Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Childbirth in Vintage Movies: "Blue Skies"

I had an interesting experience the other day - getting to watch a vintage childbirth scene from a 1946 film, "Blue Skies" with Bing Crosby and Fred Astair.

First of all, as an aside, I should say that I now understand why a movie with two such phenomenal actors is not well-known - talk about overdone!! This was supposed to be Fred's last movie (it wasn't), so they pulled out all the stops for it - they had a song and/or dance number about every five minutes. Literally. It was extremely tiresome! Combined with a weak plot, it made for a movie that we probably won't be watching again.

Anyhow, there was an unexpected childbirth scene in the movie that I found very interesting. Here's what you see: Bing Crosby pacing with his friend in a lobby in front of a newborn nursery. The nurse comes out with a baby and shows it to him, then takes it away. The doctor comes out and Bing immediately says, "Can I see her, doctor?" The doctor says, "Well, I don't know - she's still kind of sleepy." He rushes in anyway, in time for a conversation with a half-unconscious wife. The next scene is of them giving a bottle to the baby.

Okay, let's unpack this for just a minute. Here's the reality of what would have happened:

During labor, the wife (Joan) would have been isolated from her family and then doped out of her mind with various drugs, including scopolamine. She would have been strapped down to a delivery table in the lithotomy position (flat on her back, head lower than her legs, legs tied into stirrups). For the actual delivery she would have been (either willingly or forcibly) drugged into complete unconsciousness. The doctor would have cut one heck of an episiotomy, dragged a near-unconscious infant out with forceps, and spanked it vigorously to it breathing (a drugged mother is a drugged baby) and then toted it off to the newborn nursery. Not only would the mother not have been conscious for the birth, but she probably wouldn't have seen her baby for some time (and would be too drugged out to care). She would have been discouraged from breastfeeding and told to give the always-superior formula.

The arrogance of humanity astounds me. God has given us a perfect process in human childbirth which is self-contained and needs (in most cases) only loving support and encouragement. But in every age since we've been able to do so (including the present time) man has with the utmost conceit assumed that a perfect process needs improvement by humanity, and thus has created such atrocities as scopolamine-drugged births in the 1950's and a now 32% cesarean rate in the 2000's. Sad.

This just makes me mad because I know how important a woman's birth experiences are to her. Rather than go on a rant, I'll just refer you to my entry below this one.

A couple of years ago, I would have seen this scene and thought it merely sweet. After all, they abound throughout film - "I Love Lucy," etc. And modern childbirth scenes in the media are really no better. There's always the emergency situation, the "rescue" by the godlike doctor, the unnecessary interventions accepted by unknowing mothers as good and needed. Gee whiz, you'd think we could improve out of this mess!

Enough grousing! Back to what I should be doing!

1 comment:

  1. Have you ever seen the movie "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" from the 50s-60s? It's set in 1850, and has a "birth" scene which is basically the brothers all pacing the floor below, with the women running up and down the stairs getting various things (water, blankets, etc.), then one woman calls all the others up... the tension mounts... the brothers are all looking up at the ceiling where the wife is giving birth... and they hold their breath... and SMACK-SMACK-SMACK and a baby cries, and all the men breathe a sigh of relief.

    I've watched that movie since childhood, and it wasn't until the past few years that I realized how sad the depiction of birth was. The film-makers of the time knew nothing of birth except for how it was in the 1950s (as you described in your post), including that the baby had to be hit before it would breathe, so they used that in the film set a hundred years before.



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