So it looks like Matt made a specific choice to tell this story; that of the journey of childbirth for women. Some of it, of the fog, was very specific to Betty; to her character–the inchworm, her father, etc. I’m not talking about any of that. I am talking about the experience of the period; the one that it seemed every woman had. Betty, Francine, the prison guard’s wife.
From the moment Betty entered that hospital her choices were taken away, her requests ignored. Her pen was empty. Her doctor wasn’t coming. One by one, whatever it was that Betty wanted was simply removed from the scene.
The other time I saw this so viscerally displayed was on thirtysomething, in an episode called New Baby.
That episode, like The Fog, had an oddness to its look and feel. In The Fog, camera angles were strange and gave the entire show, even before Betty’s labor began, a weird, dreamlike feel. That aspect actually reminded me of the Buffy, the Vampire Slayer episode The Body. The Body was all about death. These, The Fog and New Baby, are about birth. But you get awful close to death in order to make that happen. Gene mopping up that blood was not so subtle.
I am not a mom. I will likely never be a mom. I am writing this as a television viewer and as a woman. But not as a woman who has given birth.
New Baby didn’t have funky camera angles, but it did reverse the time–the episode opens with Susannah very late in her labor; depleted, in agony, and ready to give up, and then it cuts to an hour earlier (you literally see the clock move backwards). The entire episode goes this way, back hours and days. You watched as she made wonderful choices that you’d already witnessed not working out.
The Fog also has some time mentions–watches, specifically. Ken was bragging about his watch, a gift from his Birds Eye client. And you never wear a nice gold watch when you work in a prison camp.
Thirtysomething was the late 1980s. This was an educated, politically active, ‘advanced’ sort of hippie-esque couple doing everything right–they’d read up, asked all the questions, taken LaMaze classes, reserved a birthing room (decorated like home, with all those nasty monitors behind curtain #2), and they were prepared with her favorite visuals to focus on (an island photo, if I recall) and music to soothe her (Pachelbel’s Canon).
And yet none of it helped. The birthing room wasn’t available. From the moment she checked in to the hospital she’s on ice chips–just in case there needs to be a C-section, you can’t eat. She labors and she weakens. So now you’re all evolved and no-drugs-like-one-of-those-’50s-housewives-for-me and shit, but you’re drained, literally.
New Baby showed that all that advancement and education and everything we’d believed we’d moved past–in the end you had a frightened, tortured woman with no strength, no dignity and practically no will. And then the baby is there and Mommy is beaming. And dealing with parent burnout.
And there they are, Betty and Francine, smiling their Stepford smiles.
The Fog tells a different story, one where there was no information, and very little fight going in. Betty walked in blind, even though this was her third time. Betty wasn’t fascinated by the life that was inside her–we got that from her conversation with Mr. Bellytoucher in My Old Kentucky Home. Neither was she interested in questioning or affecting the conditions of this birth. Until she actually started going through it. Then it was, I want Don, I want my doctor, why do we have to do it this way or that way.
It was fascinating too that it was this society of women putting her through this–all those nurses, seemingly conspiring for her not to worry her pretty little head; just take your drugs and you’ll forget all this ugliness. In thirtysomething the doctor was a woman as well (played by Patricia Heaton).
But in both shows, in both eras, we saw the ugliness. The lack of choices. The varying levels of compassion couching Yes honey, but this is how we’re doing it. The barbarism that is childbirth in the modern American experience.