This Ain’t Hollywood

I’ve mentioned in the past that I have a long history with acting. I suppose technically I was only a “professional” with an agent and actual “big studio” work for 3 years, but I had my first lines in kindergarten, so…there you go.

I learned a lot about the fake side of tv and movies. Whether using makeup, apple boxes, or just clever camera angles, you can fake a lot about a person or place. I am not a tall girl by anyone’s estimation. Heels can help, but heels don’t always make sense for a scene. Cue an apple box. Suddenly I’m at least 5’10”.

I’ve seen ethnicities whitewashed and white bread darkened as appropriate. Tattoos and magnetic piercings, blood and bruises, even hair and eye colour is only permanent if you don’t have the budget for wigs or contacts.

So you’d think with all of this background, I’d know not to take anything I see on TV/Movies as anything all that close to real life. But you know what? When it comes to pregnancy and birth, I sort of did.

Let us look at this trickery together and glance behind the curtain…

Hollywood Lies

There are so many ridiculous things in this category. I think my favorite is the actress not realizing she’s preggo until she repeatedly throws up. Now I didn’t have that issue at all, but I can confide in you that the women I know who did were well aware that they were preggo by that point. A 3-4 week late period really gives you a rather strong indicator.

I recently realized that Hollywood (and media/ads/etc) like using preggos at about the 5-6 month mark if they use actual preggos at all. The model/actress at that point is obviously pregnant, but is just healthy and round. Cute, not waddling, and still obviously super happy/active.

I’m at this size now. I’m supposed to average almost an additional centimeter a week (from pelvis to top of uterus) from now on. Mine’s just above my belly button now. It’s not getting any smaller, and neither will I. I’m also not wearing a fake belly on a completely normal fit body. So more than just my stomach is bigger.

No wonder people look at women who are 8 months pregnant and assume they’re ready to explode at any time. Or look at normal pregnancies and wonder why the woman has gained so much weight.

According to the all mighty Hollywood, when you go into labor, your water breaks suddenly with a gush, you rush to the hospital, and give birth shortly thereafter. Sometimes your contractions make your voice lower so that you sound like a demon. You demand drugs. You will scream and swear and be generally crazy.

Now, I have had some women tell me that they got the gush of fluid, but most of the people I’ve talked to/read about weren’t even sure that their water actually broke. The general consensus seemed to be a question of whether or not they’d peed themselves…made worse by the fact that the fluid didn’t stop after the initial go, but kept trickling merrily along.

No one went directly to the hospital, with the exception of a mom who’d been laboring for hours and hours before her water finally broke. No one got demon voice. Some people demanded drugs, some simply said yes when offered, and others had no desire and went without. Screaming/swearing/crazy seemed to depend entirely on the person.

Here Hollywood gets super mean. Pushing takes about 10 seconds. The mom is always on her back (usually feet in stirrups) and always fully clothed/covered. Nothing untoward happens and placentas magically disappear on their own.

Would you believe me if I told you that I was 20 years old before I ever heard that a person pooped during delivery? It’s true. A friend told me her Mom pooped on the doctor’s shoes during her own birth. Not only did I find this horrifying. (“WHY are you telling me this?!?!”) I also figured it was a strange and unique one-off. Surely that didn’t normally happen. If it did, I would have heard something, right? Apparently not. Imagine my surprise when a delivery nurse confided in me that it was “pretty typical.”

I also remember the first time I heard of a woman pushing for HOURS. I was reading a birth story blog. She was excellent about keeping track of the time various things happened. I knew labor could be long, but I figured the pushing was just, you know, the last couple minutes at most. She pushed for almost three hours. And it was no big deal. She never felt like nothing was happening or that she wasn’t getting any closer to a baby. It was work, but it wasn’t impossible work.

All the extra “help” stuff (vacuum, forceps, episiotomy) weren’t on my radar until I started my preggo research.  Ditto stitches. Birthing flat on the back does happen, but even in hospitals it’s becoming rarer. (The top of the bed swings up to more of a sitting position.) And if the hundreds of birth stories I’ve read about/watched are any indication, lots of moms would rather be naked/topless/in nothing but a boob covering than deal with the annoyance of clothing.

As dumb as it sounds, it never occurred to me that you had to “birth” the placenta. I mean, obviously it wasn’t like the umbilical cord just snapped back like a tape measure, I just sort of forgot that having the placenta stay inside the body would be a super bad thing. (I did know this at some point. I remember the vet going over a mare’s placenta to make sure none of the pieces were left inside the horse. He told me a very bad infection could happen if any was left inside.) As usual, Hollywood failed me.

I found out very early that Hollywood uses “older” babies for any scene involving a baby…even in birth. I’m fairly familiar with industry laws regarding child and infant labor. (At least, I was when I was a child. I wanted to be a child actor sooo bad. Thank God that never happened.) I could be wrong, but I think it’s illegal to use a baby under 3 weeks of age. They also can’t be premature, underweight, or in any way unhealthy. The thing is, an infant under 6 months can only be “shot” for 20 minutes a day. Over 6 months and that jumps to 2 full hours.  Ergo, most “newborns” on TV and Movies are anything but.

Real life newborns tend to be tiny, wrinkled, vaguely purple humans who may or may not be a bit misshapen from birth. They can be covered with various sundry items ranging from blood to body hair. Surprise! Skin-to-skin is a better temperature regulator than a blanket wrapping. Breastfeed is encouraged in the first 20 minutes.

So why the lies? With the exception of not using fragile newborns for very unfragile film work, I can’t really tell you. Maybe it’s a little bit our fault. Maybe that’s what we expect, so something “real” would seem overdone or grotesque.

I’ve seen some fairly awesome births since doing all this study, and none of them were overdone or grotesque. Thankfully, the up-crotch camera angle I saw in health class many, many moons ago seems to have been largely abandoned. (Why you’d show that to kids of an age to reproduce is beyond me. We all know where it comes out, I certainly didn’t need to see it from a foot away.) Now you get to see the whole picture, including an often ecstatic mother who’s hit a state of grace like no other.

Maybe if more births were represented this way in mainstream film (even the Hollywood prettied up version) fewer women would be afraid to give birth. Maybe that’s just my own wishful thinking.

Still, I always felt like the “monsters” were way less scary when you watched the makeup go on…


3 thoughts on “This Ain’t Hollywood

  1. The best Hollywood birth in my opinion is Rachel in Friends. She sat up during birth and delivered a breech baby vaginally (almost unheard of now) having been in labor for hours and hours.

    Good for you for weeding out the lies!

  2. It’s true that Rachel had a much more typical birth. Even the fact that she labored for a long time was unique. There are exceptions out there, but they are so few and far between…

  3. This always blew my mind, too. My mum having been in the OB/GYN business for 30 years means that I was fully aware of the pooping, the tearing and all the other stuff media never talks about. For example, my brother was born so fast that instead of having her tail bone just spring back when he pushed off of it, it snapped. My brother broke my mum’s ass bone. I don’t think Hollywood will ever get the real side of much, let alone pregnancy and birth.


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