Hollywood vs Midwife: What to Expect When You’re Expecting

In Commentary, FILM, THEATRE & TV by Hannah Oliver

I didn’t really think about all this stuff before I got pregnant. I just wanted the glow. The one they promise you on the cover of those magazines with the pretty lady, looking down at her perfectly round belly with that sweet smile …Elizabeth Banks, What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

When I tell people I study midwifery they usually have one of two reactions: the first being the “awwww how cute, you work with babies” and the second being “why the fuck would you ever want to do that?” Both are understandable. Hollywood’s pretty much got the same split reaction, the first one being the glowing pregnant woman whose glow progresses to, maybe, just the slightest sheen of sweat as she pushes a beautiful 3 month-old baby out of her (off-camera) vagina. Take Brooklyn Decker, for example, in What to Expect When You’re Expecting

“She’s wearing six inch heels. Oh my god, she’s like a magical pregnancy unicorn.”

Then there’s Elizabeth Banks’ character, who calls bullshit. Bigtime. The glossy magazines and the Hollywood stereotypes are lying, people. And I’m here to call bullshit, too. You know who you never hear from in the movies? Us lot. The midwives. Cause we sure as hell aren’t just quiet, pretty ladies in clean, green uniforms either. Magical pregnancy unicorns, however – subject to opinion.

What-to-expect-when-youre-expecting-brooklyn-decker1So what home truths can I tell you? What can you expect when you’re expecting? I am usually asked a load of questions which probably aren’t suitable for the setting of our conversation, but none the less I plough on, ignoring the looks I receive for talking loudly and proudly about vaginas. Because I am proud. I am proud of what I get to do day in and day out, I am proud of just how much I have learnt over the past two years and I am proud of the women who I have looked after. Because my god, making a human takes a lot… Honestly watch Elizabeth Banks in the movie it if you haven’t…it’s an education. And then some. Believe me, there is nothing like a woman in labour to put your life into perspective.

….End of the shift, been on my feet for 12 hours, might not have had a break… Am I going to complain about my sore back to the woman in the throws of labour? Am I fuck. Had to get up at 5.30 for placement, after the dickheads downstairs kept me up playing Fifa. Am I going to complain about my tired state to the woman who just had a 14 hour labour and now has a screaming baby who needs almost continual feeding, preventing her from getting some sleep? Yeah… going to try and stifle that yawn too. Perspective. My role in that room is to support her in whatever way she needs while ensuring her labour is progressing as normal, and if not, carrying out the appropriate responses. She is trusting me with the most important thing in her life, that baby. And with such high stakes, it’s surprisingly easy to forget about your backache.

There is also the complete surrendering to ‘nature way’ as it can be put. For as much as we can medicalise childbirth when needed by monitoring and measuring and medicating… there are some things that to prevent or control would be medicalisation gone too far.

Pooing for example. I should have put at the beginning that this subject not for the queasy, or the prudish, or anyone eating really. So if I’ve said too much already….just stop reading. So for those of you with the question about whether women poo themselves; you know the toothpaste which is nicely divided up into 3 separate colors so you get a funky marbling effect on your toothbrush? Well imagine trying to squeeze out say the red and white part, but not the blue. Yeah… pretty difficult. Even for Brooklyn Decker. It takes a fuck lot of pressure and effort to get a baby out, and pressure in that general area…well the answer is yes. Not everyone. But yes. And I know this is a horrendous thought that, ladies, you might one day shit while someone is literally peering down your nether regions…. but honestly it’s not that bad. No, honestly. I have had countless women tell me they are terrified of this happening to them and despite the contractions and the impending birth their main worry is whether you see them poo. And no amount of me telling them it doesn’t matter is convincing them otherwise. So naturally once they have got their baby in their arms and they look at me for the answer, I will tell them no, they didn’t, irrespective of the truth. See? It’s not just Hollywood who cipher out the details – you have us to thank for that, too. Anyway, they were far too pre-occupied delivering their baby to notice, and frankly, so was I. And that’s all they need to know. To be honest, they never push me on the subject. I think maybe because once they’re holding their baby, they don’t even care anymore. As I said, perspective.

I have nothing but respect for the women who I care for. And as much as I can be pushed to breaking point… yes I have cried at work before, twice… these women have let me in at the most vulnerable time of their lives, contributed to my developing skills, and usually do so with appreciation and gratitude. And that’s not something I feel like I need Hollywood to endorse. So when I’m crying in the toilets on a shift because I’m tired and hungry and I haven’t had time to have a wee all day, and its just all a bit much, I tell myself not to grow some balls but to grow a vagina. This is a phrase one of my friends (Edit: Betty White) coined because it’s the women who we look after who surprise us with their strength, humility, and determination, be they Brooklyn Decker (pff, never happens, believe me) or Elizabeth Banks. And it’s these women who remind me that despite all the shit, literally and figuratively, they are the reason I love my work.

Ellen Parker

Ellen Parker, as you may have gathered, studies midwifery at the University of Leeds. When she can she plays hockey but loves said hobby mainly for the excuse to drink at socials. When not drunk or playing hockey she and her coursemates live by the mantra ‘eat sleep placement repeat’.

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