TLC Birth Moms
TLC Birth Moms,We used to be terrified of pregnancy — we being teenagers and other unmarried Americans, and pregnancy being the shameful, inevitable result of premarital sex.
How quaint that seems. Society threw in the towel on sex, and now unexpected, unwanted or otherwise out-of-the-ordinary accouchements are a spectator sport on reality shows like “16 and Pregnant” and “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.”
There’s still fear in the baby-making process, but it has shifted to the other end of the cycle, at least as demonstrated by “Birth Moms” and “Obese and Expecting,” a pair of one-hour programs on Thursday night on TLC. Both shows drop in on pregnant women in challenging situations near the end of their terms. (Good ratings in either case could mean a future as a reality series.)
In “Birth Moms” the challenges are psychological: three young women who have signed up with an adoption service in Utah screen potential families and struggle with their decisions to part with their babies. In “Obese and Expecting” the rigors are, as you might expect, physical: four women with weights ranging from the high 200s to the low 400s negotiate pregnancy and delivery while dealing with the health problems and indignities associated with morbid obesity.
Neither program is as sheerly exploitative as expected, given the subject matter and the channel, home to shows like “Sister Wives,” “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding” and “19 Kids and Counting.” The overall tone of both is more sentimental than lurid.
“Obese and Expecting” does open on a harsh note by introducing the program’s subjects with images of them being hauled out of vehicles or helped to dress, shot in close-ups reminiscent of a horror film or a crash-site video.
From there it settles into a routine of doctor visits, tests, worrying and birth, presented in more graphic detail than some viewers may find necessary. A scene depicting an extended attempt to give a spinal injection through excess layers of fat will have you squirming at home. When one delivery requires a general anesthetic and the cameras are ordered out of the room, the queasy may sigh in relief.
Here and there the consequences of the women’s obesity are frankly discussed, but the program is nonjudgmental; we’re here to root for healthy babies. The one really interesting note of reality that sneaks in is the husband who continually refers to “my baby,” emphasis on “my.” Although he is separated from his 282-pound wife, he will give her his full support, he says, because after all, “She is the mother of my child.”
Less graphic but more interesting and entertaining is “Birth Moms,” even though it surrenders any credibility as a documentary by failing to raise some important questions viewers might have about its setting, the Adoption Center in Orem, Utah. No mention is made of what kind of fees prospective parents pay, and while we’re told that the mothers receive free lodging and medical care and some spending money, whether they receive any other kind of payment is not addressed.
If you put aside any baby-mill qualms, though, the three young mothers are engaging, particularly Taylor, an uptight, guarded 19-year-old who’s also observant, smart and self-aware. As she strings along prospective families and the adoption center counselors, refusing to choose parents for her baby until the last possible moment, you wonder whether she’s really that ambivalent or if she’s indulging a TV-friendly taste for the dramatic.
“Birth Moms” has a disarming, MTV-style naturalness — its production company, Gigantic!, makes the “True Life” series for that network — and our sympathies shift among the three mothers as they go through a strange process that combines features of summer camp and corporate headhunting, punctuated by the birth of a child.
There is suspense regarding whether the women will go through with the adoptions, and some real pathos in scenes of papers being signed and babies carried away. The most poignant moments are the quiet ones when the mothers thumb through profiles of adopting families, looking for the lives they wish they had led themselves. Pointing to her choice, one says, “They had everything I wanted.”