Giving Birth in the “Office”

Waiting until long after her water breaks before going to the hospital, no wincing when the baby tries to latch on, asking for a lactation consultant when the maternity nurse says a lot of babies do just fine on bottles – Pam Beasley may have been the first TV character to portray an empowering birth experience on American television!

For years we in the birth community have been complaining that births on film and television are always depicted as full scale emergency starting with the big rush to get to the hospital at the first sign of labor, to portrayals of women gritting their teeth through the pain of breastfeeding.   In last night’s episode of the “Office” Pam calmly labors through each contraction while her coworkers try to distract her with fun and games.  Her husband Jim acts more and more frazzled as they debate whether to leave for the hospital when contractions are seven minutes apart or five.  Knowing that their insurance company will allow an extra day on their hospital stay if they wait until midnight Pam insists on waiting until contractions are at least five minutes apart.    

In the meantime she and officemate Kevin sit down to a pre-dinner feast.  (Imagine that a woman actually eating while in labor!)  Later Pam finds Jim waiting outside in the car but to his disappointment she still refuses to go.  When he asks why she changed her outfit she casually replies “Oh, my water broke a little while ago.”  It’s only when Jim discovers that her contractions are two minutes apart do they begin their rush to the hospital with their boss Michael Scott texting as they race their way through traffic.

After they arrive Pam’s laboring continues behind closed doors as her boss moans about how long it is taking (after all Phyllis has ice cream cake waiting in the car!).  We never see Pam in stirrups (thank goodness), instead we just hear a few groans as her boss Michael listens outside the door until we hear Jim saying “Look how beautiful she is!”

The second half of the hour long show is all about Pam’s first attempts to breastfeed her new baby girl.  Except for the fact that she donned one of those horrible looking, over sized “hide a hooter” bibs every time she tried to nurse the depiction of breastfeeding a newborn in a hospital seemed very realistic.  The nurse offers her no help what so ever and instead offer firsts to take the baby away so Pam can get some rest and then try again, and when her second attempt goes no better the nurse tells her that it’s no big deal, “a lot of baby’s do just fine on bottles.” 

But our Pam knows better than to send her baby to the nursery over night and even though she doesn’t seem to be in any pain she insists that the breastfeeding doesn’t feel quite right, and so she requests a Lactation Consultant.  To Jim’s surprise the Lactation Consultant is a man named Clark, but the fact that the LC is a male doesn’t seem to phase Pam in the least.  Like every new mother she just wants to know “How do I know that my baby is getting enough milk?”  Apparently Jim’s suggestion that she needs to “push it out” more hadn’t satisfied her.  While Clark fiddles with Pam’s breasts and helps her with positioning Jim (who is famous for his silent reactions) looks as if he is ready to climb the walls.

After the Clark leaves Pam still feels unsure that she is doing it right (but still no pain!!) and when another mother joins them in their room she watches her closely in an effort to see how it’s done.  In the middle of the night after having refused the nurse’s offer to send the baby to the nursery for the night, Pam nurses the crying baby and is surprised at how well the baby latches on only to discover that she is nursing her roommate’s baby!  (I swear the authors must be reading my “Breastfeeding in the News” blogs – I reported on a case of a mother breastfeeding the wrong baby just last week!)  Quickly they put the baby back in the bassinet and push it over to the other side of the room never admitting their mistake.

After trying their hand at diapering together they discover that while Jim may be able to diaper his coworker Angela’s cat, he is no match for a squirming baby.  Even though they obviously feel unready to go home they are finally discharged.  Both Jim and Pam look apprehensive as she is wheeled out to the curb.  Jim hasn’t thought to bring the car around and so he leave Pam and the baby alone on a bench as the attendant takes the wheel chair back inside.  Naturally the baby begins fussing and Pam is left alone to cope.  Reluctantly she puts on the over sized “hide a hooter.” (I hate this thing but it makes sense that a character like Pam would be shy about breastfeeding in public.  Hopefully in future episodes she will master the art of discreetly nursing and look back on her ‘hide a hooter days’ and laugh.)  With no one to help her Pam and her baby finally get the breastfeeding right and she is in total bliss by the time that Jim returns.

I love this show and as a Lactation Consultant I had been biting my nails as I worried in anticipation of how the birth episode would be portrayed.  It was such a relief to be watching a show about birth with my 13 year old daughter without having to constantly yell instructions at the TV (things like “It’s just one contraction – she doesn’t need an ambulance.”  “Why isn’t she breastfeeding? What’s wrong with these people??” or “It’s not supposed to hurt!”)  Just the mere mention of the word “Lactation Consultant” made me feel so proud.  Finally here was the proof my daughter needed that my job is in fact a real job and that I’m not part of some whacko, totally out there profession!  If they have Lactation Consultants on TV then that makes it okay for her mom to be one in real life.

To the writers of the “Office” I say thank you, thank you, thank you!  Now when her friends asks no longer does my daughter have to say “my mother writes” now she can hold her head up high and say “my mother is a Lactation Consultant, just like the one they had on the Office.”  And when women in this country need a visual in their head of what laboring and breastfeeding look like they can remember Pam Beasley quietly having contractions at work and the look of bliss on her face when she and her baby finally master the art of the “latch”.

To see the show online:

http://www.nbc.com/The_Office/

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37 Comments

Filed under breastfeeding

37 responses to “Giving Birth in the “Office”

  1. I totally agree.

    It was so refreshing to be able to sit back and enjoy at TV birth without having to yell at the TV!!

  2. I have a feeling that fellow Office cast member, Angela Kinsey, provided some “real-life” ideas for the birth episode. Go Ms. Kinsey!

    See – http://celebrity-babies.com/2010/03/02/angela-kinsey-pitches-nursing-humor-to-office-writers/

  3. daniarnold

    I don’t watch “the office” but i think I’ll have to watch this episode! Thanx Kathy!!!

  4. Wasn’t it wonderful? I too, was dreading how the writers were going to portray the birth, and I wasn’t even daring to hope that they would have her breastfeed! I was very pleasantly surprised…loved the entire episode! Kudos to the writers, they did a great job!

  5. StorkStories

    I totally agree! I loved the overall positive message on many levels. I never even watch this show. I loved her calm approach to labor and breastfeeding. Hopefully Pam will continue to nurse for a year or more!! Even that other guy making silly baby contract in the basement wanted his baby breastfed for 6 months! Ok so then he wanted to feed it something wierd after that but still! I want to praise this show, the writers and the actors! Great message to America!

  6. It WAS great to see an easy, happy birth on tv. Very empowering….

    I also recommend a “Keeping up with the Kardashians” episode displaying another empowering birth.

    I hope this spreads a message of hope and empowerment and joy!

  7. StorkStories

    Wow! Just found out that one of the writers is someone I know! His dad is an AWESOME pediatrician and fabulous pro-breastfeeding advocate. I am so excited!!!!

  8. Lauren

    This is such a relief! I have avoided the show because I was worried they’d do the whole “birth as emergency” thing and I hate that.

    I also want to note that the character Jan, Michael’s former boss/girlfriend, gave birth to her child in a waterbirth! Someone at The Office is really cool!

  9. Scarlett

    Actually, she only wore the hooter-hider bib thingy twice: the first time it showed her BFing, and then outside the hospital while waiting for Jim to bring the car. The other times she just pulled aside her hospital gown, and there was some clever camera work.

    @StorkStories, the “weird” food that Dwight wanted to feed his baby was a nutritious puree of root vegetables (ie beets, carrots, etc.) – still a heckuva lot better than Gerber rice cereal or strained peas, wouldn’t you say?

    All in all, it was a very BFing, AP-friendly episode.

  10. I didn’t see the show but this write up makes me so happy! I am a little embarrassed to admit I cried while I read this blog! This is so exciting!!!

  11. I haven’t watched it yet (it’s on my PVR), but now I’m VERY excited to see it 🙂 I usually get SO ticked at the way birth and breastfeeding are portrayed!

  12. I felt compelled to write a similar post this morning. Yay Pam! Thank you, Office.

  13. Jessica

    Hmmm….I didn’t think about it while watching, but definitely enjoyed the AP moments, keeping the baby in the room with them (and co-sleeping! though not in the safest position) and I love that Pam carried the baby out in her lap, not in the carseat!

  14. Jenica

    It was a great episode! It was good to see something a little more realistic. I’m a little hurt by your broad comment “the depiction of breastfeeding a newborn in a hospital seemed very realistic. The nurse offers her no help what so ever” since I’m a labor and delivery nurse and I feel that, at least where I practice, we do an excellent job at helping moms get started breastfeeding and would never offer to take the baby away. I think there are definitely different practices at different hospitals and even varies by region. However, to say that in general nurses are no help what so ever is a little much.

  15. Alyssa

    I too was pleasantly surprised and so happy to see. One of my favorite shows and now I am even more enamored. We should all remember to write ot the show and let them know too how much we appreciated it.

  16. What a rocking commentary. Thank you!

  17. I didn’t see this episode, (don’t watch much tv) but I had to chime in how much I HATE the whole first contraction rush to ER thing! Ugh!! Even in real life I see it, or have people say “Well I was in labor for 8 hours so I HAD to have a c-section” Well you know what, I was in labor for TWO WEEKS. Yes active labor, 3-7 minute contractions for two weeks. It’s all about education, if I didn’t educate myself (because no one else will) then I would have thought the same thing. I feel bad for the people who have c-sections because of “failure to progress” after only a few hours, or even less then a day.

    Ughhhhhhh. Off my soapbox now. It’s just so good to know other people have the same soapbox! 🙂

  18. Celia

    @Jenica- at both of my births (one at Kaiser Woodland Hills and one at U of M hospital) the nurses and doctors were VERY supportive and helpful about breastfeeding. Both my babies went into the NICU and I had hospital grade pumps in my room almost immediately upon birth, as well as unlimited supplies of bottles and lanolin. They treated my breastmilk like it was precious gold and when the babies were able to try breastfeeding worked with me on the best holds, techniques and tips. I think that while I knew what I wanted going in, at both of these hospitals they did everything they could to ensure a positive breastfeeding experience. At UM they even had a visiting nurse come and check on my breastfeeding a few days out of the hospital.

  19. shineliketheson

    “Actually, she only wore the hooter-hider bib thingy twice: the first time it showed her BFing, and then outside the hospital while waiting for Jim to bring the car. The other times she just pulled aside her hospital gown, and there was some clever camera work” (quoting Scarlett) Honestly what does it matter if she prefers to cover for her comfort, as long as she’s bfing whenever ,whereever baby needs to? The fact that women are breastfeeding is important not to cover or not to cover. I’ve done it both ways in public and really am saddened that some moms are talked about as less of a breastfeeding mother or less of a lactivist if they choose to cover. We need to encourage new moms to breastfeed however they are comfortable so they continue.

    It was a good episode and you told it exactly how it played out!

    • Liz

      I have to agree with this one. I have happily breastfed my children, and prefer to use a cover for my own privacy. I am not comfortable with just “whipping it out” in public, since I have seen several not-so-discreet nursers, and happily remove myself to the family restroom with a nursing area or another private place. After all, it is supposed to be bonding between mother and child, provide superior nutrition for the child, and not be a political or social statement, right? Shunning those of us who are more comfortable being discreet is probably what prompts many of those I know to bottle feed, instead of realizing that it is not inconvenient for those not apt to be gung-ho for a public viewing.

      I completely agree, though, that it was a great show, and nice not to have the incredibly short, but agonizing, labor that is usually depicted!

  20. Tom Johnston

    A great post! As a male lactation consultant, I commend the office for showing the IBCLC in a positive light, and even more, showing that men know what they are talking about too.

    Tom Johnston
    CNM, IBCLC

  21. Beckey

    Loved this episode! I wanted to smack that stupid nurse with her comments about giving the baby a bottle and her scoff of nipple confusion. The male LC cracked me up (and yes, I have personally met 2 male IBCLCs!) I was relieved and happy to have Pam continue to try breastfeeding and be successful on her own – and in public! – at the end of the episode. : )

  22. Jenn

    This was a great episode! Not only was I thrilled to see she was willing to struggle with BF and that they didn’t go to the hospital immediately, or even upon water breaking, but I really LOVED how they didn’t want to go home!

    I remember dragging my heals and being terrified to go home with even my second. So tiny, how can I care for this little being…..2nd time around, I still asked the same questions I did with the first.

    That birth wasn’t an emergency, BF is HARD and don’t give up, and terrified to go home…yeah, job well done! thanks for the review.

  23. “Images of Birth in the Media” was a presentation at Partners in Perinatal
    Health by Vicki Elson two years ago. She also has that as a DVD now, I
    believe. Men running around in more of a panic than the mom, friends being
    unnecessarily neurotic are common TV themes.

    There was a lovely labor/birth scene on a British show/PBS in which the
    woman labors at home in a tub, by herself. Or course, partly because the
    father couldn’t get there and was freaking out.

    There was a most wonderful episode about giving birth (at home!) on
    “Northern Exposure” a few years ago. It was sooo excellent and poetic in
    it’s metaphors and sense of community. The best depictions I’ve ever seen
    in a TV show.

    In a video I show in my cbe classes (The video is “Works of Wonder” and
    the segment is ‘Lourdes and Jonathan’) the dad mentions practicing by
    diapering a cat, so maybe the writers saw that video, too.

    I have been showing “Knocked Up” (parts of it) in my classes… people
    like it, though the dad character swears a lurid purple streak. But
    somehow, this is like watching TV, not “seeing a birth video in class” and
    the discussions are more eager and fun. I could get this episode and use
    it for discussion.
    Thanks for the heads up.

    Robin Snyder-Drummond

  24. I thought the episode was really well done too and also blogged about it from my perspective as a former L & D RN and a current doula. I added a little insight for some of the items that might be missed by the general viewing population, but also lots of kudos for what was done well. Way to go Pam & thanks for your great post!

    Be well and thanks for your great work!

    Andrea Crossman, BA, BS, RN

  25. Allison R

    Re: Covering while bf-ing
    Don’t forget that this is an actress breastfeeding her fictional baby on tv. So not only would they probably choose not to show anything too “risque” on tv, but it’s got to be hard to make it look like she’s breastfeeding while she’s actually not. Especially since the focus was on getting the latch right, which included lots of popping on and off. I think using the cover made it easy to just describe what was happening without trying to make it look realistic.

  26. Kitty Phinney Lewis

    Wonderful

  27. Erin

    This is going to sound so silly, but I too was nervous about how they were going to show the birth. I thought about it all day. The Office is my favorite show, and I didn’t want to hate it. I loved it!

    I’m so glad Pam stood up to that nurse! I had a nurse just like that. I was having trouble with the latch and instead of helping, she kept pushing the bottle and saying if I didn’t get her to nurse, then they would make me give her a bottle. She had me in tears.

  28. mohop

    I also am very happy with how they dealt with the birth and breastfeeding!

    Re: the hooter hider, keep in mind that the premise of the show is that documentary filmmakers are filming them, so I’m sure she used the cover knowing she was going to be on video. Also, when your baby is a day old, you haven’t mastered ther art of discretely breastfeeding, and you want to be able to see your whole boob at one time, so it would have been less realistic, in my opinion, if they had just showed her discretely breastfeeding without a cover.

  29. mohop

    Oh, I also loved the part about Pam feeding the wrong baby, because it showed that the other woman’s baby was a better latcher than Pam’s, and I think it’s good for women to know that there are a lot of variables with how easy breastfeeding will be, including how well the baby latches from the get go, not necessarily b/c some women are better at it than others.

  30. Melissa

    My husband and I watched the episode together. It made me laugh every time Pam donned the nursing cover because he kept saying, “What is that?”

  31. Kate

    Great post 🙂 It was nice to see a “normal” birth experience portrayed on TV for once!

    Reading the comments, I am realizing I must have really lucked out with my bf experiences. I had three hospital births and each time the nurses were wonderful! My oldest had trouble latching at first and the nurse called in the LC before I even had to ask. No one even mentioned bottles or formula.

  32. lenetta

    When I watched, I didn’t see things quite as rosily as you did, so I appreciate the point of view. It sure could’ve been a lot worse! I linked on my weekly roundup – thanks for sharing!

  33. Sunita Katyayan

    The sophisticated allopathic and western medicine and their slavery to the science of everything is legendary. They love to complicate the simplest of things.The ‘civilized’ world seems to have come round full circle and awakened to the art and science of breastfeeding.

  34. Mary

    Great article. I’m going to check out the video online now. 🙂

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