Where The Mindy Project Gets it Wrong

So, here’s the thing. I love Mindy Kaling. I want to love The Mindy Project. A smart woman is the lead in a TV show that portrays her as wholly flawed and skilled and human? Yes please. There have been a few cringe-worthy moments along the way – a joke about domestic violence in the first episode, a tasteless joke about re-entry after prison in another – but for the most part, I’ve enjoyed the show. There are few characters on TV whose imperfections are as hilarious as Mindy’s or whose insecurities ring as true to mine.

But last week’s episode (and I know, I’m late!) about the competition between midwives and obstetricians went too far. Positioning the two practices as competitors instead of separate professionals with different expertise was inaccurate and deprecating to the field of midwifery. The audience was clearly supposed to support Dr. Mindy, et al, in poking fun at and delegitimizing midwifery. It’s a tired trope, one that unnecessarily and perhaps unintentionally moves women’s reproductive care backwards.

In the episode, the doctors in Mindy’s practice are shocked to hear that they are losing patients to the midwives upstairs. They wonder why anyone would choose a ‘pretend doctor’ to deliver their baby when they could have a ‘real doctor’ performing their baby’s delivery.

But they miss the point completely: midwives support the mothers in delivering their own babies, while obstetricians deliver the babies themselves; the two distinct approaches to reproductive healthcare are virtually incomparable. Midwifery is based on the premise that women are the authors of their experiences and that no one knows how to deliver a baby better than the mother does. Obstetricians practice in a way that removes the power of childbirth from the mother and hands it to the doctors through the use of drugs, unnecessary cesarean sections, and intrusive medical procedures. Midwives are medically trained and provide interventions when necessary, but that’s just it – only when necessary. Obstetricians have moved labor and delivery from a space where mothers are the experts to a plane where only those with medical degrees hold the knowledge or the wisdom to deliver babies.

While many women choose to use an obstetrician for any number of reasons, and we cannot shame or judge them for doing so, we do need to recognize that the two professions have political implications that are impossible to ignore. Until we can recognize the power and beauty that is inherent in childbirth, we cannot fully celebrate women’s bodies as powerful, or women as capable. This is the struggle that exists between the midwifery model and the medical model. Unfortunately, The Mindy Project got it wrong by suggesting that the struggle is only for patients’ business, and for taking the strengths of midwifery out of the equation.

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