Saturday, December 17, 2016

TV babies

Sorry for the recent gap in posting ... that is, if anyone has actually been here to check.  It's partly that I haven't had anything interesting to say, partly that I've been tired and busy, and partly that the spacebar on my tablet is sticky so typing anything requires an annoying amount of effort.  Suffice it to say I'm still alive, and I still haven't had that baby.

I've been watching Scrubs lately, which I mostly like, but lately it's getting very baby-heavy.  Don't get me wrong, I like babies, but I'm often dissatisfied with TV babies. They are a very popular plot device .... and handled totally unrealistically.  I understand why -- I mean, there's only so much you can do with baby actors, for one thing; and for another, not everyone who writes TV scripts has any kids.  But I wonder if people actually get their impressions about what having kids is like from TV.  So I thought I'd clear a few things up with some facts about real babies.

They involve three symptoms, usually: feeling queasy, getting huge, and going completely bonkers.  All pregnant women experience all of these, and generally no others.  They bounce around like normal people and gain no weight except in the belly.  They eat a lot, even when they're nine months pregnant and their stomach is the size of an egg.  But MAN do they go bonkers.  They go from laughing to crying and back again in seconds, because it's so hilarious to watch a woman go crazy.

Pregnancies vary a lot. Some people puke incessantly and some never feel queasy.  Some people gain weight just in the belly, and some gain a little everywhere.  And the stages of pregnancy progress slowly -- you don't actually go from flat-bellied one week to pillow-strapped-on the next week.  Almost everyone eventually gets the pregnancy waddle; somehow actresses aren't always informed of this, because they spring out of chairs and dash down hallways like spring chickens.  And the emotional roller coaster?  Yeah, okay, emotions can be harder to manage during pregnancy.  But it doesn't usually stop us from being competent adults.  Also, your average pregnant woman is not going to bite your head off one moment and the next tolerantly watch you laugh at her with your friends saying "Pregnant women be crazy, amirite?"  No, you're going down for that one. IT'S NOT FUNNY TO FEEL LIKE YOU'RE LOSING YOUR MIND.

You know the routine: the woman's water breaks somewhere embarrassing.  Everyone rushes around trying to get her to the hospital RIGHT NOW because if they don't go RIGHT NOW the baby will be born in the car!  Once at the hospital, the woman shrieks and curses and begs for drugs, while still looking pretty.  For mysterious reasons the mother never gets any drugs (unlike 80% of women), probably because watching someone scream and cry is so fun.  There's time for a few conversations and then bam, out pops a baby!  (Generally a two- or three-month-old because actual newborns don't act in movies.)  Unless, of course, there's some kind of problem, in which case everyone acts like the mother is absolutely going to die.  I remember a clip from a soap opera in which the dad is told in whispers that the baby is breech, and then there's a long montage where he pictures life without his wife.  Breech birth is not a serious complication!  After the birth, the mother always looks exactly as she did before getting pregnant and is capable of all her normal activities.

Labors tend to be long, especially first labors.  They usually start with contractions, not water breaking, and nobody knows at first if it's the real thing.  The smart thing is to stay at home for awhile because there is no point in going in while it's still getting started.  There is usually no rush.  Once you get to the hospital, there might be some time for screaming and begging for drugs, but when labor gets serious, the mother probably isn't going to be able to talk at all during contractions.  She'll probably look a fright -- no more TV makeup.  Pushing usually involves more grunting than screaming.  And while complications are common, doctors are pretty good about reassuring the parents that a c-section is not normally life-threatening.  Newborns look totally gruesome.  They are covered in blood and vernix; they do not have belly buttons; their skinny little arms and legs flail around in a jerky way.  Call the Midwife is the only show I've watched which actually has newborns in it; any other "newborn" you've seen on TV is an older baby or a doll.  Oh, and mothers who have just given birth still look pregnant for several days or weeks after.  For the first week or so they can often barely walk.  They cannot chase down bad guys.  They can barely make it to the bathroom.

This one drives me bananas.  In television, you see, children only need to be cared for when the plot requires it.  Single mom spontaneously decides to stay at her boyfriend's overnight?  She can just do it, no need to call the babysitter and ask her to stay over.  The baby just vanishes as required.  Oh, and if the spouses are having a fight, both of them can meet up at random in a non-home location, without the baby, and that's totally fine.  Dad does not see Mom and ask, "Where's the baby?" because of course the baby is perfectly fine unattended late at night.  It's probably doing the dishes so they're sparkly when Mom and Dad get home.

Conversely, it's no biggie for parents to bring their babies anywhere, at any hour.  A toddler can come to a 10 pm concert, no sweat, and rather than getting overtired and throwing a fit, will make cute comments or entertain himself in someone's lap.  A crawling infant is a real asset at work and nobody ever says anything mean about it; they are all happy to abandon their own work and watch the baby.

Babies have to be watched 24/7.  That's the reality.  It does in fact put a massive kink in your life, and unless you're independently wealthy and/or have a live-in grandma, there are going to be dramatic moments you'll just have to miss.  I'm sure, of course, that in all these TV shows there's some reasonable explanation; they just don't *include* the frantic 10 pm call to the babysitter explaining that Mom just *has* to chase down her husband to yell at him for playing too many video games, she'll pay time-and-a-half!  But it leaves anyone who actually is a parent asking themselves, "Where is the baby? Who is watching the baby?"

And in real life, when you take a baby somewhere, they can be very intrusive.  Doubly so for a toddler. You have to consider their usual schedule, they will definitely melt down if they can't have a nap when they are used to one, and even a toddler on his best behavior is a great deal of trouble.  But even if you've got an infant and they are peacefully slumbering in a carrier, people always think they're intrusive, even when they're not.  They do not (with rare exceptions) say, "Oh, cute, you brought a baby with you!"  They say, "Are you serious about this job?"  Or, "This is a nice restaurant, not a Chuck E. Cheese."  People vary, but in any group of ten people or so there's likely to be someone who dislikes babies.

Now, of course, TV shows and real babies aren't all the same.  Some real babies act like movie babies (quiet and totally accepting of whatever you do) and some pregnancies and labors actually go like on TV, which is why the scriptwriters thought that was realistic.  And we can ignore the little details (like newborns not being newborns, or babies very obviously leaning away from the person who is supposed to be their parent) because of course there is only so much you can expect a baby "actor" to be able to do.

The only TV shows I've seen that consistently portray babies and parenthood realistically are Jane the Virgin and Call the Midwife.  The former is so good that I want to make every first-time mother watch it.  It covers the real stuff -- the emotional journey of motherhood, the anxiety, mother's groups, juggling childcare, the conflict between career and parenting, postpartum depression, breastfeeding problems.  My only tiny quibble is that there is no way a girl of Jane's economic class and frugal habits would have such gorgeous maternity clothes.  She never wears the same thing twice and it's all super cute.  Your average real pregnant woman, by 40 weeks, is wearing the same pair of maternity sweatpants every day and her belly is hanging out of an XL tshirt.  Nice maternity clothes are hard to find and extremely pricey.

And as for Call the Midwife, it absolutely is what labor and birth are like.  True, it was the 60's, so some obstetrical practices have changed, but the stages of birth are accurately depicted, along with the emotional challenges of each.  I would recommend it to anyone who wants to have kids someday, as well as everyone who thinks the past was so much better than now.  But I don't recommend it if you're actually pregnant -- it will make you ugly-cry about 50% of the time.

Scrubs is hit-or-miss -- you can tell some of the scriptwriters have kids and some don't.  There's a PPD episode that is totally raw and real ... and then there are whole episodes where apparently no one actually remembers they even have kids.  And even the shows that manage babies terribly have their moments.  House MD has a scene where a mother wonders if being a parent was the right choice, and it hit me where I live.  And on Friends when Phoebe has the babies .... well, there was one very real moment in there.  (Also, her maternity overalls?  Hideous but tempting ... no waistband!)

I'm sure I didn't include all the terrible inaccuracies of TV parenthood -- feel free to chime in!


Baroness said...

I don't really know much about babies (no younger siblings, only two much older brothers) but I really liked this post.

(I mean I'd like to have kids at some point so stuff like this is helpful to know because goodness knows all I've learned is from random stuff on the interwebs.)

Sheila said...

Glad to be of help. :D Wouldn't want you to run to the airport to stop a lover from getting on a plane and leave a baby all by itself!

Cristina said...

My favorite baby actor is the one who played the baby actor playing a Nativity Jesus. Yes, that sentence is entirely correct. ;-) The whole time he was on screen, I said over and over to myself, "He has got to be breastfed! He's so big and calm!"

Baroness said...

The most realistic part of this is me accidentally leaving a baby by itself, hahaha.

Baroness said...

Which I plan on trying not to do.

Sheila said...

After a couple of months you can't imagine leaving the baby anywhere, because you wind up having a running program in the back of your mind that goes "check on the baby, check on the baby" every 30 seconds or so. Once you have several kids this program starts taking up more and more of your RAM until 90% of your brainspace is spent on counting your children and all your other processes run more slowly. I am not the only mother I know who "lost the baby" because she counted her kids, came up short, and ran from room to room looking for the baby ..... only to realize she was HOLDING said baby. It happens.

E, Nativity scenes always crack me up because those babies inevitably look at least six months old. Unless, of course, they were painted by people who know nothing about babies so they don't look like babies at all. Like this one:

Cristina said...

I can't believe I left the title of the movie out of my previous comment! I was referring to Four Christmases, which, now that I really think about it, has several baby actors.

Here is a low-quality YouTube video with the baby:

It's pretty excruciating, even if you remind yourself it's satire, but the baby delivers.

Cristina said...

I started watching more of the movie after I found that link and now I wonder what you'd think of its portrayal of the mothers. Again, obviously played for laughs, but would you laugh because you found it genuinely funny or because it got the reality so wrong?

Here's the first mother:

And here is the second:

Sheila said...

Man, that is one fat baby!

My thoughts on all those clips are as follows:

1. All the women talk like chipmunks.
2. Yeah, met people like those two nutty mothers.
3. Family get-togethers are so awkward and this is really relatable.
4. I would put money that the couple is breaking up by the end of the movie.

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