Not all that long ago, giving birth was not a subject fit for television and movies … or polite conversation. Lucille Ball was the first visibly pregnant woman shown on TV—except none of the actors on I Love Lucy were allowed to utter the word “pregnant.” “Lucy was expectant,” Randi Hutter Epstein points out in her engaging history of childbirth Get Me Out. But all that had changed by the ‘70s, when women were “marching for civil rights, joining feminist rallies and demanding a patients’ bill of rights.” In 1975, All in the Family showed one of its main characters, Gloria, giving birth with mussed hair while doing Lamaze with her husband by her side.
Now we are back to an age in which mussed hair will not do, and birth seems reserved for the glamorous (see Angelina Jolie, Demi Moore). One trailer for Jennifer Lopez’s new movie,The Back-up Plan, which ran during the Super Bowl, showed Lopez witnessing an at-home water birth. The bongo drums compete with excessive animal noises coming out of the mom-to-be, and J. Lo cringes with overblown horror. “What is THAT!” Lopez shrieks as the baby emerges. “Look at all that hair,” the water-birthing mom moans as she watches herself deliver in a hand mirror.
Movies have always depicted and influenced current motherhood trends, Epstein argues, and TheBack-up Plan is no exception. J. Lo’s character, Zoe, decides to get artificially inseminated because she hasn’t met “the one.” (Of course, because this is a romantic comedy, she meets “the one” immediately after she is inseminated.) Even the fact that a romantic comedy features a pregnant lady as its love object might count as a great leap forward from Lucy.
From the perfectly coiffed Mary Tyler Moore giving birth off-screen on the Dick Van Dyke Show to a sweaty Katherine Heigl’s baby crowning in Knocked Up, the following clips offer a cinematic history of births since the ‘30s. Warning: Some of these clips include profanity or nudity.
Click here to see a video slide show of famous scenes of women giving birth.