Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How real do you want your TV birth and midwifery?

One of my pet hates is how birth and midwives are portrayed on TV. You know what I'm talking about. The pregnant woman suddenly gasps...she lets out a scream and then the baby is born.

Or, the baby nearly dies, but doesn't ...thank goodness...because the doctor and fancy hospital equipment is there to save it!

I shall never forget one episode of American drama...ER, I think...The doctor was in remote place in the depth of the American swamp land, and visiting a pregnant woman at home, who was in labour. The baby was breech (bottom coming first) which the doctor perceived as a life-threatening situation. Panic stations were put on high alert because the doctor didn't know how to "deliver" a breech baby. But never fear...he had his lap top with him...and was able to "google" how to deliver a breech baby, and all was well!

So it is always with some trepidation that I start to watch TV programs related to birth and midwifery.

I'm delighted to say that I am enjoying "Call the midwife", which is a TV series based on the books written by midwife Jennifer Worth. The series tells the story of Jennifer's life as a midwife in the mid 1950s in the East End of London.

Of course, I cannot help myself...I can't help but watch out for the authenticity of story lines, and midwifery details. The midwifery adviser to the program is Terri Coates (who I used to work with many years ago in the UK), so I know things will be pretty much spot on. But even so, I was interested in one episode that had the midwives measuring a pregnant abdomen in centimetres to ascertain how far on in pregnancy the woman was - this was not a small detail, but reasonably important to the plot.

 I was rather surprised by this because decimalisation didn't come into use in the UK until the early 1970s. And my 1982 "Mayes Midwifery" (which was my bible when I was a student midwife in 1984), says nothing about measuring pregnant abdomens with tape measures. When I was a student, we were taught to use our fingers in relation to the umbilicus.

I had a great conversation on Twitter about this, which included one of the actors who plays the local GP, Stephen McGann. He has written a very interesting blog post about the issues of authenticity on TV : Honest Labour. I agree with him when he says that for all the adherence to authenticity, "Call the midwife" is still a drama, and its focus is to engage the audience and tell a story.

As for me, what this program (and the ensuing Twitter conversation) has done, has got me reflecting on what I do, why I do it, and what were the origins of that action. Is the activity based on research evidence, or has it become so engrained in practice that it has become folk lore...so much so that we cannot even remember, or trace back to when and why it started?

As for measuring the pregnant abdomen with tape measures...in centimetres...I think it came into practice in the late 1980s/early 1990s. If you know any more than that, I'd love to hear about it.

Image: '... holding her head on'


Joke Habben said...

Hej Sarah

we do measure the uterus :
Symphyse-fundus in Danmark. Do you want me to find references?

Bedst regards

Sarah Stewart said...

Thanks Joke, but all I'm really interested in is when this practice started, and what evidence it is based on. Thanks :)