Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What We Leave Out

Now that I’m in my twenty-second week of pregnancy, I’ve had a pretty good sampling of the vast array of symptoms, side-effects and changes to my body typical of most pregnancies. From morning sickness to aches and pains, I feel like I’ve hit almost every symptom listed in What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

What I find interesting, though, is how few of these symptoms are described or discussed in TV, movies, fiction and so forth when the reality is that a) half the population of Earth is susceptible to these symptoms and b) we were all born, and it’s likely your dear old mother went through these bodily changes. (Yes, I have become more aware of what I put my mom through. I’m so sorry, Mom.)

In movies and TV, we often see the montages of morning sickness, increased appetites, fatigue and mood swings. But you almost never hear about, say, constipation, diarrhea or the resurgence of adolescent-era acne. Or hemorrhoids. Or the loosening of all your joints. Or that weird vertical stripe that appears on some women’s bellies. Granted, every pregnancy is different. And the reason we don’t hear about these more intimate details is simple: they’re gross. And yet, go to any internet pregnancy discussion board and you can read about every horrible symptom you can possibly imagine in the greatest detail.

Has the sanitization of an essential fact of life made us complacent about the challenges women endure to create life? Have we deceived people into believing that the miracle of life doesn’t come with some negative and impactful side effects? Everyone tells me, “Oh, you’ll forget everything as soon as the baby’s in your arms!” to which I reply “Aha! But I won’t because I’m writing everything down so that I can lay the guilt on my kid when s/he’s being naughty!”

It got me thinking about what other kinds of details we leave out whenever we tell stories. In fiction, writers skip the parts that are boring (thanks, Elmore Leonard) which is why we don’t always see every single detail of a character’s daily routine. Storytellers omit information by necessity. Attention spans are only so long, after all. Romance writers frequently leave things out—it’s romance, after all. There are plenty of details I don’t want to read...and yet I have.

The question is: in the internet age where we share and overshare everything, are we prepared to include more graphic details, more minutiae, more nitty-gritty and mundane? Is it storyteller’s duty to provide the audience with the most pared-down, entertaining version of a story? Or does the creator or artist have the right to expound upon the details they think are relevant or interesting to them?

By any traditional fiction editor’s standards, the answer is the former. But in nonfiction, it’s all about the details, and you still get great stories. Is there an in-between space? What if the world learned more about childbirth and pregnancy—or any other topics—through the consumption of popular culture? Would there be greater sympathy for women? Greater understanding of the world?

What else would you like the world to know and understand more details about? Is popular culture the place to “edu-tain”? Have you seen or read something that you’ve enjoyed and learned a lot about something you had no idea you cared about? Comment below!


Danica Favorite said...

Definitely the gross factor! I mean, think of all the gross aspects of sex that writers don't put in books! :)

Anonymous said...

Actually, I remember reading a book- maybe a cozy mystery?- where the main character's best friend is pregnant and has the 'bloody show' while going to the bathroom before the contractions really speed up. I had read about it before in "What to Expect", but the lurid description of the actual..stuff plus the fact that the women were described as clinging to one another in horror over what was going on in the toilet. Strangely enough, when I went through my first baby it was oddly comforting to know that I had a heads up on the potentially disgusting side of labor.

Mary Preston said...

I must admit to enjoying the details of a lot of things. In fiction I'm happy for the author to gloss over the yuck side of life. I can always look elsewhere to learn more.

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