The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

The Aftermath of Sex Week: Pregnancy and Babies in Film

Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer

Let’s start by stating the obvious: Hollywood lies to all of us on a daily basis (and they start when we’re young too…has anyone actually listened to the lyrics of “When you Wish Upon a Star?” JESUS…) It fills our heads with unrealistic expectations for our lives, from “success is one wacky scheme away” to “even the worst sports team can win the championship if they believe hard enough.” Yet for all of the dishonesty that Hollywood shills, there is one subject about which they become surprisingly honest and accurate: sex. Now don’t get me wrong here: the sex ACTS we see in movies and TV are usually as false and dishonest as they (pun intended) come – mostly perfect bodies having mostly perfect mutually orgasmic intercourse, each and every time – but the facts and events that surround the act have informed many of us during our formative years. Just look at a small sample of the sex lessons that Hollywood has taught us over the years:

•    Sex absolutely consumes the thoughts of high school- and college-aged boys, even if they’re trying to think of other things (American Pie, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Animal House, Dazed and Confused)
•    If two people want to bang each other enough, even the biggest problems will be seen (by those two people, at least) as minor obstacles that can be overcome. (Any Jennifer Aniston movie, Any Katherine Heigl movie, Romeo and Juliet)
•    When choosing between two potential mates, the “right” choice will ALWAYS lose (at least temporarily) to the person you want to fuck more. (Pretty in Pink, Dawson’s Creek, Roxanne, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton)
•    If the sex is good enough and AS LONG AS the sex is good enough, two people can completely overlook the hopelessness of their relationship working out (Summer Catch, Going the Distance, Say Anything, Maid in Manhattan)
•    When repressed mutual attraction turns to sex, the relationship will be forever changed afterwards. (Fatal Attraction, When Harry Met Sally, No Strings Attached)
•    No matter how awful the failed relationship, the sight of an ex boning someone else is enough to make you want them again. (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Sweet Home Alabama)

Now I’m not vouching for the quality of any of these movies, or any OTHER lessons they might contain…but each and every one of these things happened to me in one form or another during my dating life, and in each case, I was at least partially prepared thanks to Hollywood.

But…when it comes to the PRODUCT of sex – that is to say, pregnancy and babies – movies COMPLETELY fail to prepare us in any way.

Seriously, think of any time you have ever seen a pregnant woman or new parents as the leads in a movie. With very few exceptions, these storylines will always follow one of two tropes:

1.    The pregnancy/baby is a metaphor for life dragging the protagonists down, until they receive an epiphany that it was the most important thing in life after all.
2.    The pregnancy/baby is a metaphor for life dragging the protagonists down, full stop.

Let’s take a look at a few “lessons” that Hollywood has taught us about babymaking, to illustrate what I’m talking about here:

Sex NEVER leads to pregnancy…unless it leads to pregnancy 100% of the time.

Source: Knocked Up, Juno. The Terminator

This is a weird one, because in the VAST majority of cases where sex appears in a movie, it is completely non-procreative. And not to get all parent-y on you, but I can’t think of a SINGLE instance where this recreational-only sex included contraception. Lesson: Bone away! No babies for anyone!!

But every once in a while, typically when the movie is ABOUT being pregnant, having a baby, or time traveling soldiers looking to prevent cyborg-caused Armageddon, the couple has sex ONE SINGLE TIME, and that is all it takes to become pregnant, thus changing their lives forever. Lesson: Boning leads to babies 100% of the time!

The reality of the situation, for most couples anyway, is somewhere in the middle here. For some people, pregnancy can happen completely naturally, and yes, sometimes on the very first try. For other couples, pregnancy can involve a major time and money investment, several doctors, and terms like “frozen embryos” and “potential twinning.” For my wife and me, it involved cessation of birth control combined with something called “pre-natal vitamins” and a daily charting of her temperature.  These days, with more and more couples waiting longer to marry and have children, “getting pregnant” is much more like the last two, and nothing at all like what Hollywood would have you believe.

Leave a running car near a pregnant woman at all times; that baby can pop out at any instant!

Source: Nine Months, Baby Mama, one million sitcoms

The scene is so common that you can finish my sentences for me, even as I cobble them together from countless examples. The man and woman are out somewhere in public. Things are perfectly normal, though she is of course moving slowly. Suddenly, she shouts “My water broke!” and ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE! He rushes to get her to a car, where they speed across town while she pants and moans and even screams with the efforts of keeping that baby inside her. They get to the hospital, where idle nurses are there to get her into a wheelchair and rush her into the delivery room. She screams, he holds her hand (and she squeezes it so tightly that he gets hurt!), a doctor says “PUSH!!” and all at once, she is holding a new baby and crying tears of happiness. Lesson: When she feels a labor pain…GANGWAY!!

Now again, I’m not saying that this scenario never plays out in real life; I have read stories of babies being born in cabs as often as you have. But there’s a reason that things like that make the news…they’re fucking RARE.

When my wife was pregnant, her due date was November 1st. On November 3rd, we went for a long walk (said to help induce labor). On November 4th, we got her in for a reflexology appointment (said to help induce labor). When she woke up on November 5th at 5:45 in the morning, she reported her first signs of labor. From there, we rushed immediately to the kitchen for a leisurely breakfast, then hung out until her OB/GYN appointment that day, where we were told she had dilated 1.5 centimeters. We were sent home, where remained for another twelve hours, at which point we went to the hospital, only to find that she was NOW…still only 1.5 centimeters dilated. She was admitted to the delivery unit, and a scant nineteen hours later, our son was born.

For most people, delivery is long, drawn out, and exhausting (it’s obviously worse for the woman, but not a walk in the park for the man either.) And the odds are terrific that the only rushing you’ll be doing is out of the room to answer your phone and tell family for the thousandth time that there’s no news yet.

No matter how shallow and self-centered the man, he will melt and fall 100% in love with the baby the second he sees it, or is forced to contemplate his life without it.

Source: Knocked Up, Nine Months, The Simpsons “Maggie Makes Three” Episode

(The scene below isn’t in English, but I think it conveys what it needs to convey nonetheless.)

Whether a swinging bachelor, a successful businessman in love with his current life, or a working schlub already struggling to raise two kids, the unenthusiastic father-to-be is another common sight in movies. He goes through the motions to appease his woman, but it’s obvious to everyone that his heart isn’t in it, and he wishes he wasn’t in that predicament. In fact, his ambivalence might even cause this woman to leave him, theoretically giving him what he so clearly wants. But inevitably, a switch is flipped in his head and heart, and by the time that baby is born, he is completely in love with it, and completely committed to providing a lifetime of care and support. Lesson: Get ready, dads-to-be: love is about to pummel you in the face with the force of a thousand tsunamis!

This, for my money, is the most damaging myth that Hollywood perpetrates. We see assholes who don’t give a shit change on a dime and fall hopelessly and instantly in love with their progeny…so for the vast majority of guys who are committed to being a father from the first day they find out it’s happening, then surely they’re in for a non-stop lovefest, right?

In fact, we are so hardwired by Hollywood into thinking this, that if and when it doesn’t happen, we feel like supreme assholes. But here’s the thing: Those first few months with your baby at home are some of the hardest you will ever face. You lose your wife, you lose your rest, you lose your mind…but you do NOT lose even an ounce of the responsibility for providing for your family that you had before the baby was born. And as for that baby? It’ll scream a lot and shit a lot, and if your wife is nursing, then just about the only thing the dad can do to make it stop crying is to give it to Mom. So while your wife and new child are spending every waking moment bonding with each other, you are almost literally shut out of the equation. Do you feel fiercely protective of your child? Absolutely. Do you know instinctively that you’d kill someone who tried to harm them? Without hesitation. Do you LOVE them? Not right away, no.

I recently spoke to a friend who had a one-month-old child at home. I asked him how things were going, and with a smile on his face he told me that things were getting better every day, and that it was a really amazing experience. I said, “Hey, that’s awesome. And listen to me…IF you’re lying to me right now because you think you should…please know for a FACT that it DOES get better, and one day you really WILL mean what you just said.” After that, his smile faded, I saw the exhaustion in his eyes, and he said “Can…can you tell me when that happens? Because right now…” He didn’t have to say anymore, because I knew exactly what he was going through. Hollywood, by contrast, clearly doesn’t.

Raising a child can make any one person see what’s important in life, and any two (or more) people understand the true power of love.

Source: Baby Boom, Three Men and a Baby, Big Daddy, Life or Something Like It

Whether through wacky hi-jinks or plot-convenient tragedy, our heroes begin movies like this happily living their carefree lives one minute, only to find themselves caring for a child the next. They obviously struggle at first: their work/life balance is all out of whack, their dating lives suffer, and if there are more than one of them, boy will they ever bicker! But it won’t take long before that little bundle of joy will have taught them all about the joys of family and domesticity. And if these two strangers are of opposite gender, great news: you’re in love! Lesson: If your life lacks meaning, just add baby!

Now, once again, I can’t pretend to know what happens for everyone, but for my wife and me, the first year of parenthood was the most exhausting year of our lives, filled with constant cluelessness, sickness, and fighting…ness. Even when our son was healthy, he still woke up between one and three times a night…and he was almost never healthy. And exhaustion takes a drastic toll. At one point we fought so badly that we honestly wondered if our marriage was going to last. We then got a good night’s sleep, and to this day cannot remember what that fight was about. And here’s the thing: We had not just met, nor were we perfect strangers comically paired by fate: at this point in our relationship, we had been married for five years, and together for nine.

There’s no way around the fact that parenthood, especially at first, is an ordeal you simply are not prepared for, EVEN IF YOU SPEND NINE MONTHS PREPARING FOR IT. It is not something that causes strangers to fall in love, it is something that two people endure together. And despite what Hollywood thinks, you had better have a ROCK SOLID foundation if you’re going to get through it unscathed.

In conclusion, let me be perfectly clear about one thing: parenthood IS the greatest thing I have ever been a part of, I love my son to distraction, and I am in love with my family more than I ever thought possible. Now. But it took some time to get there, and I did it without ANY help from Hollywood.