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One Born Every Minute: The invasiveness of reality TV (Season 1, Episode 4)

October 21, 2014

A close friend of mine has been studying Midwifery for the past few years, I never quite understood what ‘Midwifery’ was. When I enquired, I was told to simply watch ‘One Born Every Minute‘, a show that would not typically be on my download agenda.  Firstly, because I am not accustomed to reality TV. Secondly, I do not think it is necessary to watch people during the most private time in their life, and I do not need to see a midwife up to her elbows in placenta. Yuck.

None-the-less, this was listed as an option for assessment three. So intrigue got the better of me.

One Born Every Minute looks as the ‘reality’ of giving birth through the eyes of the Midwife. As a woman, the concept of giving birth is particularly harrowing. And, unfortunately I have been misled in terms of expectations as Hollywood has managed to glamourise the whole experience, just as they have the ‘first time’.  The series crosses the border from ‘onlookers’ in reality TV to ‘experiencers’ of the drama at present, allowing viewers a taste of the reality of giving birth (A. Hill, 2005, Reality TV).

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The home movie style videography almost gives me the idea that some trigger happy family have handed in their home made documentary. Despite the poor quality at stages, it is clear that something personal is being shared. So I watch, almost out of respect. “We have become fixated with the most authentic forms of reality, even the most invasive situations”. (Ouelette & Murray, 2004 ‘Introduction to Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture).

The fly on the wall narrative is presented through a combination of voice overs, interviews and the recounting of the information from the midwife, the family, or the women giving birth.  In this episode, there are two different couples, one couple elated with the success of their 5th round of IVF, the other routinely giving birth to their umpteenth child.

The story is back and forth, following each couple as they arrive at the hospital, to the final birth and the musings of the event afterwards, all with the midwife overseeing the whole operation.

Terrifyingly for me, the camera does not shy away at any stage, the most gruesome aspects of the “magic” that is birth. CCTV footage; close ups, awkward spats between couples, stretch marks, talk of dilating… It is all disgusting. At this stage, I am tempted to pick up the phone to discuss my friends career aspirations.

Voice overs and strategically placed music segments also add to the emotion at each milestone occasion, this keeps me connected.

Birth is gruesome – there is no other way to describe it. I hear women screaming in pain, real blood, real tears, men reeling with both horror and elation. All of this is captured from the view of 40 cameras placed in a bustling maternity hospital, from the front reception to the operating theater’s, everything is seen. How these women agree to broadcast this footage, I really don’t know. They look terrible, sweaty, bad hair, bad teeth, no makeup, talk of their lady parts.. It’s all just horrible.

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The first couple attempt to induce labour, we see the Asian woman’s belly swollen with liquid and torn with stretch marks, this is very confronting, almost alien-like. I immediately decide to never have kids. The couple are clearly annoyed with one another, the husband obediently submits to the demands of his agitated wife. The couple are exhausted, settling in for the night, the husband awkwardly sleeps on an uncomfortable creaking chair (Kerrie Murphy, 2006, TV Land: Australia’s obsession with Reality TV).

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Then the second couple are introduced, it is clear they have lots of kids, there is talk of a vasectomy in the very first scene with them – who talks so openly about cutting into hubby’s penis?

Both women wait for their water to break.  Three quarters in on the OBEM timeline and the first breaks, then the second. The first couple opts for an epidural after four long days of waiting to ‘dilate’.

I get a full front shot of the needle going in, not just a quick shot, I see it slowly inserting. Yet another thing I could have happily gone my whole life without seeing. 

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The other woman seems to be quite intent on taking in as much gas as possible, the new midwife Lorraine attempts to coerce the woman to go on her side, as the back is bad for the baby.  I see a close up of the clock and the IV drip, I become immediately nervous for the health of this lazy woman’s child.

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FINALLY the water breaks, and out comes baby, blood, umbilical chord and all. I am out of my misery. The senior nurse checks in with Lorraine to see how her first day went “It was a baptism by fire”.

The first couple out of desperation decide to go with a cesarean to remove the baby.  The final scenes are of elation with both women holding their babies. Lorraine comments “to share this moment is the most amazing thing”. I can now see why my friend is interested in midwifery, yet it still baffles me.  

Closing Credits roll. Voice over: “if you cant wait until next week, follow online for a wealth of birthing videos” – disgusting.

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