Shocking reality show debated: Women give birth in the wild

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Lifetime’s new reality show is delivering some controversy before it’s even been born. The network announced Wednesday a new series titled Born in the Wild that chronicles pregnant women giving birth outdoors, unassisted by doctors. “What happens when the craziest experience of a woman’s life becomes truly wild, and soon-to-be parents decide to take on an unassisted birth in the outdoors?” asks the press release. “Born in the Wild will document the journeys of young, expectant parents who have chosen to give birth ‘in the wild.'”

It’s certainly a head-turning TV hook. But one obstetrician says we already know what happens when women give birth in the wild, and it isn’t good. “I understand everybody wants to believe we overmedicalize pregnancy and that it’s a natural process. But it’s a natural process that historically has caused an extraordinary loss of life,” says Ron Jaekle, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Fetal Center. “There is not a single piece of literature that we had to read growing up that didn’t talk about somebody’s mother or wife dying in childbirth, it was part of the national vocabulary. In the 1900s, a women died for every 1,000 babies born in the United States. Today it’s .1 for every 1,000.”

The Lifetime series is taking precautions to help ensure the safety of the mother and child. No first-time mothers will be allowed to participate on the show and all participants will have a clean bill of health. A trained emergency professional will be on site. And while the couple will choose the birthing location, the production will remain within a certain radius of a hospital should complications arise. “I’m not surprised an OB-GYN would say that [but] we’re taking extreme precautions to make sure the mothers and the babies are safe,” says Eli Lehrer, Lifetime’s senior VP and head of nonfiction programming. “Our presence at these births is going to make them far safer than if they were doing it on their own.”

The series itself was inspired by a viral video showing a birth in a forest that racked up 20 million views (photo above). Lehrer says he has a personal connection to the show’s concept himself as his second child was born at home via midwife. “This isn’t [Discovery Channel’s] Naked and Afraid and we’re dropping people in the woods and saying ‘go have the baby,'” he says. “These are all people who have already had babies in hospitals who had unsatisfying experiences and who are choosing to have different experiences. This is something people are doing and we set out to document it.”

Even with the safety measures in place, however, Jaekle insists Born in the Wild “doesn’t make any sense.” He contends that even with modern medical care, just giving birth at home — let alone in a forest — is demonstrably more risky. “[The number of children impacted] is a small number — until it’s your kid,” Jaekle says of home birth complications. “They can’t possibly make it safe enough to not [eventually] have a problem that will need a medical intervention to save the day. And then [the producers] won’t interview the docs in the ICU who will say, ‘This would never have happened if she had been in a hospital.'”

Another possible concern is the show inspiring couples not protected by the production’s safety net to try this more extreme “natural” route, something that’s particularly unsafe for first-time mothers (which the show will not allow to participate). “I’m not worried this is going to spark a trend,” Lehrer says. “I truly don’t think this is something people would enter into lightly. This is a very specific subset of people doing this.”

The series was one of four new unscripted shows the network announced Wednesday. The network also ordered Girlfriend Intervention, a racial twist on Bravo’s classic Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, about “four wise, poised and stylish African American women, who, in each episode, help a white sister seeking a complete makeover to restore her confidence and inner glow.” There’s also Threads, a “competition series showcasing America’s most talented young fashion designers,” and Kosher Soul, following a stylist and comedian who converts to Judaism to please his wife.

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