My semi-recumbent take on how pop culture misrepresents the pregnancy experience

I am a woman lumbering about in her second trimester - not facing down a mob of terrorists at 40 weeks

Rosie Alice Huntington-Whiteley as a pregnant character in Mad Max: Fury Road.
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As I lumber my way through my sixth month of pregnancy, struggling to get up from the couch or stay awake and even, at some points, walk for more than 20 minutes, I keep thinking about this scene from a thriller series I saw recently.

A policewoman who’s approaching her due date is still on field duty. She’s escorting a perp through town when both cop and criminal are shot. She then gives birth with her leg in a cast, makes jokes about it a few hours later and turns up back at the precinct not long after that.

I’m fully aware this is a fictional TV show, but I can’t help thinking, as I waddle to the fridge for my millionth snack of the day, that I should be more like this woman. Tough, “one of the guys”, able to dive to the ground under open fire.

That’s compounded when I see a clip of a real-life woman (shared on TikTok but I watch it on Instagram Reels — because I’m old) kickboxing at 40 weeks to induce labour.

“I can’t even pretend to kickbox now,” I say to the fitness instructor who’s helping me do a few squats and lift the odd 4kg weight twice a week.

“Don’t believe everything you see,” she says, assuring me that the woman in question probably keeled over in breathlessness the moment the camera stopped filming (I’m sceptical, she looked fine to me).

The thing is, it inspires me to push myself harder, which is basically the opposite of what someone growing a human being should be doing.

Now, I’m not advocating for a return to depictions of pregnant women as fragile flowers who are unable to keep up or open doors for themselves. I’m also aware there may well be people out there who could be capable of this — I haven’t met any, but, sure, there are millions of child-bearers out there — but more honest portrayals of pregnancy and the havoc it wreaks on one’s body wouldn’t go amiss.

Cameron Diaz in What to Expect When You're Expecting, a film that tried to break the mould but didn't go far enough. Photo: Melissa Moseley

If the movies are to be believed, we’d all look like a glowing, small-bumped Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, the Victoria’s Secret model who played Splendid Angharad in Mad Max: Fury Road, who, in or at least approaching her third trimester, is leaping between battered army vehicles on a chase through the desert, winking at the driver as she dodges being smashed by rocks — only to be killed when the door she’s hanging on to falls off in the next scene.

OK, it’s nice that there’s been a shift in perception — for the most part, anyway — that pregnancy is not an infliction and that we’re not invalided for nine months (although can someone tell that to my mother the next time I try to carry an only slightly heavy shopping bag?). But I’m not sure the best solution is to go to the other extreme, making out like we have some kind of superhero stamina and strength.

Maybe there is no feministic point underlying it all, and I’m reading too much into it, but if not, then why is your character pregnant at all, I wonder?

According to a study from Duke University, when someone is pregnant they’re already living nearly at the limit of human endurance, pushing the boundaries of our capabilities in ways usually only elite athletes do. And that’s just by simply existing, never mind dodging bullets and surviving high-speed dune rides.

What’s the matter with depicting this stage of life in all its glory and non-glory alike, anyhow? I’m not suggesting we roll out any birthing videos here, but a little more realism in mainstream films and on TV would go a long way in changing stereotypes for future generations.

Or, at the very least, it’ll make me feel better about not being able to put on my own socks.

Updated: February 17, 2023, 6:02 PM