I have just discovered TLC’s show I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.
The program is in its fourth season and all the while I never knew about its hyper-sensationalized, dramatic stories of bodily terror. After reading viewer comments and several blogs and articles about the program, I decided to watch a few episodes for myself. My first question was why is I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant so outrageously popular? What has created its following, specifically amongst mothers? This blog post is my attempt to understand and uncover “why.”
After you have seen several episodes, you notice the emergence of a strong, repetitive structure: a woman recounts the somewhat normal moments leading up to her delivery, dramatic music plays, shocked faces are shown, and the subsequent narrative results in the arrival of an unexpected baby. These tactics harvest tension. We, as viewers, are wrapped into the horror-esque narratives we witness and this is exactly what the program feeds upon: shock, mouths most certainly agape.
Perhaps the narrative of the unruly body, the abject occurrence of the sudden birth, results in the physical reaction of shock that most viewers glean from the show. Arguably, it is what they come back for. I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant presents us with bodies that defy medicine: a woman who has regular periods throughout her pregnancy, another who delivers a baby despite having her tubes tied, and yet another who delivered even though she remained on birth control throughout her pregnancy. The commercials frame the show with the question, “How can a woman not know she’s pregnant?” This question beckons viewers, drawing them into the narrative. These bodies defy the women that inhabit them; their signs are illegible and undetectable. An event that hegemony dictates should be planned arrives without notice. Such unruliness speaks to a lack of control, and thus, the terror that both audiences and the women delivering experience.
What is this fascination, this draw to witnessing the astounding? Is it the secret desire to see someone else’s fate? To see the unexplainable? I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant is feeding a continual desire in viewers to see an unthinkable drama, a desire which says with a quiet, low voice, “I’m glad that’s not me” or in a more terrified voice, “could I find myself in the same circumstances?”
In these moments of bodily rupture, of pain and confusion, viewers follow the women and their stories before breathing a sigh of relief, or perhaps one of discomfort, and turning off their televisions.
A year old Time article points to the aspects of freakery apparent in TLC’s program. They also reflect on the humor that the show evokes in viewers. The author states that the reason for the shows great following among mothers is the envy that it prompts: “Viewers’ horror and repulsion may hide a perverse envy … the women of I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant didn’t deny themselves of anything during those nine months, had few if any symptoms and still wound up with perfect-looking babies!”
While this discussion of envy is indeed an interesting one, I am not sure if there is a definitive reason why people (myself included) are drawn into these scenarios. Maybe it is because amidst the chaos, the unruly body, the shocking, traumatic delivery, I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant presents viewers with a healthy smiling baby in the arms of a happy, smiling mother. The show presents us with an idealized, though surreal, moment. Ultimately, motherhood, regardless of its form, is presented as ideal. Surprise or not, it is presented for consumption.