Goodbye To The Only Midwife on TV


Spoiler Alert

I want to fully disclose that I cannot afford cable so I don’t have it and this post is about public television. I’m one of those people that still uses their rabbit ear antenna for their television. I have no shame in still living an analog life where my polariod camera gets more use than my digital one. So you can understand, I’ve only seen one midwife on television this year and that is Dell on ABCs Private Practice.

A spinoff of ABCs Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice piqued my interest with having a Black heterosexual couple who opened their own wellness center, called Oceanside, that has a holistic approach to health and well-being and cast a great group of actors to perform each character. This first season had me intrigued when the writers included storylines about relationships among older adults, gay and lesbian topics on fertility, and challenges in the child welfare system and storylines on intersex children. The third season has been interesting regarding the commentary on sexuality with people who have disabilities, teenage pregnancy, mental health topics and parenting, and a range of beliefs among the characters regarding abortion.

One of the many things I also appreciate about the show is that the physicians and people who work at the Oceanside that they are interesting models of how to work with and among various patients and clients. I always find it interesting as a viewer to see how physicians talk to and engage their patients, especially youth. Dell Parker (performed by Chris Lowell), a young white man who has a child and a history of drug recovery, is also the only midwife on the television show.

We watched as Dell was trained under the care of various OBGYNs and other medical staff to help create and build on his own contributions to the center. His work in midwifery not only challenged some perceptions on masculinity when it comes to who can and is a midwife and what makes a good midwife (do “good” midwives have to have had a child? Need a uterus? Experienced menstruation?). His character also provides complementary care to Westernized thoughts regarding pregnancy and childbirth.

It saddened me to a level I can’t even really express to know that this last episode of Private Practice, “The End Of A Beautiful Friendship” the writers chose to kill Dell’s character off via a brain injury. I was shocked to say the least. This was one of the only representations I’ve seen on mainstream public television of midwifery. As an abortion doula with The Doula Project (we are currently accepting applications for doulas in NYC click here for more information) I found it extremely devastating to the storyline and will admit I think it is a poor choice.

Having midwives represented in mainstream media is important. Dell was one of the only representations I can think of in non-cable mainstream public television that may be accessible to a wider audience. There is now a void on representations of midwives, but there is also a larger void in how the care midwives give is just as vital to wellness centers and childbearing. Who remains to challenge the Westernized models of pregnancy and birthing options on the show as Dell did (I don’t think Pete will be as passionate or on point as Dell was)? Have you thought about how his character was an opportunity to establish and further conversations on midwifery and doulas? I know I’d mentioned his character in my teaching on human sexuality, and now I worry that none of my students will even know of his characters existence or was important.

Are there other non-cable mainstream television shows you’ve seen or known of (in any language or country) that feature midwives and doulas? I’d love to know of other resources that are accessible.

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  • gina-crosleycorcoran

    From the few times I watched that show, Dell was a pretty crappy midwife.  Births were always an “emergency” and in one episode, he broke a baby’s collar bone to get it out when there were signs of dystocia (there are lots of other things that can be done besides breaking a child’s bones.)  That show constantly put down birth, and parental decisions.  In one episode, a child was vaccinated against the mother’s will and the entire practice wanted her to be put in jail for not vaccinating.

    I started boycotting it a year ago after Addison chose to KILL a mother rather than let her deliver vaginally because the baby was breech and according to her nobody would survive a breech vaginal delivery.  It’s the worst show ever.

  • jaz

    I’ve only seen Private Practice a few times but I liked it for the same reasons you do. I loved that they had someone to counter Kate Walsh’s character who is very focused on Western-centered ob-gyn care. That is pretty disappointing and I wonder why they decided to do it. Maybe sponsor pressure? I can’t think of any other shows with midwives and certainly not doulas. And didn’t they just kill off a bunch of people on Grey’s Anatomy? What’s up with that?

  • biancalaureano

    i’m not a midwife nor have i carried a pregnancy to term so I can’t speak to if he was crappy or not as a client. I think, just like doctors, there are some midwives that work better for some clients than others. I’m sure Dell’s character worked from some viewers.

     

    As someone who consumes popular culture as part of my daily ritual and profession, I can’t agree with you that this was the “worst show ever” because I can think of some pretty triflin ones that trump this show! I do see where you are coming from and don’t disagree with your assessment of the show. Can you tell me of other shows where midwives have been featured? I’m really interested in finding other representations of midwives in the media, especially media that is more accessible to a larger group of people (i.e. not cable). Have there been more positive and accurrate representations of midwives from your perspective in the media?

  • biancalaureano

    agreed. the massacre of bodies on this station over these two shows was a bit overwhelming for me too! I cant think of any other shows either. I’m hoping we can get some suggestions. I wonder what this means for media and whose stories get to be shared or are seen as more valuable than others?

  • colleen

    Can you tell me of other shows where midwives have been featured?

    One episode (perhaps 2) of The Gilmore Girls featured a fairly eccentric Doula. (Sukie’s first baby)
    It’s been a long time but I think I recall that the cook, Adam’s wife in Northern Exposure was a midwife.

    That’s all I can recall.