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An Open Letter to MTV Regarding 16 and Pregnant

Welcome to the first edition of the Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival, hosted by Authentic Parenting and Mudpiemama!
In the month of January, we start afresh, a new year, new ideas. Hence, our participants have looked into the topic of “Birth and New Beginnings”. Take a look at the end of this post to find a list of links to the entries of the other participants.
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Dear MTV,

I have been meaning to write to you regarding one of your very popular shows – 16 and Pregnant– to address several issues that deeply concern me. However, since it is January and typically this is the month of resolutions and new beginnings, I thought that I would take this opportunity to call you out publically in hopes that you will give some much needed consideration to the issues I am about to raise.

Birth and raising children are experiences that transcend words. Simply put, having a baby and parenting a child changes your life. They should be taken seriously, discussed openly and honestly, and portrayed in a light that allows future parents to feel supported, encouraged, and valued. 16 and Pregnant does a horrendous job or portraying the beauty that is birth and parenting.

I could write a novel on all of the ills I see in this show. Yes, I watch it. No, I am not at all entertained by it. I am saddened and heartbroken. I watch so that I can understand exactly what message you are sending to young mothers and fathers around the globe. I watch so that I can be a voice speaking out against all the ills of your shows. I watch so that I can be a voice of change.

MTV, birth is a natural process. Women have been successfully doing it with little to no medical intervention since the beginning of humankind. Our genetic material KNOWS what to do to nourish and bring life into this world. It does not need a doctor forcing his or her decisions on us. It does not need a camera crew creating a very uncomfortable environment for an already stressed mother.

16 and Pregnant portrays a very one-sided view of birth. It is a rare episode when a mother is “allowed” to go into labor naturally. 90% of the pregnant teens are given a cutoff date long before the 40 week mark of pregnancy then hooked up to an IV with a hefty dose of Pitocin. You are so casual about it as well. Your funky little lettering pops up with the message that Pitocin is a drug to kick-start labor. Do you see this as “natural?” I mean, would it be so horrible to show young pregnant females that Pitocin is NOT necessary? Do you have any interest in educating women about allowing their bodies and their babies to decide when it is time to birth? Or are you being paid off by the medical community?

In addition to the rampant use of Pitocin, I take issue with your portrayal of labor. These poor girls are clearly not informed about their options when it comes to labor positions. They all just lay there, in bed, in agonizing pain, being told to get an epidural and relax. There is never any discussion of all the very effective labor positions. You never see a birth ball. You don’t see the girls getting into a birth tub. That’s probably because they are too doped up to move. And yes, I take issue with your casual inclusion of narcotics to “numb” these girls and make them unaware of the feelings of labor and birth. I am not suggesting that every woman can handle a drug-free birth. But again, you make it seem like drugs are just par for the course.

Now I could go on a looooong rant about your portrayal of birthing positions. These girls are all flat on the back, legs being held by squeamish fathers or hyped up family members. Many times the babies “get stuck” an indication that these girls were not allowed to listen to their bodies and are being forced to push when indeed they are not ready. You never see a girl squatting. You certainly do not see a birthing stool and as I mentioned before, there is never a birth tub in sight. MTV, giving birth on your back is the WORST position to effectively deliver a baby in and yet it is the only one you show. Geez. Can you not use your billions of dollars to help these girls get a doula who can educate them and advocate for them?

Clearly I feel that you have a LOT that you can improve upon if you continue to exploit feature pregnant teenage girls. However, there is one area that I am absolutely heartbroken that you do not spend more time addressing and educating your viewers about. Breastfeeding.

Breastmilk has successfully sustained life for over 250,000 years. It is natural. It offers complete nutrition. It is tailored made for the individual needs of each baby. It has hundreds of positives. And yet, you ignore it. Yes, you have shown a couple of moms attempting to breastfeed but then you cut right to the scene where baby gets home and a bottle is shoved in her mouth. You are not helping pregnant girls make good decisions about the future health of their child. You are not supporting them in doing what women have done for ever. You are surely paid off by formula manufacturers but come one MTV…step it up. What do you think breasts are for anyway? Oh yeah – flaunting in all your disgusting music videos.

Now, all of my above concerns are serious and I implore you to aid these girls in becoming informed about pregnancy, the birth process, and nourishing this new life. Give them a chance to take control of their birth experience. Empower them to have the most beautiful birth story ever shown. Show them that there is more to birth than what our “medical professionals” claim is the norm. Remember, birth is not about the convenience of the medical staff, it is about the mother and her child. And most importantly, help them find the support they need to establish a strong breastfeeding relationship so their child can get the best nutritional start in life. You devoted an ENTIRE episode to a couple who made the difficult decision to abort a baby. If you can show THAT, why can’t you air a special about the birth process or breastfeeding? That is much less controversial than abortion. And in my opinion, it trumps a special about abortion because more young girls will choose to give birth and parent than abort their babies.

MTV, you are better than this. Make a resolution today to start fresh. Provide a holistic look at pregnancy, birth, and nurturing children. Commit to more than what is considered the mainstream norm. Please prove to the world that you have a soul and are willing to help change the way that women of all ages view pregnancy and birth. Your voice is strong. Use it.


Visit Authentic Parenting and MudpieMama to find out how you can participate in the next Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon January 27 with all the carnival links.)

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Comments

  1. Remember when MTV was cutting edge, provocative, and educational? I do. My husband and I reminisce about the days of 90s MTV that made us aware and got us doing something. I’m all for breastfeeding on Sesame Street, but I would be PASSIONATE about a episode of one of those MTV shows with a natural (possibly) home birth/pro-breastfeeding story. Somehow I doubt that will ever happen.

  2. Very well written, and I agree with Siobhan, I do remember a time when MTV was about educating and not pushing mainstream for money. Shame they got off of that, I might watch them again.

  3. I remember oh so well too. I learned a lot about AIDS from the Real World, and lots of cultural things… I am so glad you wrote this… Awesome, as always- you amaze me woman. Thank you.

  4. Visiting from the AP Carnival!

    I’m not so sure “less controversial” is really a selling point for MTV. Controversial was probably their goal. After all, controversial = ratings, right? The entire premise of the show seems controversial, if you ask me (and I was 16 and pregnant!).

    Still, you raise lots of awesome, important points and I hope you sent this letter TO MTV, not just your blog.

  5. If MTV wants controversial, home birthing teens would be it.

    This is such a great post. I, too, hope you send it in. And if you want to start a petition along with your post, I’d be your first signature. The next generation of mothers is watching, learning, and being duped by this show. It needs a major overhaul.

    Thanks for the eye-opening post.

  6. I’ve actually only watched one episode of this show before getting too much of it, but I did listen to an NPR interview with the creator and producer. Interestingly, she and MTV believe that they ARE doing a huge SERVICE with the show by showing what having and caring for a baby is really like. The aim of the show is to discourage teen pregnancy. But, as you have wonderfully described, they actually do a very one-sided job of education. Great post!

  7. I agree with what you’re saying but I don’t think it’s MTV is all to blame. They are not the doctors or hospitals who are caring for the girls. As a woman who had her first child at 19 and was considered a teen mom I was woefully unprepared and I was using a midwife! All of my questions and concerns were poo-pooed and I was cast aside time and time again as I was simply young and apparently not worth the time. The reverse should be true. Girls who end up as teen moms are seen as pariahs and not worth the time of day to many medical professionals (in my opinion) when the better approach would be to show them MORE love and care because often they’re in a much more difficult situation than traditional soon to be mothers.

  8. Wonderful letter. I wonder if a letter writing campaign would actually have them show a more holistic choice. However, I bet they don’t want to show anything that could be perceived as empowering. I haven’t seen the show but from what I’ve heard it is all about showing how AWFUL teen pregnancy is, right? A woman who knew her options would be way too powerful methinks.

  9. I agree with so much of the above, both what you have said and the words of other commenters. The problems you describe seem to serve MTV’s goal of framing teen pregnancy as something that girls should avoid. This, however, is exploitation, which you mention.

    They are definitely missing out on a huge opportunity by leaving breastfeeding out of the show (I have never seen it, but trust your assessment). It gives me the thought that taking up the breastfeeding issue with MTV and other influential media outlets might be a great task for Michelle Obama and her “Let’s Move” campaign. If we really want to help raise breastfeeding rates in America, giving teenage girls a chance to see (and do it!) for themselves would be an awfully good place to start.

  10. Amen, Siobhan! And Jennifer – this is an excellent call for action to MTV. I have never watched the show, because I’ve heard about the births and choices portrayed, and I just couldn’t stand to watch the train wrecks. I wish they would give our younger mamas something else to consider!

  11. This is a great post, you’ve really thrown down the gauntlet. I wonder if they’ll have the balls to respond? I’ve not seen the show personally (I’m in the UK and I’m not sure if it’s shown here), but I’ve seen many shows that sound similar. Why does the Western media have such a focus on medicalised, traumatic births & breastfeeding problems? I caught a few minutes of a hospital drama tonight, where a new mother was struggling to establish breastfeeding ~ when I came back from putting my toddler to bed the baby was having a bottle *sigh*

  12. I have such a hard time watching this show because of just how ignorant those birthing mothers are and how little they are supported during a very stressful time in their lives. The idea that this type of show will discourage teen pregnancy to me is asinine because it completely ignores the real roots of teen pregnancy and only puts these confused and scared girls on display which to me is unacceptable. Regardless whether this show airs or not, young women will get pregnant and instead of making them out to be irresponsible and helpless, we should be offering them way to become empowered so that they can parent effectively from then on. I am actually disgusted by this show and how it portrays young mothers and their life choices. Kudos to this post!

  13. This is ridiculous. Mtv has nothing to do with the birthing positions pitocin and so on. You act like the producers go in and say make this as painful as possible. I mean come on they are not the medical doctors. Seeing the girls in pain may stop a teen from wanting to give birth. Everybody has to find something wrong with everything. Teen pregnancy was happening long before this show and it is going to happen long after sheesh get a grip.

  14. Thank you for all the useful links.

    Regards,
    Nathalie
    A Proud Mom and A Volunteer Writer about Symptoms of Ectopic Pregnancy

  15. I agree with you 100%!!! Thank you for writing this!

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