A new TV show, Labor Games, debuts this month on TLC (USA). Contestants are surprised mid-labour and invited to take part in the show. Their birth room is turned into a makeshift studio, and the couple are invited to answer questions. Prizes for their about-to-be-born baby are up for grabs for winning contestants. All of this happens whilst the women are having contractions.
During Labor Games, the new parents are asked seven questions, and each correct answer wins them a prize. The prizes include things such as a year’s worth of nappies to a personal house cleaning service. If the parents are able to answer every question correctly, they then have a chance at winning a cash prize to invest in a college fund for their new baby.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? All expectant parents want the absolute best for their soon-to-be-babies, and a starter pot for a college fund would be an amazing start as new parents in ‘getting ahead’. There aren’t many new parents who would turn down a free cleaning service. But, is it really worth the intrusion at what should be an intimate and private time? More importantly, isn’t a healthy birth for mother and baby the highest priority?
If you see the adverts for Labor Games, many of the contestants are shown lying in bed and hooked up to machines. Do we really need even more of this sort of birth imagery bombarding us through our television screens? This might be what a lot of births look like in Western society, but it’s not what they should look like. And more images representing this birth position only perpetuates the belief that this is what birth should look like. We rarely see images of an empowered upright and active labouring woman. Instead, we continue to be shown birth after birth where labouring women are lying down with their legs in stirrups waiting for a doctor to ‘deliver’ her baby. Even the word deliver needs to be banished. Women birth their babies. A doctor or midwife has no part in the massive physical effort required for the baby's arrival. Why do we give credit away to someone else?
Labor Games: Labour Pains?
Despite the name of the television channel showing this program being TLC, there doesn’t seem to be TLC available to these labouring women. Women giving birth should be free to enjoy privacy, have the choice to be upright and actively mobile and to focus on their birth experience. Dim lights and a peaceful environment are optimal for healthy labouring and birth. The bright lights of a studio set and adrenaline of the entire experience may contribute to labour stalling (high adrenaline results in low oxytocin, low adrenaline allows for high oxytocin), which may then lead to birth inventions, such as induction or a c-section.
Birth shouldn’t be exploited for our entertainment. Reality TV has crossed an ethical line here by venturing into the birth space.
Birth is a life changing experience that can play a pivotal moment in a couple’s relationships. Many women find themselves falling head over heels again as their partner gets them ice chips, rubs their back and whispers soothing words of encouragement during contractions. And for men, it’s the sheer determination and strength of the women that leave them in amazement.
It’s hard to imagine the scene is quite so loving when the couple are guessing baby food flavours for a TV game show. Yes, these couples might go home with a few extra material items, but their new baby really won’t care about that stuff. So is it really worth it?
With the risk of sounding old-fashioned, isn’t giving birth enough? Surely these babies are already getting the amazing gift of life, do they really need their birth shown on national television in exchange for a few prizes on Labor Games? Couples should be focused on working together to healthily and lovingly welcome a new baby into the world, not to win a few packs of nappies.
Of course, Labor Games is pretty much guaranteed to be a hit. Childbirth is a fascinating human experience and therefore reality TV gold. Television shows about birth attract big audiences, and that means big bucks when it comes to advertising slots. So is this just reality TV junkfood that is more about ratings and a big payday at the expense of the sanctity of birth?
Birth is overwhelming, intimate, private, amazing, scary and beautiful. It is an experience like no other, and will truly transform your world in a way few other life events again. In wanting the best birth outcomes for mothers, babies and couples, we say let’s keep the lights-cameras-action out of birth. Shows like Labor Games are doing so much more harm than good.
See the teaser for Labor Games below.