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Oh baby: When TV and film take on childbirth

By AFP - Feb 16,2021 - Last updated at Feb 16,2021

By Natalie Handel

Agence France-Presse

PARIS — “The Crown” star Vanessa Kirby is causing a stir on Netflix with a visceral home-birth scene in “Pieces of a Woman” for which she won best actress at the Venice film festival.

The camera lingers on the final stages of Kirby’s unsparing screen labour in one unprecedented half an hour-long shot.

Here are some memorable film and TV takes on childbirth.


The whole shebang


There’s gas, nausea, fluids, fear and anguish but no hysteria as Vanessa Kirby’s mum-to-be struggles to find comfort between contractions in “Pieces of a Woman’s” pivotal home birth. 

The scene is based on writer Kata Weber and director Kornel Mundruczo’s own experience and they pull no punches.

We follow Kirby from her first pangs in her kitchen to the living room floor, to the bath and finally her bed where we see the baby’s head appear between her legs — all before the film’s title sequence.

Kirby admitted to hesitating over the role, having never given birth herself.


Birth under bombings


Doctors at Aleppo hospital perform an emergency caesarean on the victim of an Syrian air strike as bombs fall in the acclaimed 2019 documentary “For Sama”. 

The baby shows no sign of life for long agonising minutes after they pull her from the womb, but vigorous massages miraculously revive her.



Wildly successful French comedy series “Call My Agent!” brings childbirth to the office with actress Camille Cottin’s chic talent agent Andrea pushing her infant daughter into the world surrounded by colleagues after a lightning-fast labour. 

One team member comments in a later episode that the birth turns the team of cut-throat pros into a “family”.


Brutally funny


On the big screen, French director Sophie Letourneur combines zany performances with actual hospital delivery room footage for her 2019 comedy “Enormous” in a scene actress Marina Fois said the team took four whole days to film.

Cartoonishly easy


Back in the 1990s, hit US series “Friends” gave hapless but loveable Phoebe fewer than three minutes to give birth to triplets. 

One push each and the crying baby appears in the hands of the smiling doctor — with no sign at all of umbilical cords. 

Phoebe leaves the talking to dad who screams happily that his newborn children look “really gross”.


All in a day’s work


One series that is lauded for its realistic portrayal of childbirth is the award-winning BBC period drama “Call the Midwife”.

Set in the 1950s London when having children at home was still the norm, it features a birth in nearly every episode and famously uses real infant “actors” for each one.

Critics hailed it as an “iron hand in a velvet glove” and “a magnificently subversive drama... the torchbearer of feminism on TV”.


Disappearing act


One of TV’s first birth scenes has legendary comedian Lucille Ball in labour in her vintage sitcom “I Love Lucy”. 

The 1953 episode focuses on her husband and friends who are so anxious to get Lucy to the hospital that they end up leaving without her.

Cut to the waiting room where father Ricky paces anxiously as a nurse brings baby after perfectly swaddled baby to the viewing window.

The new dad faints when his son finally appears.

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