Judge Erich Asperschlager recently discovered real-life baby stories last longer than half an hour.
Chronicling the intimate and emotional journey to becoming first-time parents.
This has to be the most research anyone has ever done for a DVD review. My wife and I had our first child two weeks ago, and though we didn't start a family so I could do a more thorough job reviewing A Baby Story: First-Time Parents Edition (that journey predates this DVD by about nine months), being in the middle of our own baby story certainly changed my viewing experience.
Each episode of the long-running TLC series A Baby Story follows an expectant couple from late pregnancy through delivery, mixing talking-head interviews with candid footage at home and in the hospital. First-Time Parents focuses on stories of, well, first-time parents. Much of pregnancy and childbirth is, by nature, the same for everyone. A Baby Story is more interesting when those similarities end. The 10 half-hour episodes in this collection present a wide range of personalities, approaches, and birthing philosophies. Some parents go to childbirth class, others don't. Some mothers-to-be go into the hospital begging for whatever drugs will make the process as quick and painless as possible; others want a natural childbirth accompanied by a midwife or doula. One couple even tries for a home delivery. Whatever the plan, everyone's story comes down to the emotional moment the mother and father meet their baby for the first time.
TLC pioneered a certain brand of reality television: slice of life programming focused on basic human experiences like childbirth, weddings, and home ownership. A Baby Story began in 1998, around the time the network (then known as The Learning Channel) rose to basic cable prominence, and is in many ways a holdover from those early educational shows. It's very matter of fact, allowing the parents to talk through their experiences pre- and post-birth, and bringing cameras into the hospital to capture the delivery.
On one hand, half an hour is too short a time to really tell these stories. On the other, they're similar enough that they all start to blur together. It doesn't help that all the first-time parents on this DVD are from the New York/New Jersey area. The differences lie in how old couples are, whether they want a natural or medicated childbirth, and how planned out the pregnancy was. Some tried for a long time to get pregnant; for others, it's a surprise. In one weird case, a woman got pregnant after—no kidding—the dog ate her birth control. Once the nine months are up, however, the ball bounces back into nature's court. The hospital stay is all about timing contractions, centimeters dilated, and how long the mothers hold out before getting an epidural. It's not TLC's fault that labor is a predictable progression of events. I just wish they didn't spend so much of each episode focused on that part of the pregnancy.
Maybe it's from having just gone through it myself, but watching someone give birth is not as interesting as seeing them wrestle with the emotions of becoming a parent. A Baby Story takes the easy way out by focusing on the inherent drama of a person in pain, and misses an opportunity to spend more time before and, especially, after the birth with the parents. At this point in my own experience, the cocktail of joy, bewilderment, and anxiety I felt after my daughter was born defines my story far more than the many, many hours spent in the fever dream of my wife's labor. I'm sure the same is true of other parents as well.
I don't know whether being a new father makes me the perfect person to review this DVD or the worst. I do know that real-life labor lasts longer than half an hour, and that women in the late stages of pregnancy probably shouldn't watch this DVD (even after the birth, my wife found it difficult to watch someone else go through what she just did). Before my daughter was born, I found the show educational; afterwards, I couldn't help but compare these strangers' experiences to ours.
The presentation is TV-quality full frame video and 2.0 stereo sound. Since much of the footage is shot on handheld camera—either by the crew or on so-called "mommy-" and "daddy-cam"—image quality varies. There are no extras.
Unless you're a huge fan of the series, A Baby Story: First-Time Parents Edition can get repetitive. It also misses the chance to really tackle the emotional rollercoaster of learning how to be a parent. That said, seeing how different people deal with this most primal of human events is inherently interesting. If you or your loved one are in the final stages of pregnancy, or just had your first child, it might not be as enjoyable (or palatable) to watch other people go through it. But if you really want to find out how quickly 10 different women reach full dilation, go ahead and check it out.
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