Say you are casually hanging out at home in the middle of a weekday with nothing to do. Would you pursue job leads or do craft projects or engage in some other worthwhile endeavor? Or would you turn on the TV instead? I thought so. And then would you be too lazy to flip to the Gem Shopping Network (it's real!) or The View, and just leave it on TLC, where it was because you fell asleep watching the latest episode of Hoarding: Buried Alive? Sure, why not? It seems harmless enough. After all, unlike TLC's evening parade of freakshows, the days are chockablock with programming about normal people having normal amounts of babies. How bad can that be? The answer is very bad.
These shows are presumably aimed at stay-at-home moms, which is puzzling since I'd imagine that the last thing you'd want to do, were you a mom at home with a child, is watch other people having children. But what do I know? I can really only speak to the effect that these shows have on women like me who have yet to reproduce. And let me tell you, they are powerful. The trick is that they make the extraordinary (every baby is a MIRACLE!) seem ordinary. They make you think that even little old can't-get-your-shit-together you is capable of raising a cute, cuddly little human to adulthood. It's insidious, really. Without you even realizing it, these shows go in through your eyes and work their way all the way down to your uterus where they plant a seed, which grows into a baby. Or at least the idea of a baby.
TLC airs three of these mesmerizing programs in various combinations, both in the morning and the afternoon. Let's discuss the options so you know what you're up against:
A mainstay of the network's daytime lineup since practically the beginning of time, A Baby Story is the biggest gun in the TLC's baby-making arsenal. They often air a few of these back-to-back for maximum effect. Awash in corny production choices and adult contemporary jingles, this show is an exercise in delicious, non-threatening mediocrity. It's the TV equivalent of the Olive Garden. The story always begins with a brief sketch of the couple and their life pre-baby. There are no teen mom nightmares to be had here; it's all stable, middle class families. The mothers seem capable and loving and like they never miss their weekly appointment at the nail salon — you know, reliable. The fathers are usually men of few words.
When the couple talks about the pregnancy, there are plenty of tears and well-worn clichés about the magic of having a child. But sometimes they say things that penetrate you right to your childless core. For instance, a mother pregnant with her fourth child once said, "We can have the BMW, we can have the big old house, we can have anything that money can buy, but when you're 80-years-old, none of that has your back. Children do, and they'll be there for you." Oh, God, seeee? Here we are lying alone on our couches; who is going to have our backs when we are 80? There won't be any gas left on Earth when we're 80, so even if our BMWs wanted to help us they couldn't…Shiiiit! Must breed!
When the woman goes to the hospital to actually have the baby, the cameras follow the labor (or C-section) — but we see only the highlights and are thus spared watching most of the painful hours it takes to actually get fully dilated. The baby comes out, it's handed to the mom, everyone cries with joy, and they put the baby's name up on the screen. Nine times out of 10, it is named Aidan. Then suddenly we're transported back to the couple's house where they've been living happily as a family for eight weeks or so. They love the baby and can't imagine life without him or her. Surprise! Everything is great – sure, they joke about not getting much sleep and how they've been shat on a few times, but we don't actually see it! So as far as we know, having a baby is wonderful. You can do it no problem. It doesn't even matter that you have no husband and no health insurance; everything will be fine.
Baby's First Day is all about the actual birth of the baby. There's no "before" story. It starts at the hospital and follows two women throughout the birth. It's not as fancy as A Baby Story, but it serves its purpose, like the Two Buck Chuck you drink after you've already downed the nice bottle(s) of wine.
This show paints a much more thorough picture of labor. You're seeing these couples in a very personal moment, but it can be sort of uncomfortable and cringe-inducing to watch them moaning and screaming and kissing when you have no connection to them. But after a few minutes, you get over it and are hooked. In that way, it's sort of like watching porn: Instead of turning you off, it only amplifies your lust to churn out your own little Aidan. You'll spend the commercial breaks (which are all for diapers and stretch mark creams, FYI) envisioning yourself in the delivery room begging for an epidural.
At this point, like an addict who needs more and more drugs to get high, you'll be jonesing for another, bigger dose of babies. Luckily, Make Room for Multiples delivers. As the name suggests, the show is all about the craziness of having twins, triplets, and so on. All the shows focus on seemingly nice and normal couples, most of who have had IVF after struggling with infertility. (Well, they're normal for now, anyway. Remember that it was from the loins of one of these innocent TLC portraits of "normal" families facing extraordinary challenges that the Gosselin monster sprang.)
The parents are all open about being terrified, and yet Make Room for Multiples makes it look kind of exciting. Not that it glosses over the difficulty, but it portrays it in a peppy kind of way that makes you think, "Hey, I could be good at that. I could make a feeding schedule and buy matching outfits for all of them and who cares if I never sleep because it's not like I even have a life!" Of course, these people all have large suburban homes with kitchens that actually have counter space on which to store 48 baby bottles. Raising triplets by yourself in a small apartment would probably not be all that glamorous, but you know what, who cares? We all need someone — multiple someones — to get our backs when we are 80, so we'll just figure out a way to make it work!
And there you have it: The three pillars of the TLC's evil genius plot to make us all jump off the high dive into the kiddie pool. But, wait! Don't run to the pool just yet! In a stroke of great luck (or is it evil plotting?), TLC itself provides the perfect antidote to the toxic baby venom they spend all day injecting into you. It comes in the form of their early evening programming.
If you're lucky, following quickly on the heels of Make Room for Multiples will be an episode of I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant, the horrors of which are well-documented. Or better yet you'll see I'm Pregnant and…, which details the struggles of pregnant women who are drug-addicts or homeless or have eating disorders. Or there's always She Survived That…Pregnant?!, which will resolve any questions you have about what it might be like to be shot or impaled by a microphone stand while pregnant.
Any one of these shows should do a solid job of convincing you that being with child is the worst thing that could ever happen, but if you simply can't bear to watch them, all you really have to do is watch five minutes of Cake Boss. There you will encounter a man so grating and obnoxious that the thought of giving birth to a creature who could turn out to bear even a .0001% resemblance to him will send you fleeing to the gynecologist begging for an IUD. Problem solved!
Cassie Murdoch is a writer in NYC. She finally switched the channel.