually involved in the process: parents. Fathers were kept out in the hospital waiting room, pacing and probably smoking, and mothers-to-be were discreetly draped in sheets and knocked out, if they were lucky, so no one was the wiser. The baby, when finally delivered, was whisked away, to be ‘made-over’, in current parlance, before being presented to the world, freshly polished like a new diamond, behind a glass window in a nursery. No touching!

This little black and white documentary caused quite a sensation. Although the camera stayed far back for most of the time, concentrating on the doctor’s back, it managed to sneak around his elbow at a crucial moment. The one impersonal close up of the baby’s blood-streaked head emerging from the birth canal was enough to send kids screaming and fainting in all directions.
Even a few teachers felt queasy.

I realize that calling the shot of a woman’s most intimate region ‘impersonal’ sounds a little strange, but what I mean is that at no time did we see the mother’s face, get to know her as a person, hear her ‘story’, her hopes, fears and dreams, see the décor of the nursery awaiting the baby at home, or meet her husband or extended family. Her private parts remained private. More or less.

The idea that all that would change to such a degree that, not only would the extended family be invited into the delivery room to witness the event and to film it with their video cameras for posterity, (the hand-held camera changes behavior) but that they could be convinced that it would benefit the whole world if the woman would also allow a camera crew in to shoot her agony and crotch for many hours, just goes to show you how much we have changed our behavior because of technology.

They’re worried that we are giving up our privacy on Facebook? That train left the station forty years ago.
Filled with babies.


  1. I love your perspectives, and am enjoying your work!!!

  2. About ten years ago, a young couple we were very friendly with invited us over to watch the video of the birth of their child. Here we are, the four of us, eating sushi, watching my friend Carol wearing a hospital gown and vagina completely exposed for what seemed an interminable period of time before and during labour and up till the 'crowning' event. Dan was speechless and I was traumatized. Although I have miraculously returned to sushi many times, that was the last time we saw that couple.