Last Night's Television - One Born Every Minute, Channel 4; I Hate Mum, BBC1
From fear to maternity
Wednesday 10 February 2010
One Born Every Minute, Channel 4's new fly-on-the-delivery-room-wall series, began with a long, sustained bellow of protest. I did wonder whether this might be translated as "Get that bloody fly out of here" – the transitional stages of labour not being famous for their tranquillising effect – but apparently everybody here had signed off on having this intimate moment shared with a television audience. And in the case of Steve and Tracy, waiting for their fourth child, it did occur to you that Tracy might simply have wanted an independent record of Steve's gormlessness as a partner. A policeman of 41, with a mental age of 12, Steve saw this as the perfect moment for larking around. As Tracy moaned in pain and called for the gas and air, he put on a mincing voice and reminded her of her birth plan: "I'm going to do it all naturally."
The baby had been something of an afterthought. First, Steve had had to go and have his vasectomy reversed and then, when nothing happened, Tracy discovered she needed an operation for an ovarian polyp. After that, when she still didn't get pregnant, she'd begged for one round of IVF, which had fortunately proved successful. "It was obviously meant to be," said Tracy, without a trace of irony in her voice. Now, though, she had the double whammy of labour pains and Steve's dubious sense of humour. She handled the latter with startling forbearance. Steve thought she was being "nobby and aggressive" when she asked him (quite mildly) to stop patting her back with an inflated surgical glove. I thought he was lucky that she didn't bite him.
Down the corridor, Lisa was still absorbing the fact that her baby was on its way 11 days early. "I haven't washed the cot blankets," she said suddenly, interrupting an inventory of parental anxieties that stretched so far into the future that it even encompassed whether her unborn's son's unborn children would look after him in his old age. Tracy, meanwhile, was squeezing in a quick pee between contractions, unaware that Steve had tip-toed across the room and was trying to unlock the bathroom door with a coin, to reveal her in flagrante.
There was a lot of waiting around and a lot of groaning and then, suddenly, everything was happening faster than seemed quite manageable. Having done it three times for real, I'm not sure I want to do it by proxy eight times more, but for anyone who hasn't been through the ordeal, the series authentically captures what it's like to be a mere spectator – a combination of long stretches of anxious tedium concluded by a rush of overwhelming (and largely unearned) emotion.
I hope nobody was in labour while watching I Hate Mum, a reminder – if it was needed – that the pain doesn't necessarily stop when the baby is delivered. Daniel Fromm's film followed two cases that had been referred to a specialist family-therapy unit. Adam, 10 years old, had been aggressive towards his mother since the age of five. The therapist thought that he was "communicating anxious feelings". His mother, understandably, wanted him to stop communicating with his fists. And Adam too wanted to break the habit of fury he'd got into. Encouraged to write his feelings down he scribbled "I don't want to hurt any more!!", the verb balanced poignantly between the transitive and the intransitive. Ryan, a troubled 16-year-old, looked more like a stereotypical surly teenager, but turned out to contain a small boy too, still raw from his parents' divorce and desperate to get closer to his mother. They weren't perfectly happy by the end of the programme, but they were happier, which is all you can ask.
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