Geekade Top Ten: TV births
As you may or may not know, we will soon have a brand new little Geekader joining our ranks. In honor of this momentous occasion, as the little geekette’s mommy and as one of the site’s resident TV addicts, I decided to take a look at some of the best births in the history of TV. There were some shows I had to leave off, either because it would be impossible to pick (Call the Midwife) or because they were just too gruesome to think about (The Walking Dead), but I think I’ve come up with a decent list of great examples from the world of TV of what it’s like to become a parent.
10. Downton Abbey, S3 E4, Sybil Crawley & Baby Sybil – There had to be at least one tragic birth on this list and, given its setting in history (pre-modern medicine), this show was a likely source. This episode is an excellent reflection of the show’s theme of conflict between classes. Humble Dr. Clarkson does everything right in assessing and diagnosing Sybil’s condition and correctly advises treatment. True to form, Lord Grantham lets his elitism stand in the way of proper care, relying on the advice of another doctor of (arguably) better breeding which he has specially brought in as his way of showing the importance of the birth of his first grandchild. In other words, grandpa makes it all about him, with tragic results. The show has mercy on us inasmuch as we get to see a few happy moments of Sybil, Tom, and baby Sybil. Of course, that only makes it all the more painful when the new mother is torn away moments later, before our eyes, slowly and painfully, with nothing to be done, knowing that she could have been saved if Robert weren’t so damn proud. Sybil’s death has a profound effect on the rest of the series, especially given that it’s not the last birth or the last tragedy the family will face this season. Warning, this is not to be watched without tissues.
9. Lost, “Do No Harm” (S1E20), Claire Littleton & Baby Aaron – Sure, there have been plenty of TV babies born in extreme circumstances, but I can’t really think of any more extreme than this. We find Claire alone in the middle of the jungle, having contractions, because the smartest thing to do when you’re due to give birth on a deserted island is to wander off by yourself. Kate finds Claire and recruits a non-English speaking Jin to fetch Jack, but Jack is unavailable to help as he is currently pouring his own blood into Boone’s veins, so he sends Jin back along with Charlie and some basic birthing instructions. In just about the only normal birthing moment of the ordeal, Kate does her best to calm Claire’s new motherhood anxieties and convinces her to push in what really is a very sweet moment in an otherwise terrifying situation. Charlie and Jin both sit back like expectant fathers in a 1950s hospital waiting room (Charlie actually moves to jump in and help and Jin stops him…for some reason). Luckily for Claire and Aaron, the birth is straightforward (other than being hella painful), which it sort of had to be for plot reasons, but given all the things that CAN go wrong during the most run-of-the-mill birth, it’s AWFULLY convenient. Still, Claire bringing the baby to the beach to introduce him to the survivors as a symbol of hope is a pretty nice moment and the family unit they form with Charlie was a highlight of the earlier seasons of the show.
8. Doctor Who, “A Good Man Goes to War” (S6E7), Amy Pond & Baby Melody – I will probably catch some crap for including this episode on this list, especially since the actual birth happens offscreen prior to the start of this episode, but I’m including it because of Rory and Amy’s formidable new-parent skills and also because it’s my favorite show and it’s MY LIST. The audience’s introduction to Amy-as-mother is her honest, kickass opening monologue to little Melody, instilling her daughter with bravery as her strongest virtue (much like her mother) and singing her father’s praises. Our first glimpse of Rory-as-father is also one of bravery, as he faces off against an entire legion of Cybermen in order to learn where his wife and daughter are being held. Amy & Rory’s first moments together as parents are touching and sweet, with a bit of classic bickering over their daughter’s name. Watching the Doctor “speak baby” is always fun, as is watching him be squicked out as he realizes the circumstances of Melody’s conception, and it’s nice to see him get a moment of true happiness for his friends. The ending reveal of who the baby grows up to be also leads into a really fun plot arc (no spoilers, sweetie).
7. I Love Lucy, “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” (S2E16), Lucy Ricardo & Baby Ricky – Make no mistake: any and all sitcom episodes involving getting an expectant mother in labor to the hospital originated from this point, with VERY good reason. This episode aired over 60 years ago and it is still drop-dead hysterical. Today’s audiences can probably see the payoff of the “rushing to the hospital scene” coming from even farther away than the original audience could, but it doesn’t mean you laugh any less hard when Fred, Ethel, & Ricky (having rehearsed getting Lucy out the door in a calm and orderly fashion) panic, yell, and fall all over each other when Lucy announces “it’s time.” Simply put, leaving this episode off this list would be criminal, because it gave birth to all the sitcom birth episodes that followed. Check out the key scene here and thank me later.
6. Murphy Brown, “Birth 101” (S4E26), Murphy Brown & Baby Avery – This is another historically important TV birth. A lot of the births on this list feature non-traditional family situations and none of THOSE would be possible had Murphy Brown not paved the way as America’s first single mom on TV. This episode stirred a lot of controversy at the time it aired, at the height of “family values” being invoked by many as the end-all, be-all. Family values are great, the problem is, everyone has a different definition thereof. Murphy got to define her own version of family values and gave the rest of America a pretty good model. Pre-baby, Murphy’s family is composed of her coworkers who go into a panic (much like Fred, Ethel, and Ricky did) when Murphy goes into labor during a live broadcast, leaving it to the person most capable of keeping a level head, Murphy herself, to manage the situation (an indicator that she will be an excellent mother, even if she doesn’t know it yet). In the hospital, Murphy is finally able to show some vulnerability and her friend Eldin comes to her aid, pushing her through when she needs it most, proving that she can shape her own family from the important people in her life however she chooses. After Avery is born, Murphy’s new mother worries are played for comedy, but are also very real. Her very touching speech to her son is TV history and, as she sings “Natural Woman” to her new baby, if you don’t cry, you’re probably dead inside.
5. The Office (US), “The Delivery, Part 1” (S6E17), Pam Halpert & Baby Cecelia – This feels to me like the quintessential birth episode(s) for the modern family. It mainly deals with Pam’s reluctance to go to the hospital, despite contractions of increasing strength and frequency, on the logic that waiting will yield them one more night in the hospital on the insurance company’s dime. As someone who is still sitting in their office at 38 weeks, because they can’t afford the paycut that disability benefits offer until as late as possible, I feel you Pam. Pam’s emotions touch even closer to home when she reveals that her reluctance is actually born of fear about giving birth. It ain’t a pretty or a comfortable process for anyone and this moment felt ahead of its time by acknowledging a fear most expectant mothers have, but had really only been exploited for laughs, not genuinely acknowledged, prior to this. And, of course, because this show is what it is, the caravan to the hospital is shot through with classic Michael and Dwight comedy. The episode doesn’t quite make it all the way to the birth, but it gets you to the point where you know everything is going to be ok for Mom, Dad, and baby.
4. Parenthood, “We Made It Through the Night” (S6E12), Amber Braverman & Baby Zeek – It’s only natural that a show called Parenthood would have a couple of births featured on it, but Amber’s is my favorite. Unplanned pregnancy happens to a lot of single young women and the show did a great job of handling the touchy subject realistically, rather than playing it for drama. Amber has a lot of family support, but the show doesn’t try to get us to believe that because of that, everything will be easy. Conversely, having a tenuous job situation and no partner with whom to co-parent/rely on isn’t the ideal situation for a new mother, but that doesn’t mean she’s not going to be OK. After a false alarm that is accompanied by the typical Braverman Overdoing Of Things, Amber’s bonding chat with Sarah about her motherhood anxieties makes her believe that everything will be ok, and we buy it too. When the real thing happens, she gets a do-over and chooses to go it alone with help from her mother, which is probably the way things will be for a while: tough and mostly on her own, but ultimately rewarding.
3. Jane the Virgin, “Chapter 22” (S1E22), Jane Villanueva & Baby Mateo – When I conceived (pun intended) of this top ten, this show didn’t even pop up on my radar as I had just started watching it, but during the article’s gestation (hahaha), I caught up to the end of the end of season 1 and immediately felt it had earned a fairly high spot. This show is unapologetically as full of drama as the telenovelas it loves/mocks and this episode sticks right to the (birth) plan. It includes family members being stuck out of town when mom goes into labor, a love triangle at the worst time, a mom in labor determined to carry on life as normal as long as possible until it’s almost too late, a surprise gender reveal, and a kidnapping cliffhanger ending. Yes, you read that right, all of those things in a single episode. It’s jam-packed with great laughs, such as Jane faking out her mother with faux contractions and a fellow bus passenger convincing the bus driver to drive directly to the hospital when Jane’s labor speeds up dramatically on her way home. There is sweetness too, as Jane has meaningful moments with each of her suitors and as she saddles her child with a lengthy name that satisfies anyone who would want some input. The family bonding between Jane and her mother and grandmother is absolutely palpable, but the show manages a good balance, mixing in enough fantastical drama to prevent you from sobbing and sighing for the whole hour. And don’t worry about the baby, I’ve watched a bit past this and you only have to get about 10 minutes into the new season to find out what happens.
2. Sex and the City, “I Heart NY” (S4E18), Miranda Hobbes & Baby Brady – It’s possible this one is so close to my heart because I am such a Miranda. This episode gives us an unvarnished look at what the last week of pregnancy is like for a single career woman. At lunch with the rest of the girls, she is Over. It. and has no time to sugarcoat her opinions about her friends’ issues. At home with Steve, she is as hard on him as ever and you can see the appreciation in her face when he knows well enough to make her laugh rather than point out he was right in a minor disagreement. Walking alone with Carrie, she asks her to be in the delivery room, citing her need for something “normal” in the room; it’s a rare moment of vulnerability for a character who’s used to being in control, something all moms can relate to. Once in labor, the show tells the truth about babies, that they are messy and rarely have good timing, as Miranda has to call Carrie to the hospital during her big night with Mr. Big and then her water breaks all over Carrie’s expensive beautiful shoes. It also tells the truth about friends in one simple exchange as Miranda acknowledges having ruined Carrie’s date with “You look pretty” and Carrie responds “So do you.” As selfish and spoiled as Carrie can be, she is there for her friend, lending a hand to squeeze for strength while she silently pushes, and shutting down the cheerleader nurse and Steve’s crying. Miranda’s reaction to becoming a mother, “It’s weird, it’s like there’s suddenly a giraffe in the room,” is just an absolutely perfect description of how life changes the moment you have a baby and the naming of Brady lends just the touch of sentiment the scene needs. It really is a near perfect birth episode.
1. Friends, “The One with The Birth” (S1E23), Carol Willick & Baby Ben – So, obviously, this episode is titled as such because that’s the naming convention the show uses. But also, when talking about great moments in the history of birth on TV, if you had to narrow it down to just one episode, for our generation at least, it would likely be this one. It is The One with the birth. This show was important to so many of us and has been such a ubiquitous part of pop culture that even those who didn’t watch it at the time it aired are familiar with and often appreciative of it. In a way, coming at the end of the first season as it does, this episode really marks the birth of the show. It grew and developed over the nine or so months of the first season it aired, slowly becoming the show it is, and this episode declares the show’s real arrival into the world. The cast had really hit its stride and begun to gel, so all the jokes land perfectly. All the various subplots are all woven naturally around the major events of the episode and are well-suited to the characters we came to know and love over the course of the season. Rachel is a man-eater, Monica is anxious, Phoebe is a weirdo, Chandler is a jokester, Joey is a dummy, and Ross takes himself a tad too seriously. As the plot unfolds, the episode brings these established characters together in ways that show they love each other and make us love them. We’ve grown to know these characters over a season and now that the baby is here, we’re about the see them all grow up. The metaphor kind of falls apart if you try to extend it over the life of the show, but for this moment in the series history, it works and makes it the best birth episode I can think of.
As with any top ten list, I know there will be disagreement, which is ok. We all think our own baby is the best. I would like to point out that 6 out of 10 of my choices reflect babies of atypical parentage (not born to a man and a woman who are married to each other), so I hope that’s a sign that the world is starting to accept that it’s ok to start a family when, how, and with whomever you choose. I’d love to hear your alternate picks for great TV births, it’ll give me something to watch when I’m hanging out with my new little girl.