Friday, March 05, 2010

The Office Baby

Spoiler Warning

I have been so nervous to watch NBC's The Office episode where Pam and Jim have their baby. In general, I hate how labor and birth are portrayed in pop culture. There are either shots of women flat on their backs, gasping in pain, demanding drugs (see Friends, Waitress, Knocked Up, etc.) or birth itself is totally erased as a male OB announces the sex of a baby and we cut to a mother, elated, holding a wrinkle-free, totally clean baby bundled in a blanket.

There was, I felt, a great opportunity for The Office to do something new with the portrayal of labor, and I wasn't totally disappointed. Even though they made it into a joke, the episode showed Pam trying to "hold the baby in" until midnight because their insurance would give them more hospital coverage that way. This is a very real and very problematic scenario. Women with limited insurance or no insurance find the prospect of birth terrifying. What if something goes awry and they are faced with crippling medical bills? I have seen the statement of benefits for my C-section. The bills were not insignificant. I have to sense that Pam putting a time stamp on her delivery had to hit home with many women in the audience.

The episode also showed Pam laboring on her own terms. She ate food with Kevin (she's allowed only ice chips at the hospital), found her own way to focus through the contractions, and didn't stereotypically strangle her husband or tell him it was his fault or other unfunny antics. She just breathed, changed her clothes, and ate recipes featured in the Twilight series.

I also liked the reference to Pam having pubic hair as Michael invaded her privacy while she was pushing.

What struck me as most important in this episode was the accurate portrayal of breastfeeding as something that is tricky for some women. This show just *might* make up for the horrendous depiction of Nancy's nursing escapades in Weeds. In addition to actually featuring some scenes where babies are held up to mothers' bosoms, The Office (while not showing any areola) demonstrated how support, or lack thereof, can affect breastfeeding success.

The nurse in last night's episode encourages Pam and Jim on many occasions to just let her give the baby a bottle of formula. Pam expressed a need for lactation support and instead of offering it, the nurse suggested taking the baby to the nursery and giving her a bottle if she cried. How many mothers are talked out of breastfeeding in this way, by someone in a position of authority discouraging them instead of showing a new technique or saying, "I know it's tough! Why don't you try once more while I take a look?"

How many other women are discouraged from trusting their instincts when they express, as Pam did, that something just doesn't feel right? I was so fortunate to have great lactation support. Based on what I have read on mothering forums and seen in last night's episode, the nurses I had are rare gems. Thankfully, Pam gets a visit from a lactation consultant later in the episode. The joke of the scene is that he is a male lactation consultant. But neither Pam nor I seemed to care about that as the more pressing concern of nourishing baby Cecilia took precedence and Pam is taught some techniques to help with let-down.

My favorite thing about the episode, and the image I am glad to take away, was the scene where Pam and Cecilia were alone on the bench outside, with that ridiculous cape of a Hooter Hider. Pam nervously puts the crying baby to her breast and finds, to her joy, that Cecilia finally gets the latch. It was a moment that reflected many of the things I felt about breastfeeding--that it is both "natural" and impossible, that it is both beautiful and stressful, sometimes painful, and wonderful when you both figure it all out.

I am so curious to see what the series will do once they show Pam returning to work. Is it possible, I wonder, to capture in a sit-com the paralyzing stress of pumping, fixating on whether the baby has enough to eat, and trying to let-down in an invasive environment? I can't wait to find out.

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Jay and I enjoyed the episode, too...knowing how fake some shows make nursing look sooooo easy. Though, I have to tell you that it did bring back memories of the anxiety! Bella refused to latch on and the nurses I had were kinda like "Eh, you've done this before. You know what you're doing." Worst. Hospital. Stay. Ever. With Trey, I pretty much demanded that a nurse stay with me until he latched!