Lights, Cameras, Contractions!
Discovery Health’s “Birth Day Live” show has no scripts, no plotlines and no predetermined outcomes.
When Judith Lattimore became pregnant with her second child, she wasn’t planning on making a major production out of the birth. A home video camera in the delivery room, maybe. So how did she find herself delivering her baby in front of a phalanx of TV cameras and a live national audience?
A teacher living in San Diego, Lattimore, 35, is one of dozens of moms who participated in Discovery Health Channel’s “Birth Day Live” in February 2005; an entire day’s worth of labor and deliveries were broadcast from three hospitals across the United States, live and in living color.
Lattimore, who gave birth to a baby boy at San Diego’s Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women, says she and her husband, David Koonin, decided to share their experience with the camera so that out-of-town relatives could witness the baby’s arrival as it happened. “I was a little nervous at first,” Lattimore says. “I was worried about the angle where the camera would be, but the nurses and the camera people were really looking out for my privacy,” she adds. “And I kept wondering if any of my seventh-grade students were home watching. I heard later that some of them were, and they were like, ‘Hey, that’s my history teacher!’”
After a scheduled induction and an early epidural, Lattimore says, things started to happen very quickly. “All of a sudden, they came in and put an oxygen mask on me because the baby’s heartbeat was speeding up,” she says. “The baby came really quickly and my doctor got there just in time—by then, I wasn’t even thinking about the cameras,” she recalls. “I pushed twice and then I felt something kind of deflate and move inside me, and there he was,”—baby Adam, 6 pounds, 5 ounces.
Baby, I’m gonna make you a star
In an era when reality TV often blurs the line between what’s real and what’s planned, the Emmy-nominated “Birth Day Live” has no scripts, no rehearsals and no second takes—just true stories of deliveries. The live show covers three hospitals (in 2005, it broadcast from San Diego, Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md., and Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, La.). To prepare for the show, producers spent prep time with the doctors and nurses, explaining their roles in the show. A seven-second delay was active at all times to protect privacy and ensure appropriateness for the show’s intended audience.
On the day of the broadcast, some mothers had scheduled Cesarean sections, some had planned inductions and some just happened to deliver. All of that adds up to an extremely complicated project that takes months to plan, says executive producer Mark Poertner. “We start by working with hospitals that have large numbers of babies being born and level III NICUs [the highest level], and through our partnerships with the hospitals and doctors’ offices, we try to reach moms who are due within a few weeks of our air date,” Poertner says. Then, they worked out countless technical details with the hospitals, such as where the cables run, where to place
the cameras and where to set up private spaces. “Our No. 1 goal is to make it a positive experience for the mother and her family,” Poertner says.