20/20’s Extreme Motherhood falls short, disappoints

As I found myself watching and live Tweeting the 20/20 episode on Extreme Motherhood on ABC Friday night, I felt disappointed that once again mainstream media had let me down. It didn’t come as a complete surprise, but I really had hoped for better from them.

The show, for those of you who were occupying your time with better things (wise choice), consisted of segments on Orgasmic Birth, fake babies – women who buy Reborn dolls and treat them very much like real babies (um, yes, it was more than a little freaky), long-term (extended) breastfeeding – including a mention of 2 1/2 yr old twins still nursing (uh, what’s extreme about that?) as well as a few older children, serial surrogates, and home birth. The majority of the time seemed to be spent on the fake babies and the serial surrogates, with lesser amounts devoted to the rest. The least amount of time (and what I felt should have received the most) went to home birth.

The home birth segment had very brief interviews with Ricki Lake and Abbie Epstein (producers of Business of Being Born) and Laura Shanley (author of Unassisted Childbirth). There were no interviews with any midwives. There was no talk of the training midwives go through or the preparation that women who choose unassisted birth generally undertake. It all seemed very much focused on fear rather than offering up real information. The AMA says blah, blah, blah – nothing we haven’t heard before.

One of my main issues with the show was that it was not objective journalism at all. The correspondents spewed a lot of shock value comments instead of asking intelligent, thought-provoking questions. Maybe I’m naive to expect better from them.

twitter fail whale for 20/20Overall, I have to say I’m sorry I wasted my time watching it. I felt it was very exploitative. 20/20 gets a big ol’ Twitter Fail Whale from me. I don’t feel the show gave much, if any, useful information, except maybe some women will seek out Business of Being Born or Orgasmic Birth (which has a lot more to it than the name implies) after watching 20/20.

For those of you who are looking for some real information, you might be interested in reading my thoughts (and others’ thoughts) on orgasmic birth – Giving Birth can be good, ecstatic and even orgasmic or long-term breastfeeding Breastfeeding until age 3, 4 or 5 – more common than you think? – including a list of moms who have breastfed older children. I’ve also written about planning for a home birth and my home birth story.

34 thoughts on “20/20’s Extreme Motherhood falls short, disappoints”

  1. I didn’t get around to seeing it … sounds like it was a good thing I missed it. I’m not a bit surprised it was like that though. At least they mentioned The Business of Being Born … that was a GREAT documentary!

  2. Although I didn’t watch, perhaps it is a blessing they didn’t cover more on home birth and breastfeeding, because those topics are not extreme! The baby doll thing you mentioned is weird, but something is wrong with a society that thinks home birth, breastfeeding, etc. is anywhere beyond normal?

  3. Thank you for your thoughtful review about 20/20. Well done! I saw the previews for it and had to decide what to do with my time – painting my new piece of artwork and later snuggling up with my intriguing book or watch 20/20. I’m glad I settled for the former.

    TV shows these days are all about shocking sound bytes and controversial tag lines. There is never enough time to explore further in depth the issues the show presents. Each one of the topics could have been an entire show in itself. Because of these trends in television, I don’t watch TV any more.

  4. I agree with you that they spent way too much time on the fake babies and not enough time on the home births. But I am not surprised and would not be surprised if those segments were extended and/or deleted footage once it hit the editing desk. Home Births are just not that “strange” or “shocking” as fake babies.

    Meanwhile, my husband and I were amazed by the orgasmic births, because my almost drug free (up to the emergency c) was far from orgasmic! We had no idea that happened 🙂

  5. I did not watch but am not surprised by the disappointing result. The new show The Doctors did a segment on Home birth as well. It aired January 1st, 2009 but I was not watching t.v that day. From the promo it looks as if the typical “unsafe” arguments were used.
    Here is the link to the promo:
    Did anyone see this one?

    This may be one issue that will have to grow from the grassroots level, rather than through mainstream media. A year after my wonderful home birth, I can not imagine what a stay in a hospital would have been like. It makes me sad that there is so much misinformation about this healthy and safe choice.

  6. Although it doesn’t surprise me, it saddens me. This is why some mothers are terrified to listen to their instincts and make the right decisions for their children and themselves.

  7. I don’t think homebirth, or even unassisted birth is “extreme” and quite frankly it’s better they didn’t focus heavily on those, no? The “Reborn” baby women and serial surrogates sounds more fitting for the title. Why would we have wanted a successful outcome for homebirth or breastfeeding on a show titled “extreme”?

  8. When I lived in California, home births and birthing center births (attended by midwife only, no MD’s) were extremely common. Almost all my friends and coworkers had them. They all had great experiences and very little pain. It makes sense. If women are scared into believing that birth is “the worst pain in the world” and that they can die on the table without medical intervention, of course their experience is going to be painful. If you have an experienced doula who prepares you and guides you through, it’s a much different experience

  9. Well, first of all, I thought they were saying Wee-borns, not Reborns! Duh, Tiffiny! 😉 Anyway…I recorded it and watched this morning. I, too, was disappointed. I really don’t think that they should have clumped the Reborn (just cuse it was crazy) and Surrogacy segments in with extreme motherhood. (For that matter, I don’t think that homebirthing or orgasmic birth is an extreme form of motherhood either.) I don’t know, maybe they just wanted a show of just shocking stories. I agree with you about the 2 1/2 year old twins. I was thinking, “That’s not that old.” Good grief. The main reason I wanted to watch was to see one of the surrogates. I worked with Anita when I was a surrogate and she was (probably still is) a wonderful woman. The homebirth segment was not that informative, and I would have liked to have heard more about orgasmic birth. Guess I was expecting too much as well.

  10. Well, I had hoped to watch it, but now I’m glad I missed it.

    I don’t really think of home birth as “extreme,” but I get a LOT of looks and questions when I tell people my son was born at home. Society, perhaps, is going backwards!

  11. I was disappointed in this show as well. I felt they spent way too much time discussing Reborn dolls and the20/20 editors’ misinterpretation of the term “Orgasmic Birth”, to do more than lip service to the other topics.

    Actually, I think there were way to many topics for one 20/20 episode. If they really wanted to do justice to any of the subjects mentioned in the broadcast, I think sticking to one or two per episode would be better.

    I’m glad I saw it just so I wasn’t left wondering what the show had been all about, but I am glad I was getting some knitting done at the same time. The sweater was more productive than the show. lol

  12. [I found your blog again! I’d lost the link.]

    I was confused as to why the 2.5 year old twins were even mentioned – how is that extreme. I have to wonder if they didn’t use the tape from that woman that floated around the internet for anything other than shock value.

    Those people who pretend re-born dolls are real babies have some issues to work out. That poor horrified lady when she’s like “The baby’s cold” and then learned it’s a doll.

  13. I was really looking forward to watching it, though in a really sick and twisted way. Like slowing down when you see a wreck on the highway. After all the tweets though I’m glad I didn’t, just more trite nonsense and fear.

  14. By the end, I was LIVID! There is NOTHING extreme about nursing 2 and a half-year olds! (Am 8 year old…um, yeah.) And they spoke of home birth as if it was child abuse and didn’t see the beauty of Ricki Lake’s film (which was so powerful!). Is there a movement to give them a pice of our minds?


  15. I just finished watching the show. I had DVR’d it. I had to fast forward through the doll segment. It was beyond dumb. I agree that they spent too little time on the birthing segments.

    I wasn’t that surprised to find that it used more fear and shock value.

    My issue is that are they really saying that the women with dolls are just as dumb as mothers who enjoy labor or (God forbid) nurse longer than 2 years?

  16. I watched some of the segments on their website. I can’t imagine that those seemingly intelligent women who are correspondents actually feel super good about their work… can they? Just so shallow.

  17. what i found most bothersome about the show was the reborn segment among the other “extreme parenting” topics. 1) these people that enjoy the reborns aren’t *actually* parenting at all 2) the reborn “parents” are lumped in with parents that long-term breastfeed & choose homebirth-not exactly comparing apples to apples. the reborn segment WAS extreme, but it certainly should not be considered EXTREME PARENTING…as these people are taking care of DOLLS, NOT HUMANS!

  18. Oh god, I think I swore off 20/20 about 15 years ago when John Stossel gave a big ol’ “Gimme a Break!” to Title IX requirements that girls have equal access to organized sports as boys. And I think it’s only gotten worse.

    Unfortunately, I think most popular “newsertainment” programs approach issues from a fundamentally conservative point of view – whether it’s Larry King looking at anti-vaccine activist Jenni McCarthy like she just landed from Mars or John Stossel and his pals at 20/20 turning their mustaches up at women making choices that haven’t been approved – or made for them – by some male-dominated organization (like the AMA).

  19. I seem to remember getting slammed on your website (not by you, thank you very much) for saying exactly what you said in this post. That this story 20/20 was marketing was nothing but shock journalism. I won’t watch, didn’t watch, never intended too. I think I mentioned that it was disgusting to me and that it would be detrimental, not helpful to educating people.

    Not sitting on my high horse trying to shout out to the world that I was right. I just was surprised that no one else was as skeptical as I am. Maybe I’m showing my age and experience as a midwife.

    You presented this review VERY well. You will never win against the almighty dollar–which is the boss of mainstream media. BUT, thanks for trying so darn hard!

  20. I happened upon 20/20 during the fake baby segment. I’d heard that something along those lines was going to be aired… I was excited to hear that extended breastfeeding and homebirth were going to get some good air time… but I was so, so, so wrong. I watched the whole thing with my DH, who is very bothered by the fact that I’m very unwilling to to consider “just doing what the OBGYN says” as my birth plan (I’m not even pregnant yet!) All the patient, diligent, slow work of getting my DH to listen to the “other” side of the story (or the “extreme” side as he puts it) has been ruined by a horrible show of superficial, fact-less, fear-mongering by some lazy, dimwitted, useless reporters. Okay, that was mean, but that’s how they made me feel – and I’ve never been pregnant, let alone nursed a child, birthed a child (anywhere – home, hospital, or hotel), or spoke my views on pregnancy, birth, parenting, mothering, or anything else relating to children aloud to anyone other than my husband. I can’t imagine how that show made folks feel who have been through (enjoyed) the experiences they mocked. Shame on you, 20/20.


  21. I missed it as well, but it doesn’t sound like I missed much other than an exhausting amount of irritation.

    Mainstream media. ugh. Thanks for recapping and posting about it.

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