I had high hopes for Tina Fey’s Saturday Night Live send up of natural childbirth. Fey is very talented and natural childbirth subculture is ripe for parody, in part because some of its proponents take themselves so very seriously while being so cavalier about the evidence.
So, I was disappointed that the sketch was mostly an exercise in meanspirited hippie punching.
The sketch begins in a childbirth class. Fey plays one of the expectant parents captivated by the childbirth educator who quizzes the couples on whether they plan to have a natural birth. As far the teacher’s concerned, the right answer is “yes,” and nearly the whole class is on board. Fey’s character tells the instructor that she wants a natural birth, but her husband doesn’t.
To underscore the miracles of homebirth, the instructor slides an implausibly large video tape into a VCR. (A nice sight gag, given the topic of the sketch.)
The tape rolls. The video features “Victor” and “Laylani” a couple giving birth in their yurt. Basically the video segment is a series jokes about how natural childbirth is for dirty hippies who don’t shave their pubic hair. (Admittedly, a clever mirkin/tutu placates the censors and makes for a decent sight gag.)
The rest of the sketch alternates between the subjects of the video being gross, alien, and crunchy (not to mention French Canadian) and the “normal” couples in the birthing class being disgusted. As Victor and Laylani make out in a prelude to orgasmic birth, Fey’s character exclaims, “Oh my god, that’s the dirtiest thing I’ve ever seen! And I’m talking about the bottoms of her feet!” By the end of the sketch, the sheer grossout factor has turned Fey’s character against natural birth.
In her post about the sketch, Dr. Amy Tuteur quipped, “Obviously this is a parody. If it were a real homebirth video there would be an inflatable kiddie pool filled with fecally contaminated water.” She’s alluding to the dubious practice of water birth, in which the woman actually delivers while sitting in a tub of water. Lots of women safely enjoy a hot shower or a relaxing soak during labor, but actually delivering a baby underwater is a dangerous fad with no basis in medicine or tradition.
The water birth party line is that babies never try to breath under water, but studies have shown that’s not a failsafe proposition. Furthermore, infection is one of the greatest threats to newborns, given their underdeveloped immune and respiratory systems. So why on earth would you introduce a baby to water that’s full of fecal bacteria? Everyone’s bathwater is.
Water birth deserves to be mocked. People with no formal credentials trying to pass themselves off as professional midwives deserve to be mocked. Dubious neologisms passed off as ancient traditions deserve to be mocked. Pubic hairstyles are irrelevant.
Fey clearly went for the easy laughs; but at this point, dirty hippie jokes are as dated as patchouli.
[Photo credit: Adampadam, Creative Commons.]