There’s one born every minute

Since the start of January, Monday nights have had a distinctly different vibe if you’re in the perinatal world. Cue Channel 4 screen addiction, gnashing of teeth, tearing of hair – or delight mingling with tears, edge-of-seat jeopardy and the wonder of new life. Ad breaks are placed for maximum cliff-hanger effect, and the percieved televisual drama of birth is interspersed with the obvious, dumbed-down juxtaposition of the cleaner mopping the corridor of delivery suite. Yes, One Born Every Minute is on again.

Hidden cameras lurk in every corner of Delivery Suite at Princess Anne hospital in Southampton (or is it Portsmouth?), and we’re invited to join a variety of families on their journey for the arrival of their new baby. And we do, in vast numbers – just as the voice over at the start tells us, there is a new baby born every single minute in the UK.

What a clever title, then! Journos love a pun, an idiom which some might say is just crying out for a TV programme to be made with its words. How many films have been named after songs, for examples, books for phrases?

But just as many midwives, obstretricians, doulas, antenatal teachers and the rest remain unconvinced by the value of this C4 hit, we may ask ourselves whether the idiomatic punning of the title uncovers a deeper message.

Because ‘One Born Every Minute’ actually carries with it a variety of inferences that the programme also portrays beautifully, although I suspect it wasn’t the intention of the producers. ‘One born every minute’ suggests gullibility, being taken for a ride, someone for whom we have little respect, whom we can con, coerce or manipulate. What’s more, to reflect the fact that every single minute a new baby is born in the UK in the title of the programme inevitably infers a conveyor belt maternity system, where nothing is special, an identikit baby is churned out according to identikit policies. Any sense of the unique is removed.

So, taken in that vein, what C4 are trying to show us are gullible women for whom The System has little respect, entering into a conveyor belt of care, off which the mother and new baby is spat, ready for the next innocent.

I’m sure the producers of the programme would dispute this assertion, but let’s just take the fascinating example of Hayley, a fortnight ago. I don’t want this blog to become a naming of names, but given that this woman was prepared to have one of the most intimate and unique experiences of her sexual life filmed and put on primetime TV, I am going to break my own rule.

If ever there was a case both for good antenatal education, and a case against the epidural, this was it. We saw a delightful woman, bubbly, outgoing, attractive – a prime candidate for NCT classes, dare I say it (and why on earth didn’t she go to NCT? It really might have made a massive difference!) She’s in a delivery room, rolling on a birth ball. She’s laughing and joking with her partner. She’s excited to be having a baby.  She’s moving around, she’s confident, she’s apparently well supported. And she’s 6cm dilated.

That means she’s well into established labour, and if all goes well, she should have her baby in her arms in a couple of hours. She’s sailing through this thing so beautifully I want to bottle her and show her to every single woman who ever doubted their ability to give birth vaginally. She is a goddess.

And in comes the midwife, and Hayley starts talking epidurals. Don’t get me wrong, I think – used judiciously – epidurals are bloody marvellous things. Don’t get me wrong again. I’m not a midwife, and I wasn’t there, and I know just as well as everyone else about selective editing that all programme-makers use to show the story they want to show. But what they showed was a woman coping brilliantly, well into labour, requesting an epidural despite those facts. Then they showed us a midwife who obligingly agreed to the request and organised it.

And the woman who is laughing and smiling and moving – all of which are really clever tricks which help to move a baby down, progress a labour and leave a woman feeling clever and proud when her baby arrives – is now still, and passive. And this slows the labour down, then the baby stops moving towards the exit. So the drugs go in her arm to speed it all up again. And although that works, the baby doesn’t like it. The mum has to put her legs in stirrups to push – she’s paralysed from the waist down by the epidural – she’s pushing her now slightly distressed baby uphill, through a smaller space than if she was still upright – and it’s no wonder she needs help. In comes the doctor, with his little suction cup of the ventouse. Then out come the forceps… and finally out comes the baby. Hayley is transformed from a confident smiling birthing woman to an exhausted, frightened one who claims she’s ‘never, ever doing that again’.

Hayley and her partner had heard of epidurals, that’s for sure. They had heard they were brilliant, they took all the pain away. But no-one had told them that there were risks – side effects – to accompany the wonder. They seemed surprised when the midwife suggested that. But do you know what? I seemed surprised that a midwife was complicit in arranging an epidural for a woman who was smiling and laughing and moving beautifully at 6cm dilated.

This week it’s the audience who are the ‘ones born every minute’ with stories so compressed that any opportunity for learning has been removed: all we know is that labour ward is chocka, and the labours presented are disjointed, crucial points omitted and we’re left asking questions. Another two epidurals, one of which appeared to be on a woman who was coping really well with labour, this time two emergency caesareans following it, and a confused audience.

All these women would have so benefitted from stepping off the conveyor belt of a-baby-a-minute for the opportunity to explore why she so wanted the epidural. It doesn’t matter which context that would have been in – NCT classes, or NHS classes, or a one-to-one chat with a midwife, or even a knowledgable friend. Because instead of being the latest, gullible one-born-every-minute woman demanding a form of pain relief that was inappropriate for her INDIVIDUAL case, she would have, most likely carried on laughing through labour. And I reckon that would have made pretty good telly, too.


~ by Kedi Simpson on March 7, 2011.

3 Responses to “There’s one born every minute”

  1. Thanks for this post. I watched that programme with total disbelief in my heart. It really makes me so sad, as both a mother and a doula, that women are being made to believe that this is ‘normal’ birth and births like Lydia having a waterbirth, are only for the few ‘lucky’ women. So sad.

  2. Brilliant blog post. As the lady above did, I sat in disbelief as the ladies last night ended up with c-sections. After doing hypnobirthing classes I am entirely convinced that a large majority of assisted labours are simply not needed. Sadly I ended up with an emergency c-sec myself after my waters broke at 35 weeks and my baby was breech. I still hope for a hypnobirth VBAC next time!

  3. The clips on the channel four website illustrate exactly what you’re saying. Shocking, really.

    The second link shows a forceps birth in some detail, which some people may not want to see.

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