At a time when maternal healthcare and rights have become a topical discussion, comes in Alice Birch's Dead Ringers on Amazon Prime Video. Starring Rachel Weisz as twin gynecologists Beverly and Elliot Mantle, the show is based on the 1988 cult classic film directed by David Cronenberg, which, in turn, is inspired by the story of gynecologists Stewart and Cyril Marcus. Apart from telling a twisted tale of sisterly bond, the show compels audiences to look away from the glittering and glamorized portrayals of motherhood and look at the bloody, gory, and occasionally gloomy side of it.
Right at the show's beginning, we are shown Beverly experiencing a miscarriage. She picks up her unborn fetus with a heavy heart and caresses it. Beverly displays the emotions that almost every woman experiences after experiencing a pregnancy loss, or in this case, countless pregnancy losses. A subject which is hugely ignored in mainstream entertainment, Birch, briefly through this scene, briefly acknowledges that not all pregnancies end with a happy ending and that there are complications associated with it. The fact that Beverly is shown to have gone through this several times makes us empathize with her, especially when she contemplates giving up having children altogether. Another brief moment that displays a woman's numbness after multiple miscarriages is when Beverly examines a woman who lost her baby 6 weeks into the pregnancy term. She later reveals that earlier, she lost one 12, 14, and 16 weeks respectively, and blames her "evil body" for killing her babies. To this, Beverly suggests talking to a therapist and not to blame herself, briefly shedding light on a woman's mental health, especially during pregnancy.
Amidst all the blood and screams lies an underlying commentary on how health systems worldwide are failing our mothers. In various sequences, the show depicts how mothers are made to feel terrified of the very place they should feel the safest. Additionally, Beverly and Eliot perfectly represent the dichotomy of maternal healthcare which exists today. Elliot is in this profession more for the fame and the chaos. She relishes every patient she receives, almost turning them into gossip material she can think about later on. On the other hand, Beverly actually cares about what she is doing. Even when ridiculed while on duty, she doesn't lose her composure. She imagines herself to be a saviour who truly wants to treat maternal healthcare as a necessity rather than a business, so much so that she reminds herself throughout the show that her purpose in life is "to change the way women birth forever". Right in the first episode, Beverly makes a passionate plea to investors Susan and Rebecca Parker. This scene alone sets the tone for what is to come in the next few episodes. It acknowledges the fact that change cannot be rapid, something "woke" audiences seem to not understand, especially in a field as sensitive as maternal healthcare.
One of my favourite sequences in the entire series is when Beverly experiences a dream where her own ambition and passion for gynecology are questioned. She is reminded of the subject's patriarchal history when she hears the story of J. Marion Sims, whom we know today as the father of gynecology. This time, she hears it from the perspective of a 17-year-old Black girl he would conduct experiments with. What was interesting to notice is that while Sims was simply passed off as the man who "successfully" conducted experiments on the girl, we are constantly reminded of the fact that the 17-year-old girl was Black, enslaved, had a case of rickets, was pregnant and had been operated on roughly 30 times for 5 years, each time without an anesthetic despite being widely available at that time. Through this moment, Birch reminds us of the unfortunate role Black women's bodies have played in developing gynecology and maternal healthcare as we know it today. The most powerful moment in that scene is when the Black woman stands up and says to Beverly that she cannot have her trauma, or her imagined hope, or use her as her romanticization, or her device, and cannot have her in any way. Moreover, this scene parallels a scene in the first episode where a Black woman dies shortly after having a C-Section and is completely ignored by doctors when she is in pain.
So, to answer the question in the title, Dead Ringers is one of those few shows that doesn't shy away from showing how women giving birth has become more of a privilege-driven industry than something naturally experienced by women. It is more than just delivering babies one after the other. It's about the blood, the sweat, the tears, the care, and most importantly, the choice and agency over one's body, which many women across the world are denied even today.