Myths about motherhood are persistent

Asked why she herself has never been pregnant, actress Helen Mirren is said to have said that as a girl she saw an information film about a birth that traumatized her forever. The physical education teacher kept repeating what a miracle it all was, while Mirren saw only a bloody condition.

Those are the two biggest cinematic stereotypes about childbirth and motherhood: pink cloud or battlefield. They are also in full Pregnant & Cothe new romkom by Johan Nijenhuis. Pregnant & Co is not the only film or series to be seen this summer in which bulging bellies and babies play a leading role. In their book The Mommy Myth 15 years ago, communication scientist Susan Douglas and philosopher Meredith Michaels described how films and other mass media play an important role in creating and disseminating stereotypes about motherhood. They coined the term new momism: a reactionary ideology that sees motherhood as the ultimate goal of a woman’s life.

And that’s the message you get from Pregnant & Co. The plot revolves around a family in which everyone is pregnant or wants to become pregnant: father Piet has just started his second leg, when his granddaughter unexpectedly turns out to be pregnant. Meanwhile, his grown daughters do everything they can to get pregnant (again). Single obstetrician Merel is looking for a sperm donor (and finds love) and married Annet already has three children, but undergoes hormone treatments to be able to give birth again. On the way to the happy ending, no cliché is spared: unwilling and clumsy fathers come to an understanding as if by magic.

The birth itself is by no means an advertisement. The women in labor scream and snarl. Those kinds of stereotypes have a function to laugh away discomfort, or to make taboos negotiable, but Pregnant & Co is ambiguous. The film promotes motherhood, but is afraid of childbirth and thus tends to perpetuate prejudices. Childlessness is unmentionable. Making a career is scornful. While genre films such as the romkom can also create positive role models and offer alternatives to the social status quo.

At the other end of the spectrum are films close to a documentary like 107 Motherswhich takes us to a women’s prison in Ukraine (in cinemas from July 14) and the similar Maternal, set in a convent that takes care of pregnant women in Buenos Aires (on view from August 4). From next week it will also be mythical-realistic Piccolo corpo about a young woman who goes on a long journey to have her stillborn baby baptized.

Those are movies with real emotions and real problems. Moreover, they are relevant in the light of the recent loss of federal abortion rights in the US, and the attack on women’s right to self-determination, which has also never left the conservative Netherlands.

The British Series The Baby also approaches it differently. The horror comedy takes one of the best-known prejudices, which is that a woman with a baby in her arms is automatically seen as a mother, and makes fun of it. One night, 38-year-old Natasha literally has a baby falling from heaven into her arms. No one believes the child isn’t hers as she does everything in her power to get rid of this killer baby. The little tyrant leaves a trail of corpses. The Baby has a premise no less bizarre than the collectively pregnant family van Nijenhuis, but at least there are tantalizing thoughts behind it.

Pregnant & Co Directed by: Johan Nijenhuis. With: Bo Maerten, Lieke van Lexmond, Manuel Broekman. In: 116 cinemas