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.
Why they do it Steve Maggid, M.D., an OB-GYN who appeared on the program, got involved at the urging of Holy Cross nurses. “A patient of mine was interested in doing the program, and she had relatives in Korea and Seattle who she wanted to be able to see the birth,” Maggid says. “So when she came into the hospital in labor, she was really excited about the whole thing. The producers came in with consent forms and explained to her what would happen, how they would go out of their way to maintain her privacy, and that kind of thing. To the patient, everything was calm, but around the corner, people were running around with lights and cameras and headsets—it looked like a concert backstage area.”
Maggid’s patient, Hye Yeong Kwon, ended up requiring a C-section when her labor stopped progressing, and the procedure was broadcast live, with Maggid and an off-camera surgeon providing commentary. “I was disappointed when Dr. Maggid told me that the baby’s presentation was wrong, and my cervix was actually swelling as a result of the baby hitting it,” says Kwon, a 37-year-old nonprofit organization director living in Silver Spring, Md. “But even though I was aiming for a natural childbirth, I was more concerned with having a healthy baby than anything else.”
Kwon says her decision to participate in the show gave her and her husband, Rob, a “minidocumentary of our baby’s birth” that the couple plans to share someday with their daughter, Cassiopeia. “I think my kids want to be on your show” Laura Brown, a 27-year-old real estate agent in Rockville, Md., was touring the labor and delivery unit at Holy Cross Hospital with her husband and a doula when she decided it would be fun to sign up to deliver her triplets on the show, even though her due date was after the program’s air date. But when her water broke the night before the show was to air, she called the hospital and learned that the television crews were there setting up.
“I told them, ‘I think my kids want to be on your show,’” Brown says. “When I went into the room, there were cameras there and the place was totally wired up, but I wasn’t scared of the cameras.”
Brown’s C-section went quickly, she says. “My procedure was as clean as could be compared to what I’d seen on TV. Even though they had a monitor set up and I could watch what was going on, it wasn’t like I was looking at my guts on the table or anything. I just pretended I was watching them do it on someone else.”
Triplets Kailen, Marcus and Justin were born only a minute apart, via C-section in front of the cameras, and the taped segment led the program shortly afterward. As it turned out, many of Brown’s friends from the area, as well as in New York and Canada, happened to see the show. “When I checked my messages, there were tons of ‘We just saw you on TV’ messages,” she says.
For the producers, part of the reward comes from feeling close to something as intimate as childbirth. “When your child is being born, it’s a moment you’re never going to get back,” Poertner says. “How we produce and place our cameras, how we talk to the moms and families—all of that goes to telling great stories. Everyone who watches wants to know who these people are, not just to see babies being born.”
The best part of the whole show is that it demystifies the labor and delivery process, Maggid adds. “A show like ‘Birth Day Live’ shows patients how varied and unpredictable things can be. What’s great is it brings the real story right into your living room.” For more “Birth Day Live” photos, go to www.fit pregnancy.com/bdl/.