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The Office Goes Postpartum

Mar09

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bounceback_theoffice.jpg

I have written a couple times about how much I hate — nay, truly and forcefully LOATHE — the way pregnancy and birth are depicted on TV and in movies. It usually looks something like this:

Female character’s water breaks at a hilariously inopportune time, without warning or any contractions, usually all over a male character’s shoes. Everyone rushes to the hospital, and by the time they get there the female character is (of course) in active labor and screaming hilariously for drugs. (Bonus hilarity points if the female character ever mentioned a plan to have a natural birth.) The father of the baby is either trapped in an elevator or across town thanks to a wacky series of hilarious circumstances, or whining about the female character squeezing his hand too hard and cursing at him. Non-related male characters accidentally barge into the room and faint and/or vomit at the horrors they witness. A few minutes later, the doctor presents a six-month-old covered in Vaseline and food coloring to the entire cast. The baby’s name is probably the one you picked out for your own baby, which means you have to start over because people will think you copied. The female character gets the world’s largest hospital room, capable of handling unlimited visitors, and she drops all the baby weight in a matter of hours and spends exactly one scene dealing with the indignity of slightly frizzy hair to indicate what she just went through.

Then they all go home and the baby spends the rest of the series asleep in its crib off camera.

FIN!

So…I was really genuinely surprised that of all TV shows, The Office got childbirth and its aftermath almost completely right.

If you haven’t seen it, the two-part episode is available right now at Hulu. Part one is here, and here’s part two. The first part, the one with the actual birth, is worth watching, for a few reasons:

1. The labor details are more or less accurate. Pam has contractions that slowly build in frequency and intensity. Her water breaks after she’s already in active labor. (It can certainly happen the other way around, but it’s much more common for the water to break after contractions have started.) And the breakage simply requires a wardrobe change, not a mop and a haz-mat crew.

2. Pam’s reactions to labor are sweetly believable. She stays at the office past the 5-7 minute point because she doesn’t want to check into the hospital until midnight so she can maximize her HMO’s stingy hospital stay coverage. And once it seems like she’s getting a little ridiculous in this sticking point, she reveals that actually, she’s mostly just really scared.

3. The delivery is off-camera. Sure, Michael does the cliched burst-into-the-delivery-room gag and there’s plenty of screaming, but it’s by far the least eye-rolly of television birth scenes I’ve seen.

But the reason I’m really writing about a stupid TV show is because of the second part. The baby (an actual newborn!) is born, but the camera stays with Jim and Pam throughout their hospital stay, and oh, it was eerily accurate. Hospital birth in America? The Office is onto you. Pam wants to breastfeed, but has trouble getting her baby to latch and receives less than enthusiastic support from the hospital staff. Her nurse keeps pushing formula while Pam’s frustration mounts and her heart breaks. The nurse rolls her eyes when Pam worries about nipple confusion and generally does little to support her desire to nurse. Pam gets a roommate (for whom everything is going just SWIMMINGLY) and she and Jim crowd together on her hospital bed, terrified of the ticking countdown to their coming discharge time.

There’s of course, typical sitcom stuff (a male lactation consultant; Jim grabs their roommate’s baby in a sleep-deprived haze and Pam nurses it by accident), but even that was kind of daring — both for the taboo of nursing another woman’s child and the heavens not crashing down, but also the act makes Pam realize that her baby doesn’t latch like that baby. (What have I said, over and over and over again? Babies know how to suck, not latch, and it’s not YOUR FAULT if everything doesn’t work like clockwork at first.)

Jim and Pam’s fear of a short two-night hospital stay was a framing device across both parts, and they fight it until the very last minute. But it isn’t until they leave the hospital (or, more accurately, Pam is unceremoniously dumped on a bench outside because the wheelchair and nurse are needed elsewhere), that things actually improve. The baby cries and Pam reaches into her bag — and my heart clenched because I was sure she was reaching for a bottle, having been convinced to give up — and grabs her nursing cover. The baby latches and nurses in earnest just as Jim returns with the car and he beams with pride, and waves of relief wash over them both. They can do it. They can do this.

I’m getting chills just thinking about it. It! A SITCOM. And not a particularly sentimental sitcom at that. And yet when it came to BREASTFEEDING, I’m not sure I’ve seen a better take on the first days postpartum. So…thanks, Office writers and actors, for getting it mostly right, and for not being afraid to show that breastfeeding can be both really really hard and really really worth it.

(That’s what she said!)

Photo from the Halpert Baby Blog. That’s right. Pam and Jim’s fictitious baby blog. Um, why aren’t we on their blogroll? Waaah!

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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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30 Responses to “The Office Goes Postpartum”

  1. Not Pam Mar 09 at 9:26 am Reply Reply

    I just need to say that, although it’s my favorite show and although I too appreciated The Office’s take on childbirth, I named my now 9-mo-old daughter Cecilia. My heart sank a little when they announced the name, as I fear The Office will do for Cecilia what Friends did for Emma. I know I don’t have a copyright on the name, but I’ve loved it for years and was happy with it being a normal name but not a very popular one.

  2. Natalie Mar 09 at 9:31 am Reply Reply

    My favorite is the ridiculous storylines in Birth Story… Are you kidding me?! And thank you for again reassuring the world that breastfeeding can be omgHARD in the beginning.
    (And because the internet is for over-sharing, here is my recovery story for the brave at heart: http://www.mommybyday.com/2010/02/i-have-139-days-left-until-i-am-no.html )

  3. Erin @mktg_mama Mar 09 at 9:40 am Reply Reply

    I totally agree with your post! I was so excited to see that she kept nursing and didn’t give in to the bottle. Go Office!

  4. Amalah Mar 09 at 10:11 am Reply Reply

    Not Pam: Cecelia was my grandmother’s name. And I think it’s beyond lovely.

  5. Sara Mar 09 at 10:24 am Reply Reply

    Thank you thank you thank you for posting this. I heard about the breastfeeding another baby thing from a family member and I was SO AFRAID to watch because I didn’t know how it turned out and it just might break my heart to see her so SAD. I’m not even a huge follower of the show, but I teared up when you wrote that the baby latched and nursed and he beamed… oh man, my post partum hormones are getting the best of me today. Anyway, yay. Can’t wait to watch now.

  6. Mrs. CPA Mar 09 at 10:36 am Reply Reply

    A friend of ours actually had the nursing in the middle of the night mixup happen to them after the birth of their first son. The nurse brough a baby in to Kim in the middle of the night and she tried to nurse it. The baby wouldn’t latch on and she was starting to get frustrated, and then the nurse busted back into the room and took the baby. A few minutes later she brought their son back in the room, and told Kim what happened. The wrong baby was a bottle baby and that’s why he wouldn’t latch on. Kim and Wally did not let their baby out of their sight for the rest of the stay.

  7. Jenny Mar 09 at 10:42 am Reply Reply

    Did you know that the male lactation consultant was the real-life fiance of Jenna Fisher (Pam)?
    I loved the episode as well! Except Michael’s hair comment. I felt icky about that.

  8. Katie Mar 09 at 10:47 am Reply Reply

    I love love loved this episode. I laughed, I cried, I got all heart-warmy-melty. I laughed-until-I-cried at Pam nursing the other baby.
    Yay. They did great.

  9. Life of a Doctor's Wife Mar 09 at 10:54 am Reply Reply

    Love this post! Love The Office! It did seem more honest… And – not a mom myself – the “nursing someone else’s baby” thing kind of freaked me out. It seems SO POSSIBLE.

  10. Anonymous Mar 09 at 11:17 am Reply Reply

    So funny- I just watched this last night and was thinking the EXACT same thing!

  11. Sarah Mar 09 at 11:44 am Reply Reply

    I loved this episode so much. (and thanks for ending the post with a thats-what-she-said joke!). As for the breastfeeding – i loved that they showed how hard it was. and I was so teary. mainly because my son never did learn how to latch, and I am pumping exclusively, and so it is a touchy subject with me. but that they showed that Pam’s struggle with other people seemingly having it easy while she was struggling just hit home.
    did anyone else scream at the TV when Jim said that pam was 10cm and fully effaced, and he was standing out in the hallway??? GET IN THERE. ha.

  12. Jessica V Mar 09 at 12:19 pm Reply Reply

    I loved the episode – it was hysterical and lovely all at once. I also read somewhere that Jenna Fischer asked the writers to name the baby Cecilia after her newborn niece? (I think), which I thought was really sweet.

  13. Laura Mar 09 at 12:34 pm Reply Reply

    Finally watched this ep last night, and as soon as newborn Cecilia started crying – that way newborns do – we looked at each other and said, “I SO do not miss being a first-time parent!” Because, yeah, The Office totally nailed that well-I-read-this-and-was-told-to-do-this-and-it’s-not-working-and-OMG-and-they’re-kicking-us-out-and and and … More than the birth of my second child, that episode took me back to feeling those emotions of after our first was born.
    And I loved how Michael talked Pam down from her irrational refusal (transition, anyone?) to go to hospital. Sweet Michael! But Dwight in the house cracked me up most of all.

  14. Olivia Mar 09 at 12:39 pm Reply Reply

    I didn’t see the show, but your summary makes it sound really wonderful. Breastfeeding on a sitcom, and it wasn’t played for laughs?! Amazing. Makes me want to watch the show to find out how they will address other parenting issues like going back to work and pumping.

  15. Stephanie Mar 09 at 2:33 pm Reply Reply

    Darn you, Amalah! I was going to write about this on my blog, but I never could have summed it up so well and so succinctly. My husband and I watched this together last week, and afterwards, I told him, I have never seen such an accurate portrayal of what it’s like in those hours after birth. How hard breastfeeding was at first, how the lactation consultant makes you hopeful until she leaves the room and you can’t do it anymore, how unsure you are when you leave the hospital… Hurray for Pam and Jim sticking up for themselves by keeping the baby in the room and for not giving in to formula. And I too remember that feeling of relief when Charlotte finally latched… it was a great episode all around.

  16. Kate Neville Mar 09 at 3:02 pm Reply Reply

    @Sarah above – the same thing happened to me – my first son wouldn’t latch correctly and I pumped exclusively for 8 months. It was *much* easier with my second (now 9 weeks old) and I’m still getting the hang of it, but he’s latching great.
    I was in tears during this episode, simultaneously laughing my ass off, esp. when the male (!!) lactation consultant came in the room. That was top notch.
    Great post. :) I was so thrilled when the baby latched finally. And I wanted to punch that nurse, for every new mom who had the same advice given to them.

  17. B Mar 09 at 3:31 pm Reply Reply

    I know I’m repeating everyone else- but my husband and I kept looking at each other during the episodes and saying “OMG- did they have a camera in our room??? That was us!” It really brought back the crazy emotions that we had in the hospital when we had our daughter 9 months ago.
    And also? I totally had the “sitcom” water breaking that everyone says is unlikely to happen. No contractions, no pain, just a giant flood the minute I stood up and took two steps. Luckily it wasn’t on my boss’s shoes!

  18. shylo Mar 09 at 4:57 pm Reply Reply

    I loved how the writers treated the breastfeeding experience. It was so accurate and so detailed. I think a lot of women will find a particular kinship with Pam’s experience.
    I had such a hard time breastfeeding that after a month, I became an exclusive pumper. I was so jealous of Pam’s triumph that I literally started sobbing on my couch. I so wanted that feeling, even once, and never got it. I’m just so thankful that the writers were able to recognize the importance of that moment of triumph for breastfeeding mothers. Excellent work.

  19. When you think about it, The Office was the perfect show to portray the realities of childbirth and the afterward hospital stay. Its an experience that’s so horrible (for all the reasons you list, plus the exhaustion and other emotions both parents feel) that its laughable, which is the M.O. of that show (when its good).

  20. Jo (Mediamum) Mar 09 at 7:33 pm Reply Reply

    I love your “that’s what she said” at the end! My favourite part of the show was the way Pam was so darned scared and nervous. Particularly at the end, when she was all alone and decided to try to nurse. She got the fear perfectly. It really took me back. And her relief when the baby latched? I can’t remember – did she say “we’re doing it!” or “She’s doing it?” Either way, it was a magical thing to see. Thanks for this!

  21. Kat Eden Mar 09 at 8:29 pm Reply Reply

    Someone needs to start spreading the word about how incredibly bloody painful breastfeeding can be for the first few days. I’d rate mine as about 90% as painful as labour – and 11 hours as that sure as heck wasn’t fun! I can’t believe nobody ever warned me about this, it’s like some sort of unspoken creed!

  22. Fearless Formula Feeder Mar 09 at 10:04 pm Reply Reply

    I loved how they dealt with breastfeeding. I’ve heard that Angela Kinsey had a lot of suggestions for the writers, since she just had a baby and is/was nursing. And like a few other people have said, I teared up watching the end, because my son never really learned to latch – and that moment just looked so blissful.
    But personal feeling aside, I thought it handled a very controversial topic really honestly and beautifully. I went to high school with John Krasinsky and BJ Novak (one of the head writers who plays Ryan) and I love that my hometown guys did me proud!

  23. Caitlyn Mar 10 at 12:10 am Reply Reply

    That sounds awesome – I’m gonna have to go watch it! I hated my nurses too…..though actually my water did break like it does in the movies – I wasn’t having contractions or anything, just lying in bed and suddenly it was gushing everywhere. A mop would have been totally appropriate.

  24. Olivia Mar 10 at 8:26 am Reply Reply

    Kat Eden, I’m surprised you never heard breastfeeding can be painful. It seems like that is all I ever heard! Horror stories about pain, thrush, cracked nipples, you name it. I was really scared of nursing. Then it turned out to be totally fine for me, and I was a little mad that I had been scared for no reason.

  25. Natalie Mar 10 at 9:16 am Reply Reply

    @Kat Eden: 90%?? More like 190!

  26. MamaCarter Mar 10 at 10:12 am Reply Reply

    meanwhile, did anyone see this? http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/05/breast-feeding-the-wrong-baby/
    Someone actually suing because they breastfed the wrong baby?
    pathetic.

  27. Marjorie Mar 10 at 1:55 pm Reply Reply

    I think I may have found the reason why this episode of The Office was so spot-on about breastfeeding:
    http://www.myregistry.com/Baby-Bump-Blog/post/2010/03/08/Angela-Kinsey-Shares-Breastfeeding-Expertise.aspx

  28. Michelle Mar 10 at 3:10 pm Reply Reply

    I was so very impressed by the way they handled the so-less-than-perfect post-partum phase. I seriously thought they had filmed the days after my son’s birth. No latching, nurses completely unsupportive, unceremoniously kicking us out while we trembled in fear!!!! And for some reason, seeing this didn’t make me feel sad, it made me feel so much better; that this is common and not that there was something wrong with me. Makes me almost empowered as my second one is due any day!!!! BRAVO Office!!

  29. I agree, it was a great episode and represented the hospital stay well.

  30. Fairly Odd Mother Mar 12 at 8:32 am Reply Reply

    Now I wish I saw that episode! I was turned off by the previews which seemed to feature the same ridiculous story line I’ve seen a bunch of times before.
    And, I’m glad they introduced the issue of “latch” to their large audience. I cried for SIX weeks every single time my daughter latched—I remember so clearly the first time she latched on without me having to curl up my toes and bite my lip from the pain. I saw a lactation consultant dozens of times and there was nothing she could do. I just had to get to that point where it didn’t hurt anymore (it was well worth it btw!) It wasn’t until my 3rd that it didn’t hurt at all.

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