My take on 20/20’s “Extreme Motherhood” Show

There were five segments on this show (the links will take you either to the video itself or ABC’s write-up about it): 1) Orgasmic Birth; 2) “Reborns” — lifelike newborn dolls; 3) Extended Breastfeeding; 4) Serial Surrogate Mothers; 5) Homebirth and unassisted childbirth (UC).

Orgasmic birth? Yes, please! Who wouldn’t rather have an orgasmic birth than a painful one! Actually, for me, the birth itself was relatively painless; I’d just be happy not to have back labor next time. It was very interesting watching this segment of the show, because the women seemed to attribute their birth orgasms to lots of prenatal preparation — one woman specifically mentioned hypnosis, and the other women shown talked about being able to transform in her mind the labor sensations from “pain” to “pleasure”. Makes me want to start studying now for an orgasmic birth. 🙂 (No, I’m not pregnant.)

Reborns. I’ve seen these lifelike dolls before — back nearly a year ago, I was tag-surfing on WordPress when I saw a picture of what I thought was a baby, but the blogger identified as a doll. I checked out her blog, which had some fantastic close-up pictures of her dolls, and I was just amazed. They were so life-like — down to tiny arteries and veins in their skin! And I thought no more about it. I’m a little concerned about the women who treat these dolls as if they were people — much like I wonder about some people who treat animals as if they were babies or children. While I can deeply appreciate their maternal desires, I think they should find a better outlet for them. Even if they could not qualify as, or would not want to be, foster or adoptive parents, they could still find avenues to mother those who need mothering — a real-life person who could benefit from their care, rather than an inanimate doll who is no better nor worse for such treatment.

Extended breastfeeding — the meaning behind that depends on the user. I’d think most people use it for nursing longer than 12-18 months or so; as used in this segment, it was nursing children at 6 or 8 years of age. Not my cup of tea; but I could appreciate the mothers’ and children’s points of view when it came to breastfeeding. It was a little weird seeing those children over toddler age nursing, but unless there is some harm from it, I don’t see a problem. The only negative the psychologist could come up with is a theory that an older child being comforted by nursing could somehow interfere with his ability in the future to self-comfort. The negatives mentioned actually made me more of a proponent of long-term nursing, because what he said about older children I’ve heard frequently mentioned about infants and toddlers — basically a bunch of “what ifs” or “maybes” or “I thinks” without any actual data to bolster the opinion, and with evidence to the contrary (which would be these children’s older siblings who also nursed long times and were very well adjusted). Sometimes I wished I still nursed my younger son (about 2&1/2 years old), and frequently I regret weaning him when and how I did. Had I not weaned him, he probably would still be nursing, and might nurse for another year or so — just judging by his personality.

The “serial surrogates” were two women who were surrogate mothers multiple times — the American had 8 surrogate children, in addition to her own 3 children, before finally ending up with a hysterectomy; while the English woman had 12 surrogate children in addition to her own 2. Both women eventually became pregnant with triplets as part of their IVF pregnancies. Part of me agrees with the statement made by the English woman — “you do it once or twice and people say, ‘Oh, how nice of you to help these couples out’; you do it a lot, and people say it’s wrong. Why is that?” But, just as one might eat a doughnut or two without going overboard, one couldn’t eat the whole dozen without being identified as a glutton. There is a certain element of moderation necessary in most if not all aspects of life. While the American woman had only surrogate babies who were not genetically her own, the English woman had several babies by doing an intra-uterine insemination with the man’s sperm — using her own eggs. And one time, she ended up using not just her own egg, but her boyfriend’s sperm (she said they only had protected sex, so it was accidental) — so she did give away her own children, since she was a “surrogate” using her own eggs. She said her father was upset with her for doing that — giving away his grandchildren. She didn’t see it like that, but that is exactly what she did, every time she gave away a baby that was conceived from her egg.

The final segment was a combination of home birth and unassisted home birth. I didn’t like that there was no distinction drawn between the two. Especially considering the distinction that Ricki Lake and others who were involved in The Business of Being Born, make between the two — of supporting midwife-attended home birth but not unassisted birth — I was dismayed that this segment made it appear that she supported unassisted birth, and that her own home birth was unassisted. It was sloppy journalism. Probably, the producers of the 20/20 segment wanted to capitalize on her celebrity, but wanted to keep the “extreme” nature of UC, so accidentally-on-purpose neglected to mention that there were two different things under consideration. Furthermore, it made it seem like the only home births available are the “do it yourself” kind, as if home-birth midwives don’t exist! For many women who might like to give birth outside of the hospital, they might be turned off by the idea of home-birth if they think the only kind is unassisted. That doesn’t seem to make home birth more desirable or “normal,” if/since most women who might have a home birth would want a midwife to attend them. Finally, in the opening of this segment, they conjure up images of the Old West or of colonial times in America, making it sound like women had only unassisted births at these times. While it is true that numerous women must have been completely without a knowledgeable and supportive older woman, a midwife”, throughout the centuries, those were likely a tiny percentage of births. It is also true that in olden times, midwives didn’t have certain equipment and certain levels of knowledge that we have today (oxygen machines, pitocin, ultrasounds, sterility, the scientific studies now available), so old-time midwives were limited, compared to modern midwives, on just what help they could afford their friends, neighbors, and clients. Yet that doesn’t mean they were helpless or of no benefit. Modern midwives (as well as doulas) still use a lot of the same skills and techniques to help a woman through labor and birth, so that she doesn’t need a lot of the equipment and other paraphernelia available today. But we also have emergency services — including hospitals, ambulances, and C-sections — when the need arises. Which reminds me of another thing I didn’t like about the narration in this segment. They brought in Abby Epstein’s emergency C-section with the “but what if something goes wrong” in the background. Well, I think her C-section was an example of everything going right. Had she not been able to get a C-section when needed, that would be “going wrong”; but just needing a C-section is not “wrong” so much as “unplanned.” Had she been planning a hospital birth, complete with an OB her entire 9 months of pregnancy (or a little less since I think the birth was pre-term), and everything else happened just the same — she went into labor early, with a baby in breech position and small due to IUGR, would anyone say that “her birth went wrong” when she went to the hospital for a C-section?


One Response

  1. Thank you for reposting a review about Permission to Mother in the post before this.

    My boys are all breastfed for an extended period time. I often share dialogue between me an my boys about this in the book and the blog without mentioning ages.

    Psychological harm? I haven’t seen any evidence of that. I am so glad I have had the chance to provide the boys with superior nutrition and comfort.

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