Vanessa Kirby witnessed a no-painkiller birth to prepare for ‘Pieces of a Woman’

kirby bazaar

Sometimes a blonde will wear that pale petal pink color and it will look like the most amazing color scheme ever, like on this Harper’s Bazaar cover. Sometimes a blonde will wear that shade and it looks like they’re trying to wear human flesh as clothing. It’s the weirdest thing! Anyway, Vanessa Kirby looks amazing in this Harper’s Bazaar editorial. She’s perhaps most famous to American audiences for playing Princess Margaret in The Crown’s seasons 1 & 2. She’s gotten a lot of work out of that, including a recurring role in the Mission: Impossible franchise and the film for which she’s on this cover: Pieces of a Woman. Vanessa is getting a lot of “Oscar talk” for the role of a woman whose baby dies during a home birth. I’ll be honest, just the descriptions of what this film shows are enough to make me sick to my stomach, but I’m always very queasy about childbirth. Some highlights from the interview:

The opening sequence: The opening scene of Pieces of a Woman is a nearly 30-minute-long take of a labor that ends in the baby’s death. The scene is painful, gorgeous, terrifying—moments of it feel like horror. Kirby says that each time they finished filming, she and her fellow actors felt a sort of ecstasy, running out into the snow—they hugged and screamed; Kirby sobbed after the first time through. “It was completely surreal because we were there,” she says. “We were just there. We were witness to something.”

Research for the role: “I started watching everything I could find. Endless documentaries, home birth videos, but everything was so sanitized; everything was so edited.” She ultimately got in touch with an obstetrician, Claire Mellon, who agreed to let Kirby shadow her and one woman in labor agreed: “I watched her for six hours go through a really difficult labor, no painkillers, forceps. It got really, really difficult … . I watched her go on a completely lone journey, like an odyssey, through the most primal, almost divine … .  And I saw the power and the fear in all of it. I came away far more of a woman in appreciating the sacredness of the feminine in a way that I don’t think I had fully realized. I feel like I had lived something in human experience I hadn’t lived before.”

How the film might make some people squeamish: “I think getting in touch with something that makes someone deeply uncomfortable, and deeply feeling … I think you search beyond, you look outside places that you usually look, for resolution, or for understanding, or for connection.”

Art will save the world: “I feel that the faith that creativity and art—and that includes the audience as being an essential part of that relationship—that in the darkest of times, creativity, I think, has this impulse to flourish somehow, to speak about experience. I have faith that there will be a lot of spaces where people find a need to speak.”

[From Harper’s Bazaar]

I read the whole interview and Vanessa comes across as rather pretentious AND like she’s play-acting being an “outsider” in the world. She’s an attractive white woman with a doctor father and she grew up in Wimbledon, for heaven’s sake. She turned down a prestigious scholarship so she could work in the theater immediately and guess what? She starting working immediately. I don’t know – maybe she’s a cool person in real life, but she came across like a navel-gazing phoney in this piece.

As for the subject matter of Pieces of a Woman… I’ve just gotten to the age where I refuse to willingly sign up for films and TV shows with this kind of exploitative edge, whether it’s torture-p0rn or suffering-p0rn or grief-p0rn or what have you. I get that other people have different standards, but no, I’m not going to watch this movie.

Vanessa Kirby duringl Closing Ceremony of the 77th Venice Film Festival. Venice, Italy 12-09-2020...

Photo credit: Cover & IG courtesy of Harper’s Bazaar.

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54 Responses to “Vanessa Kirby witnessed a no-painkiller birth to prepare for ‘Pieces of a Woman’”

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  1. Rapunzel says:

    I just looked this film up. Here’s the premise:
    “Martha and Sean Carson are a Boston couple on the verge of parenthood whose lives change irrevocably during a home birth at the hands of a flustered midwife, who faces charges of criminal negligence. Thus begins a year-long odyssey for Martha, who must navigate her grief while working through fractious relationships with her husband and her domineering mother, along with the publicly vilified midwife whom she must face in court.”

    This sounds awful, and also stars Shia LaBeouf (as the husband?). Yuck.

  2. Lucy says:

    I first saw her in About Time and although her part is quite small, she’s very funny in it. Right after that I saw her in The Crown and I couldn’t believe it was the same person. Hard pass on the whole birth-witnessing situation, but she can definitely act. I know nothing about acting methods, but sometimes I do wonder, must you really take it to such extremes in order to be able to get into certain characters?

    • Eleonor says:

      i have read she went full method with Princess Margareth too, she is an amazing actress AND a white rich English woman.

  3. ItReallyIsYouNotMe says:

    There is too much trauma in the world right now to willingly subject myself to a fictional story of someone losing a baby in a horrific manner. Sometimes I wonder if people are so numb to the world that the art world thinks we need this kind of stuff to “feel.” It’s not art to knowingly subject yourself to trauma if you are not in a place to deal with it, which many of us are not after 2020. I will find myself a nice little documentary to watch instead.

    • Millennial says:

      I agree. I think these are important things to talk about – but I think my imagination can do this horrific kind of event justice all of its own. I have less than zero interest in watching it happen.

      Both my children were born without painkillers (in a hospital though) due to fear of the medical establishment, basically. It’s exhausting. My SIL told us they had to wake her up push, so I told my husband if we had another I would get over my fear and just give me the drugs.

    • Northerngirl says:

      I so agree with your comment. There’s no need.

    • Swack says:

      If you want a feel good movie to watch – Safety on Disney+. It is so inspiring.

    • Peet33 says:

      I agree so much with this. I had such a traumatic birth experience with my son that I waited a full 10 years to have my daughter, and then luckily was finally able to access a therapist who specialised in post-natal PTSD in order to continue the pregnancy. We were in a hospital & my son was never in any danger thank GOD but things went South for me very very quickly indeed. I don’t even want to think about what would have happened if I had had a home birth and I certainly don’t want to watch anything like this for ‘entertainment’ value right now… not to mention you couldn’t pay me enough money to see anything with that POS abuser Shia in it.

      • derps says:

        i don’t know whose fault it is – kirby’s for saying it that way or the mag’s for editing down a longer answer – but the way the childbirth bit goes straight from pain and complications to saying it was a divine journey or experience is some bullshit that i am not here for. i think it’s terrible how since the early 00s there had been a growing movement to force birthing women to experience excruciating pain and a higher risk of complications by telling them they must suffer bc it’s safer for the baby (it isn’t) or it proves they love their baby more than mothers who get drugs or don’t use a doula/midwife (they don’t) or it’s a more holistic experience that respects the woman more (that’s a false dichotomy mfers). I’m not against doulas or midwives or homebirths, i had a doula for my first which was the only time one was available to me and i wish I’d had her the other 2 times. but epidurals, spinal blocks, hospitals, OBs, etc. are all absolute blessings too full stop. whoever is responsible for the wording/editing of that particular answer can go screw a broken light bulb.

    • Haapa says:

      The Painter and the Thief is excellent. Can’t recommend it enough.

    • Case says:

      Agreed. I’ve watched some wonderful dramas in the past year, but I’m highly selective about what I watch. I’ve always loved older movies from 30s-50s and I’ve been gravitating toward them more often — there’s something about the glamor and the “golly, look here mister” language that is very comforting to me. They’re never too violent or crude or triggering, and having the knowledge while watching that I won’t end it feeling depressed or anxious is something I need right now.

  4. Miumiiiu says:

    Wow I didn’t recognize her with blonde hair. Obviously I remember « young Margaret » but it’s hard to believe that’s the same person

  5. jaylee says:

    There is so much real pain and trauma to sort through on a daily basis that I’ve been going very light with my art and entertainment. I’ve been reading fantasy & romances sprinkled with necessary reads like Caste. The Queens Gambit has been rewatched multiple times instead of my usual crime docs. I hope Hollywood takes note & creates some NEW, feel good movies.

    • Gab says:

      Same. I have 2 small children and I am too upset by anything where something bad happens to a baby or a child in a movie/show. Hard pass.
      There is so much difficulty in the world right now that I find I can really only handle shows like Emily in Paris, Bridgerton, I’ve been reading a lot of Elin Hildenbrand novels where pretty people have affairs on beaches.
      That’s just the capacity that I have right now and I’m ok with that.

      • Lady Keller says:

        I have 2 small kids too. I cant bear to watch anything along these lines. I’m a worrier by nature so I’ve spent the last 5 years worried about pregnancy, birth, babies, toddlers and anything that could possibly go wrong. I don’t need to subject my subconscious to this. Pre parenthood I had very macabre tastes in entertainment, now any whiff of harm to a baby or mother and I’ll take a hard pass. I’ll go back to bodice-ripping fun and Schitts creek reruns.

      • Nikki* says:

        I’m with you, Gab.

    • Case says:

      Same. I do admit I loved watching some horror movies in October, but beyond that, I haven’t been able to watch anything that feels…heavy. I research every movie I watch to make sure it won’t be too weighty or make me sad. I hope there aren’t a lot of pandemic-related films that come from this time, because that’s not what I want right now. I said upthread I have really been loving watching older films this past year because there’s a level of comfort it knowing they won’t be vulgar or violent, it’s all light and airy and funny.

  6. Harper says:

    Thanks for the warning; I too will pass on this movie. I got epidurals for both of my deliveries pretty soon after getting into the hospital and voila! No more pain, no more barfing, just relief. One of the deliveries went awry just at the last minute and I will spare you the details but I was happy to have been numbed up, and they got my baby out quickly and safely. I know some women have negative epidural experiences, but I weighed the risks of both approaches and I definitely benefitted from the choice I made. Epidurals are good and can save you from unnecessary, horrific pain and sometimes I think this fact gets lost.

    • Betsy says:

      I would never have been able to VBAC without an epidural for my second, and then my third came so quickly – I was induced; it was 4 hours start to finish – that I ended up not having an epidural.

      But oh my gosh I will sing the praises of the epidural. I had PROM with my second at 36 weeks and thought well there goes the VBAC, but my hospital gave me pitocin. It hurt so unbearably much my body fought every contraction and I made no progress. I finally got an epidural and went from 4 c to 10 in 45 minutes. Epidurals are frigging magic (even though as a non pregnant woman, the idea of that right now makes me want to pass out LOL).

      • Harper says:

        Magic is the right word. Would we get our teeth drilled without novocaine because sometimes you are too numb to eat or talk right for hours afterward? No way. Like any medical intervention, nothing is foolproof, but medical advancement is a beautiful thing and we are lucky to have pain-free births if we want them.

      • Swack says:

        I had the same experience with my first. Ten and a half hours with max pitocin and went from 2 – 4.5 cm in that time (they wouldn’t give an epidural before 5 cm then). Got my epideral and was ready to deliver within 90 minutes.

    • gemcat says:

      I had a somewhat painful but still relatively easy birth..and wouldn’t opt for an epidural or anything else if I ever did it again I don’t think. But each to their own, and everyone’s reaction to that very specific type of pain is different..
      I guess I got a bit annoyed at the comparison of drilling teeth because the pain during childbirth is (to me) a productive in your body is working towards an end-goal and it is not like a broken bone or drilling a busted tooth.
      But then again, having access to whatever works best for you, without judgement, is the main thing here..and so many women do not have that access -whether it is to a midwife rather than a doctor, or to pain meds and epidurals, or a birthing centre with a bathtub..

    • Lady Keller says:

      I have had one birth with an epidural and one natural birth. I was determined to do a natural birth, but my first was not an easy labour. The hospital was overwhelmed the night I was there, the nurse I had was training a new nurse and was not concerned with me. I had several issues, that I think wouldn’t have been issues if I had an experienced doula or midwife, but it was my husband and I on our own. Eventually I gave up and opted for the drugs. I felt like a failure, but looking back it probably saved my son and I a lot of trauma. My second was easier, but I only got through it with an awesome nurse.

      There is no gold star for one type of birth over another. We each do what we need to do in the moment. However your journey looks if it ends in a happy baby and happy mom it’s been a success.

    • cdnKitty says:

      I had three very difficult (unmedicated) births, but the worst was the 32 hour labour of my first child who had died at 39w gestation. I took the meds, they didn’t work. I have ptsd and this movie premise is a freaking triggery nightmare to me.

      So no – will not ever watch this. We do not need to glorify/exploit someone’s worst moment in life.

      • Betsy says:

        I’m so sorry, cdnKitty. That does indeed sound like a nightmare and I’m so sorry for your loss. I have always wished that there was a magic release valve for women birthing babies who have died or who will soon after birth.

      • Itsme says:

        That is awful, I’m sending a virtual hug your way. To endure that and get thru it speaks volumes about your inner strength. I wish you peace and happiness.

  7. Mrs. Peel says:

    Add this film to movies I’ll never watch due to their icky name, along with Scent of a Woman and Her Smell.

    • Thirtynine says:

      Thank you for explaining this- now I can avoid it. She did come across as phoney and pretentious in that interview, I agree. I won’t be watching either.

  8. Chloe says:

    EYEROLL. As someone who had a homebirth, I did insane amounts of “research” before, including watching many many many videos of women giving birth naturally. Tons of videos are readily available- not sure where she was looking if she couldn’t find any???? Anyway, there is so much scare-factor around giving birth in general, and anything that perpetuates it is mega shitty imo. YES there is a need for hospital births, NO QUESTION, but there are also many many “normal” births that don’t require intervention. UGH, this stuff gets me so worked up. And before someone freaks out on me for having a homebirth- I did tons of research, had doctor care up until the day I gave birth, felt at ease and nothing happened that constituted going to the hospital during labor. For majority of “emergencies” that could happen, your doctor or midwife can see them starting very early on, in which case you would be sent to the hospital wayyyy before it become a life or death situation.

    • Ameara says:

      I totally see your point but this film is based on something that actually happened to the director and the writer (they’re a couple), so I trust that they will be sensitive. I saw some interviews with them and it’s apparently very personal and from what I got they don’t even blame the midwife. I could be wrong of course, I haven’t watched the movie, but I have faith they know what they were doing.

      • Thirtynine says:

        I read some reviews. Seems to be commonly said the birth scene is harrowing, but the grieving experiences afterward are not well done and it falls flat.

      • ItReallyIsYou,NotMe k8 says:

        @Ameara, no judgment for the writer and director telling a story that may speak to people who have been through this because maybe it will help with their healing process. For me, I just can’t handle terribly sad stories right now.

    • Betsy says:

      I very nearly had a home birth with my first, but he was a stubborn breech and my midwife said she would no longer do first time breech births at home. Unbeknownst to me, a local woman had had a home birth approximately a year before I was due to give birth and lost her breech baby, and then my midwife had delivered a baby and missed SEVERAL warning signs. That baby died, too, about 12 hours after birth. I remember the research I did prior to signing up for home birth, and that several countries do home births pretty commonly, but I cannot believe that I was so reckless with my first kid. I hated the c-section, but it was absolutely the safest option for him.

  9. Jane Doe says:

    I’m tired of people going after midwifery and home births in general. Midwives are trained professionals and screen individuals with high risk pregnancies out of their care to family docs and ob-gyns who attend hospital births. Midwives also do hospital births and birthing centres too. During labour, if necessary, they can transfer care over to a doctor, and when the baby and parent are safe post-delivery, care is transferred back to the midwife again.

    • Betsy says:

      Given my personal experiences with midwives, I am somewhat comfortable with people “going after” home birth midwives. There are way way too many whackos in that field and with the patchwork of laws and rules across the country, a midwife in one state might be a well-trained professional capable of dealing with any and all emergencies (granny midwives serving Black women in the south, especially during segregation, were nothing short of heroic and I understand that midwives still deliver the babies of poor women along the border, also in rather heroic ways) but they can be fairies and moon magic in another.

      FWIW, the practice I delivered my second and third with had the most amazing blend of midwives and obstetricians who were baby AND mother focused. The one who stitched me up after my rather speedy delivery traveled to poor nations and fixed fistulas and taught obstetrics to midwives there, too.

  10. Linda says:

    This is all Hollywood hype to promote the film. The more an actor waxes on about how they prepared and think they have experienced something because they pretended to do it the less apt I am to see it. I prefer actors that see their job for what it is. Entertainment.

  11. Isa says:

    Maybe it’s not divine and primal, maybe women just shouldn’t have to suffer and be in pain damnit. I’m taking this a little personally because my mother has always ingrained in me the idea that women should have to suffer and be in pain, and anything like painkillers was very wrong. Yes she is a rigid right wing Christian. I’ve struggled my whole life against that destructive idea. Can we not glamorize women’s suffering.

    Also my dad, when I mentioned a cavity that was hurting: “well you’ll just have to learn to live with the pain.” NO THANKS.

    • gemcat says:

      Of course that is an issue, but I don’t think it has to be glamorising when someone describes the pain during childbirth as primal..nor divine (although I personally haven’t ever used that word other than for scented bath-bombs haha). I think people’s views are different when it comes to childbirth (I won’t say women as not only women give birth)..and perhaps its more important to be mindful of that, that everybody’s story is different. There is no ultimate truth or “right” way to give birth.

  12. Solace says:

    Reproductive labour can be like a slaughterhouse to which women are led after being fed fantasies of love, romance, and children. We should have more movies which explore the ‘sweeping under the carpet’ of issues surrounding childbirth and child rearing and its impact on a women’s emotional and physical health. As our gender bears the brunt of it.

    And her…she worked with Cruise and Shia. She gets an eye roll from moi.

    • antipodean says:

      @Solace, you are SOOO right with your view that childbirth and women’s pain can be a slaughterhouse. I was a registered midwife for thirty years, and have a daughter myself! People who pontificate about this subject have absolutely no clue. Childbirth is only normal in hindsight…after the fact! Nothing is ever to be taken for granted, and things can go from normal to shitshow in a matter of seconds! The nuts and bolts of giving birth always involve risk, and anything that can be done to reduce that risk is seen as best practice by anyone involved. It makes my blood boil how this experience can often be visited upon women by clueless f**king men, who will never have to have their nethers lacerated, cut, stitched, traumatised, in service to the perpetuation of the species! This mother earth nonsense is a complete fantasy.. it’s called labour because it’s f@@king hard work! If men had to do it we would have been extinct eons ago. No uterus, no F**KING opinion!

  13. Solace says:

    Forgot to add…I hate movies like the one this actress is in. Somehow it feels like perpetuation of trauma. I’d prefer movies which encourage women to analyse their choice to go through pregnancy and bring a child in this world, more wisely.

  14. Lunasf17 says:

    This film sounds awful, and as someone who has a very safe and healthy homebirth I have no interest in seeing it. A good midwife will get you to a hospital and the first sign of trouble. Yes things can go wrong at a home birth but I’ve heard dozens of awful stories from women I know about who birth in a hospital and had all sorts of interventions done that were not needed and their requests were ignored. Also midwifery is more common in non white cultures and seen as less than and more dangerous because of racist bias. I don’t think this is the film we need right now.

    • JanetDR says:

      Agreed! A lot of what goes wrong in hospitals does not happen in homebirths and it’s the norm in many developed countries.
      I acknowledge that I had fast labors (2 hours) and that’s not what everyone gets, but part of it also was being comfortable in my home and not a lot of strangers in and out.
      I don’t believe it is difficult to find a birth movie such as they show in birthing classes, so not sure why that’s such a talking point. I don’t know what the audience for that movie is supposed to be, not most women surely or any man that I can think of.

  15. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    Count me out. At the very least, I was always the ridiculous pregnant woman who walked out of her Lamaze classes when birth videos began to play lol. And from there, this movie sounds awful on a variety of additional levels. So no.

  16. LA says:

    I love her, but FUCK NO to that movie, for me.

  17. Sandra says:

    Currently on my 4th pregnancy with my rainbow baby. Even reading the premise or seeing this advertised on Netflix gives me anxiety.
    I loooove Vanessa from The Crown but no thank you. Not sure why anyone would want to willingly watch a birth gone wrong and the baby dying. Or willingly watch abusive Shia Lebouef at this point.

  18. StrawberryBlonde says:

    Count me out. I have always found pregnancy and labour and birth icky, even during my own! During my labour the doctor asked if I wanted to see with a mirror. NO THANKS. not for me. I was never a “mother earth divine feminine” type person. I just saw it as a means to an end – the end being the safe delivery of my child. My OB asked me if I had a birthing plan and I said that other than being in the hospital and having an epidural (MAGIC. I had no desire to feel that searing pain) I had no plan other than do whatever it takes so that both my child and I make it out alive, safe and unharmed.

    • Nicole says:

      Ha! Me too! My oldest was delivered by emergency c-section after laboring for almost 3 days. With the second one, my gyno asked if I wanted to try a VBAC, but warned that it would take longer and I would have to work hard. I promptly responded “uh, no, cut this kid out and let’s get on with the healing.” No offense to those that did have a VBAC, but I just wasn’t interested in feeling the pain if I didn’t have too. 3 days in labor is long enough for anyone to suffer. And definitely no home birth for me!

    • Silent Star says:

      @STRAWBERRYBLONDE, I completely agree. I have always said I wish we could just grow babies in pods at the foot of our beds and just pop open the lid when they’re done.

  19. Marigold says:

    Well, this is not a movie that I plan on going anywhere near. No thanks. I’ve been against home births forever, because I knew a couple who had one where the baby died of something fairly minor that a hospital could have dealt with instantly. It was terribly sad and so preventable. Plus, two separate people in my family had births that went terribly wrong where the mother would have died at home or the baby. Hospitals saved their lives. So. I have feelings about this.

    I was very fortunate and had two healthy babies in the hospital with pain meds. Easily quick births. And I remember thinking the most ridiculous thing after my first. Thank God. I would have survived childbirth in the olden days.

  20. Silent Star says:

    Like many of you, I won’t watch this either. My first birth was traumatic, followed by complications and PTSD. I would never ever willingly expose myself to difficult birth stories. It seems a bit distasteful to make a movie about it, especially if the goal is profit. And I really don’t get why suffering is so entertaining to some people.