Hollywood has had much to say about pregnancy – most of it involving excessive weight gain, fluctuating hormones, insane food cravings and scream-filled birthing rooms. But are those depictions truthful? And what realities get glossed over – or skipped altogether – on the big screen?
The latest star-studded foray into those wondrous nine months, What to Expect When You’re Expecting (opening this Friday, May 18), follows five couples in their journey towards parenthood. Considering that the cast includes Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Dennis Quaid and Chris Rock, we’d love to see accuracy reign paramount via A-list players. After all, the film is based on the best-selling book of the same name (often dubbed the “pregnancy bible”).
In honor of the upcoming release, we decided to pose our questions to an expert: Sokhna Heathyre Mabin, a New York City-based doula, yoga teacher, herbalist and mother of two. Based on her feedback, What to Expect When You’re Expecting (and Hollywood’s portrayal of pregnancy, in general) has a lot to deliver.
Movies.com: What stage of pregnancy or birth rarely gets touched upon in popular culture?
Sokhna Heathyre Mabin: As I experienced with my children's births, and assisting women, and every single woman who I've talked to who is a mother…there's the physical birth, and then there's postpartum. And postpartum is the real birth of the woman. It's just a totally different place. There’s no training to having the responsibility for someone else staying alive.
Movies.com: Clearly - in TV and films - it's more dramatic to show the changes during pregnancy and the act of giving birth, but that’s obviously just a small portion of the experience. I can't think of anything - off the top of my head - that's delved into the postpartum scenario in a realistic way.
SHM: It's quite exhausting, it's emotionally frustrating, it can be quite debilitating. It's very frightening, and very exciting - it has these dualities. There's just a lot of raw emotion involved.
Movies.com: I remember a few of my close friends being shocked after they gave birth that their baby had to be taught how to breastfeed - they just thought it was something natural that happened, like in the movies! And it's actually something both a child and mother need to learn to do.
SHM: Yeah, the nurse says, "Here's your baby. Now put the mouth to your nipple, put the tummy to your tummy, OK now do it." And it isn't like that! Some babies don't know how to suck. Babies are hard-wired to suck, but it doesn't mean they're going to get it right away.
Movies.com: I've heard horror stories from friends about painful c-sections, weight gain that won't come off, stretched out stomachs, saggy boobs after breastfeeding, umbilical hernias, snapped and torn muscles in their abdomens - you name it. Is that just par for the course?
SHM: That's pretty extreme. You know me, I've had two children - I've had a caesarean, and my caesarean saved my life. I had a natural birth at home after that one. And my weight came off, I take care of my body…OK, I would love to have maybe some perkier happier breasts, but my breasts are satisfied! [laughs]
Movies.com: Forget the physical – what about the emotional? What goes on in your head while you’re growing a person inside of you?
SHM: It has everything. Every emotion is alive… you don't know - is it well? Is it going to be a healthy person? Is it going to have problems? What's their personality? Will I survive the birth? Will I love my baby? It's scary.
Movies.com: If you directed What to Expect When You're Expecting, how would you have it play out?
SHM: I would have all the couples have a particular issue. One has a great pregnancy, one has a horrible pregnancy. Someone finds out they have gestational diabetes, somebody finds out they're having twins. They all have these beautiful expectations, and each one gets busted with something really realistic. That's what I'm hoping happens in this movie. And I'm hoping that it's funny, and I hope there's a little bit of tragedy. What if somebody's baby dies? What if they have the baby for a few months and it dies? These things happen. So, it's Hollywood…but I hope they put a little bit of reality in it, because what's happening now in making birth a commodity is taking the realistic, the natural process…out of it. It's become what stroller you have, what baby carrier you have, if your baby bottles have plastic in them. I just don't care. I'm paying attention to what's happening to the humans.
Movies.com: Are there any particular in-your-face learning experiences you’d have the characters endure?
SHM: The woman breastfeeding will take her baby off the nipple and the breast is going to shoot the milk four feet in front of her, and she's not expecting that! [laughs] I'd like to see that in the movie! I want to see some spraying nipples! I want to see them walking down the street, and their baby’s diaper blows out. And they're not expecting that! The silly things that happen that are really unexplainable. And the love - that the partners are like, "Oh my God - we did this together!"
Movies.com: I got a little annoyed when I saw Knocked Up, because there's a shot of Katherine Heigl’s character crowning, but she's totally waxed and there's no blood. That just isn't realistic.
SHM: I don't know why we're so afraid of that. I don't know how you can look at a horror movie, ripping somebody's guts out, chopping somebody's head off, but you can't watch a baby be born. That's kind of weird to me.
Movies.com: I thought it was much more truthful in Knocked Up when she yelled, "I feel everything!" Although the screaming? That always seems a little excessive in movie birth scenes.
SHM: Some women scream. And then they're like, "Oh. I guess I didn't need to scream. That was kind of dramatic." [laughs] Because it's not a screaming situation! It's noise, yes. Gasping, but when the woman is pushing she's also quite silent. She's using her energy to go in. She's using that strength to push down and concentrate. You don't have time to scream! You have to take a breath and do the work. The screaming is really more everyone else in the room. [laughs]
Movies.com: A lot of the male dads I know cite Knocked Up as being really accurate regarding their feelings about impending fatherhood. I feel like guys don't get education or attention because they're not carrying the child, which is silly. I said the word "episiotomy" in front of a male friend the other day and he had no clue what I was talking about.
SHM: That's a really important point. Men need to be brought into the birth process. They helped make the baby! It's their birth, too.
Movies.com: Are there any universal truths for all pregnancies and new parents?
SHM: Everyone will say, "It's not what I thought it was." It either turned out to be better, or it turned out to be worse. Everyone will say, "Having a child changed my life."