Mommie Dearest: “Born In The Wild” Is Full Of Bears And Bullshit

I’ve been hearing about Lifetime’s new reality show, “Born in the Wild,” for some time now. Everybody seems to have an opinion on the show, which follows an array of pregnant women who have voluntarily chosen to birth their babies in the wilderness, far from any form of hospital or — for the most part — modern medical care. I finally had the chance to watch the first episode, which premiered last week and … well. It’s certainly something.

My son was home from school last week with a cold. At some point he got bored of Minecraft (what?!) and wanted to know what I was doing. I told him I was about to watch a show for work, which he thought sounded like the most amazing thing ever, and asked to join. He was quickly sorry that he ever did. My son is no stranger to how babies are made and eventually delivered. He loves to hear the story of his own birth, over and over and over again. But seeing someone else’s birth, taking place in the middle of the Alaskan woods with bears traipsing around nearby? That was even too much for my adventure-loving eight-year-old. With cries of “WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THIS?!” I ended up pressing pause only to watch solo later in the day. Poor kid now has one more cherished mother-son moment to process with his therapist when he’s older.

But back to “Born in the Wild.” The episode I watched followed Peter and Audrey, a couple originally from California with two kids who were expecting their third. They now lived in a gorgeous but remote area of Alaska, 150 miles from the closest hospital. After experiencing a rough hospital birth with her first, Audrey is set on having an unassisted birth with this baby. I hate using terms like “natural” birth (especially when people really mean unmedicated or vaginal), but Audrey planned to have the baby outdoors in the wilderness, like actually in nature. If that’s not the truest definition of natural birth, I don’t know what is. And, despite her first birthing location being washed out by the lake and the fact that bears roamed the woods around her house and are known to be attracted to things like the scent of blood, she was still hopeful that she could have the birth she wanted.

But, as is the case for most reality TV, things don’t always go as planned. There are the roaming bears, of course, which Peter goes after with his rifle and dogs. There’s also the worry that Audrey’s mom might not make it in time. And then there is the tense scene of the actual birth, where concern is raised about the well being of both Audrey and the baby. But here’s the thing, there is no way that Lifetime would air any of these episodes if they ended in the death of a newborn. These shows exhibit reality in the same way “Flavor of Love” promised a true story of romance. The moments of tension are built up, complete with carefully edited scenes, crescendo-ing music, and cuts to commercials for heightened drama. But in the end, all these “wild” births end with a happy baby, mother and family.

But it’s all a facade. These families are privileged enough to have access to proper nutrition, healthcare, and information about birth for the most part. They’re promoting a view of birth that is certainly outrageous, but also one that isn’t realistic for the most part. But Lifetime certainly knows what it’s doing. It’s no secret that many women in the US are frustrated with the birth industry in this country, and they have good reason to be. The US spends the most money when it comes to hospital labor and delivery, yet we continue to have a growing maternal mortality rate that ranks us 60th out of 180 countries. Interest in homebirth and alternative birth is up, so why not produce a show that takes it to the extreme?

Well, for one, it further divides women when it comes to birth. There is already so much attached to how one labors and births from vaginal to c-section, that adding this extreme and honestly, unrealistic approach that less than one percent of all pregnant women may attempt is just pure pandering for ratings.

If Lifetime was really interested in portraying potentially dangerous births, maybe they should film a show in Detroit, where the maternal mortality rate (which impacts mostly poor women of color) is triple that of the US average and higher than countries like Libya, Uruguay or Vietnam. Detroit also has the highest infant mortality rate in the country. Yet focusing on real issues like the ones happening in Detroit don’t make for good reality TV, possibly because it’s too real. Instead, it’s easier to create fake drama and trade on the already divisive culture of home versus hospital birth in this country. The next time you catch a clip or two of one of these shows, remember that it’s entertainment, and while it focuses on real people, it’s one of the farthest things from reality.