“What To Expect When You’re Expecting” A Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator Reviews The Film

Guest post by Ami Burns, CD(DONA), LCCE, FACCE

 “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” authored by Heidi Murkoff and contributer Sharon Mazel, is now in its all-new fourth edition, with over 17 million copies in print, and been a perennial favorite on The New York Times’ bestseller list for years.  According to USA Today, WTEWYE has been read by 93 percent of women who read a pregnancy book. In May, “What To Expect When You’re Expecting; The Movie” was released, directed by Kirk Jones, and starring Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Elizabeth Banks, Matthew Morrison, and others.  Over the years, the material and presentation style of the book have been questioned as potentially creating more fear and questions then providing reassurance and confidence to pregnant women.  When I heard that the movie had been released, I asked Ami Burns, a Chicago-based birthed professional to see the movie through the eyes of a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator.  – SM

SPOILER ALERT: If you plan to see the film “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” you may want to read the review after you see the film.

What did I expect before buying my ticket to What To Expect When You’re Expecting, the film inspired by Heidi Murkoff’s book? To be honest, not much.  I’m not a fan of the book, and I assumed the movie would be another Hollywood portrayal of birth as an emergency, or featuring bumbling dads who don’t know what to do, along with a mom screaming, telling him what an idiot he is as she purple pushes her baby out. 

I knew I had to leave my judgement at the ticket counter if I was going to review the movie with my “childbirth educator/doula” hat on, not my “Matthew Morrison is hot so it won’t be a total waste of money if the movie stinks” one.

Lamaze International has the Six Healthy Birth Practices that offer evidence and research which provides a solid foundation for promoting safe and normal birth. Would What To Expect touch on even one? I was curious to find out.

Before I get to answer the question of how well WTEWYE does in following the Healthy Birth Practices, it’s worth noting that as far as childbirth education in general, the only mention comes during a short scene at the doctor’s office when the mom and dad to-be played by Cameron Diaz and Matthew Morrison see a flyer about The Bradley Method. Diaz says Morrison needs to learn it, but we never hear anything else about it, or see anyone take a birth class – Bradley, Lamaze or any other – throughout the movie.

So, let’s take a look at each care practice and see how WTEWYE stacks up against each one.

1.    Let Labor Begin On Its Own

I was pleasantly surprised that the women all went into labor naturally – one mom even has a strong contraction on live television. The dad played by Chris Rock talks about walking and having sex to start labor. There’s no mention of induction or augmentation, and one mom’s water breaks as she’s walking around. Nice!

2.    Walk, Move Around and Change Positions Throughout Labor

There are a few scenes that show the moms in hospital beds,  but at least they’re upright. A mom leans on the wall as her husband rubs her back, and the character played by Brooklyn Decker – a young mom of twins who has the perfect pregnancy —  labors on a birth ball at home.

3.   Bring a Loved One, Friend or Doula for Continuous Support

Just like there’s barely a mention about childbirth education, doulas aren’t mentioned either. Labor support isn’t talked about in general, but the fathers are very supportive during the births.

4.    Avoid Interventions That Aren’t Medically Necessary

Again, I am happy to report no talk of induction or planned cesarean section – even for the mom carrying twins. Elizabeth Banks’ character, who comes prepared with a birth plan, eventually chooses an epidural, reaches 10 cm, but the doctor suggests a cesarean section since the baby’s heart rate is low. Her husband holds her hand during the operation.

5.  Avoid Giving Birth On Your Back, and Follow Your Body’s Urges to Push

Here I am on the 5th Healthy Birth Practice and still impressed!  One mom uses a squat bar, another pushes semi sitting, and Decker’s character not only only gives birth to twins vaginally, she literally sneezes one of the babies out.

6.    Keep Your Baby With You – It’s Best for You, Your Baby and Breastfeeding

While the labor and birth experiences were good, the fimmakers could have done a much better job with this one. Banks’ character owns a store, The Breast Choice, even before she conceives, but we don’t see any of the new moms nursing – or even bottle feeding, for that matter. I was disappointed that one of the last scenes in the hospital is of two dads talking as they watch their babies – and many others – in the nursery.

I’m also glad the filmmakers showed some of the realities of pregnancy – mainly Banks’ character, who is expecting the “perfect glow,” but instead has hemmorhoids, sore breasts and incontinence – and isn’t afraid to be honest about it.

So, I didn’t expect much going in, but overall found What To Expect When You’re Expecting a breezy, romantic comedy that didn’t make the childbirth educator in me cringe.

Did you see the movie? What are your thoughts? Would you recommend this movie to your classes? Could you use clips of this movie in your classes as teaching moments?  Have your students and families been to see this and brought up the film  in class?  What has been their opinions?  Let’s share ideas and thoughts on how we as educators can be better prepared to respond to comments and observations by families we work with.

 About Ami Burns

Ami Burns, CD(DONA), LCCE, FACCE, is the founder of Birth Talk. In addition to teaching, she uses her media background to promote healthy birth. Ami produced the Telly Award-winning 50 Years of Childbirth Education for Lamaze International, and writes for numerous websites, including allParenting.

Breastfeeding, Childbirth Education, Evidence Based Medicine, Films about Childbirth, Films about Pregnancy, Guest Posts, Healthy Birth Practices, Healthy Care Practices, Maternity Care, Uncategorized , , , , , ,

  1. | #1

    Hi Amy – Nice review…I have not yet seen the movie as I was turned off by the book and just felt blah abt going to a movie with such a title. But I am pleasantly surprised to hear that H-wood managed to portray all births as beginning naturally…hmm, may even break down & see it & see it and review it myself… take care, Kathy

  2. | #2

    Thanks, Kathy! I’ll admit I was probably going to wait until this was on cable or something, too. It was nice to be pleasantly surprised.

  3. | #3

    Thanks Ami for this creative idea of viewing the film through the Healthy Birth Practices lens! I enjoyed reading the review. I can see using this idea in a CBE class, teaching the Six Practices and then assigning different films to each family to review through that lens. Would be great discussions! thank you for your contribution to our blog!

  4. | #4

    Thanks for the review. It helps to see that it does, technically, meet the 6 Practices. I saw the film because I knew that a lot of the students I teach at the local hospital would see it. Reading this review, I can see how it technically met the 6 Practices, but still found it to be trite and predictable, relying on a lot of stereotypes for humor. They still felt the need to have the scene in which one of the fathers is frantically getting ready to leave and then does bad, crazy driving to get her to the hospital. The woman who used the birth ball during labor is so unrealistic, it gives the message that any of those very solid and useful tools are as realistic as delicately sneezing out one’s baby (which she does later). The woman who seemed to be into birth as natural and normal (the store owner) ends up with an epidural (which she asks for while lying flat in bed and in pain – not using any good coping strategies) and then has a cesarean. I’ve never seen cleaner babies exit a vagina than those in the film. I can appreciate not wanting to get full-on with body fluids, but then cut to the scene after the baby has been dried off and wrapped in a blanket – don’t have them emerge from the vagina perfectly clean and pink, looking like 4-month old babies with symbolic swipes of gel on their bellies to indicate some sort of vaginal fluid.
    I don’t know a lot about international adoption, but suspect that the film’s portrayal of it is as unrealistic as the births they showed.
    It’s true that there were some good mentions (Chris Rock talking about walking and sex to bring on labor), but those got lost in the actual portrayals of labor, birth, and postpartum that they showed.
    They had a little diversity in how the couples came to be parents, which was nice, but there was no diversity of family structure (single-by-choice moms or dads or LGBT parents), so it scores low there for me.
    I’m glad I saw it so I could have conversations with my students about it and engage their critical thinking skills in comparing the film to what they’ve learned in class, but it’s definitely not one I would recommend to anyone as a good pregnancy/birth movie.

  5. | #5

    This review honestly doesn’t jive with any of the other reviews I’ve read. I have yet to see it, mostly because I’ve been reluctant to pay for it. I did watch the multitude of previews they put out and from those gleaned some bits regarding stereotypes. Specifically regarding the “bumbling dad”. My expectations for the film are here: http://www.shininglightprenatal.com/2012/05/10/my-expectations-for-the-upcoming-movie-what-to-expect-when-youre-expecting/

    Honestly, I have to agree with Anna here. I will not recommend this film to my students.

  6. | #6

    Thanks Deena and Anna for your thoughts. I have not seen the film yet, so cannot add my own opinion of the film. I think I will be waiting for the netflix version!

  7. | #7

    Hi Anna and Deena – thanks for your comments. Would I recommend this film to my students along the lines of “go see this one – it’s just what “real” birth is like?” No. That’s what I use films like Vicki Elson’s “Laboring Under an Illusion: Mass Media Childbirth vs the Real Thing” or Naoli Vinaver’s wonderful “Birth Day” for. For LGBT diversity, that’s why I created “Mothers and Babies: Lesbians Creating Families.”
    But I think it was nice to see at least some aspects of our 6 healthy birth practices touched upon in WTEWYE.
    Deena – I read your expectations piece and a lot rings true for how I felt before I saw it. You may be pleasantly surprised, too, if you see it. That said, at least here in Chicago, it’s out of theaters. So I don’t think it was a huge hit with audiences — birth educators or not.

  8. | #8

    Thanks for sharing your comments. But I must say, I cringed and cringed and cringed. As a doula for decades now, I am strongly pro-doula for the majority of families/moms. I struggle to help my clients have immediate and continuous skin to skin after birth and an at least minimally delayed cord clamping (meaning 2-5 minutes). Looking at babies in the nursery? Sigh.

  9. | #9

    So glad to see this review! I have not seen the movie as I do not want to give the franchise any more money. That and the decision to see a movie often involves having to get a babysitter for my young son. Not really worth the money!
    I am glad the moms went into labor on their own, but as both an LCCE and a labor nurse I am disappointed to hear that the only mom with a birth plan had a c-section. I worry this feeds into the “birth plans lead to c-section” myth. To me, a birth plan is an advanced directive for birth. As a society we encourage families to discuss their needs and wishes with end of life issues, why not birth? We should think about birth plans as we do advanced directives. Many providers encourage families to make an advanced directive so their thoughts are wishes for the end of life are known. We should encourage the same for birth. Of course, this requires good communication both in families and between families and health care providers. Something we need to work on in all areas of healthcare.

  10. avatar
    Chris Just
    | #10

    Thanks for this review, Ami. I shared the same reservations as you but now will probably watch it when it comes out on DVD. Although it may not be a perfect portrayal of birth it sounds like this movie does much better than the standard Hollywood depictions. Let’s face it, it’s supposed to be a light, romantic comedy – not a documentary.

  11. | #11

    Your review is very accurate and along the same lines as they way I feel. I originally planned on not seeing the movie and when a friend of mine, who had hired me as her doula asked, I could not refuse. Trying very hard to leave my doula & CBE “hat” at the door was hard as well. Throughout the movie I tweeted about it and to my surprise, the movie had me laughing and in “wow” more than it had me cringing.

    Would I use it in class, never thought about it but that is a thought. I will definitely be purchasing the movie when it comes out and would not mind seeing it again. thanks for the review!

  12. | #12

    sorry for the typo in my name above. It’s Melinda lol

  13. avatar
    Mindy Cockeram
    | #13

    I saw this film on a night where I needed an escape from the Family! Like you, I was somewhat relieved that the portrayal of birth wasn’t totally unrealistic. I found the whole Circumcision discussion interesting as it’s on the radar of many in my classes. But narcotics during the C-Section and the mom too out of it to welcome her baby into the world..thought that was a real shame.

  14. avatar
    Danika Surm
    | #14

    I haven’t seen the movie yet (I must admit, I’ve been rather nervous about doing so), but your review definitely shed a different (and more positive) light on it. However, I wondered if you could comment on this Metro Review that was published a while back. I was certainly taken aback by the comments about birth made by ‘influential’ celebrities…



  15. | #15

    @Chris Just
    Thanks, Chris! My sentiments, exactly.

  16. | #16

    I saw the movie with my two sons, 15 and 10. Aside from a few of what we call “mom’s embarassing moments,” it actually sparked some great conversation afterwards, including that it only takes one time to get pregnant! As a CBE and birth doula, there were definitely some “cringeable” moments that have been mentioned already. But it gave us some good fodder for discussion in the family and a few good laughs during the movie. I figured some of my students would see it, so I wanted to know what they were seeing. Not a waste of time at all.

  17. | #17

    One more note: I thought they did a great job of showing the importance of dads getting together regularly with their kids, and the different ways that couples can become a family.

  1. | #1

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