Summary

Film and sound recordings are a ubiquitous part of the antenatal preparation courses that serve as a rite of passage to parenthood in Western Europe and North America. This article analyses a sample of these didactic tools used in classes from the 1950s to the 1980s, the heyday of the natural childbirth movement. These audio-visual artefacts both reflected and conditioned expectations for women’s behaviour during labour and birth through their representation of pain. They demonstrate changing norms in the role of the father, but show how physician authority—and male authority more broadly—remained largely unchallenged. Two phases are discernable in these sources. From the 1950s through the mid-1960s, natural childbirth was presented as essentially painless. From the late 1960s through the 1980s, pain and effort in labour and birth found graphic representation on the screen, reflecting a shift in what was considered a desirable birth experience and what natural childbirth preparation could accomplish.

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