The Business of Being Born- My Review

10 years ago
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I watched The Business of Being Born (TBOBB) last night (available now through Netflix). This is a documentary produced by former talk show host, Ricki Lake, on the state of birthing in America. As I posted the other night, in short the summary of the film is this: (from The Business of Being Born's Website)

Birth: it's a miracle. A rite of passage. A natural part of life. But more than anything, birth is a business. Compelled to find answers after a disappointing birth experience with her first child, actress Ricki Lake recruits filmmaker Abby Epstein to examine and question the way American women have babies.

The film interlaces intimate birth stories with surprising historical, political and scientific insights and shocking statistics about the current maternity care system. When director Epstein discovers she is pregnant during the making of the film, the journey becomes even more personal.

Should most births be viewed as a natural life process, or should every delivery be treated as a potentially catastrophic medical emergency?

As I settled in to watch, I was expecting a "good" documentary on a subject that interests me. To be perfectly honest, I don't watch very many documentaries, and had kind of figured this would be like The Baby Story, but in reverse. Instead of seeing high drama-hospital medical births with drugs and C-sections, I would see midwives and natural home births.

In no way was I prepared for my reaction. Shortly into the 1 hour and 24 minute documentary, I was in tears, sobbing. It was like a floodgate had been opened, and every vented up emotion that I had about my own experiences giving birth, was released.

I was in awe of the beautiful, natural, and peaceful births shown at home, with skilled and highly trained midwives. During labor, the mothers were roaming around their homes, freely and unobstructed. There was a woman who had a water birth, with her young son watching, totally calm and relaxed. There were images of newly born home birthed babies lying peacefully and contentedly on their mother's chests just seconds after being born, gazing lovingly up in their mother's eyes. The mother's, though tired from just giving birth were alert, happy, and peaceful.

Those images were contrasted with the "typical" hospital birth. Women in bed, hooked up to monitors, oxygen masks, and IV's, with drug cocktails dripping into their systems. Babies left screaming and crying in the incubators by themselves, or not "allowed" to be with their mothers immediately after birth. One scene showed an exhausted mother, being prepped and wheeled off on a gurney to the operating room for a C-section. It was not hurried, so I don't believe it was an emergency C-section, rather more likely than not, she was not able to birth her baby in the allotted time that so many hospitals have. She had her eyes closed, totally detached from the experience, and it struck me like she was a lamb going off to the proverbial slaughter.

It was so striking seeing that, compared to the homebirths. The women at home were in control and had complete and entire power over the birth of their babies. They were the ones who decided when it was time to birth their baby, and they had total confidence in their bodies. They didn't need IV's, drugs dripping in their systems, weakening the labor process, constant monitoring, doctors and nurses telling them when to push, and micromanaging their labors, and they didn't need C-sections.

As I sat there watching this, I kept thinking of the women shown having their babies at home, and THAT is what birth is supposed to be like. That is how women have given birth for thousands and thousands of years, until the last fifty years or so in America. Women should be the ones to dictate how the birthing of their child, their flesh and blood goes, not doctors, nurses, and hospitals who have to practice defensive medicine to avoid lawsuits, and to meet insurance companies criteria.

It was a powerful moment for me, and I realized how angry I have been about Ryan's birth. I have written about my C-section before, but in summary, the only reason I had to have a C-section with Ryan was because he was breech. No other complications or problems. A C-section was my only "option." Doctors don't "do" breech vaginal deliveries anymore and certainly not where I lived. At the time, I didn't consider home birth an option, and in my state it is illegal for midwives to knowingly deliver a breech baby anyway.

I trusted that my doctor was doing her best for me, but in reality she was only doing what she "had" to do. Advise me a C-section was the "safest" way to deliver a breech baby. She was in a large HMO practice, and even though she told me about doulas and exercises I could do to try to turn the baby, she probably couldn't have told me the truth about what I was in for, even if she had wanted to. I am sure she had strict guidelines to operate under.

TBOBB gets right to the root of this terrible epidemic- women are basically forced to give away their birthing power and choices to the doctors and hospitals, without really realizing what is going to be "done" to them, because it is not explained for the most part to them ahead of time. As I watched that poor, drained, and drugged, mother being wheeled off to her C-section, I saw myself in her- I saw her power gone, totally helpless and at the "mercy" of the surgeon who was about to operate on her, because her body "failed," and she could not give birth.

I realized for the first time ever, that I felt like I had failed Ryan and failed my body, because I was not allowed to even try to give birth to him. Even though I doubt my doctor wanted to make me feel like that, it was recorded in my subconscious, that because my baby was breech, somehow my body "failed" at being able to get him in the "correct" birthing position, and now the only option was for her to step in and "save" me, save my baby by cutting open my abdomen and performing surgery to get him out alive. I felt totally duped and mislead.

Never mind that babies used to be born breech all the time, even when they had less technology. Joe's oldest sister was born breech in the 60's, and guess what? She was born healthy and Joe's mother was just fine too. Never mind that one of my good friends gave birth at home to a surprise breech footling 9.5-pound baby boy in 2006. Guess what? Her son couldn't be any healthier today, and she was fine too.

I was mad after seeing the peaceful homebirths that the state of birthing in this country is what it is, in that it denies women the opportunity to have the birth that they want. It doesn't even allow for exploration of the choice, it just eliminates any choice whatsoever.

I was very impressed and surprised that there were so many doctors, and OB/GYN's in the film saying that the current system wasn't working either. One of the doctors at Mt. Sinai in the film said something to the effect that if something isn't done, and if someone doesn't step in, the caesarean rate will soon be at 100%.

Several of the doctors said that with a skilled midwife, homebirth was very safe, and was usually a good option for women.

I was thrilled to see Ina May Gaskin (the most famous midwife in the world) in the film. I had the privilege of hearing her speak in a town near me last May. She pointed out that she didn't have a mother who needed a c-section in her care until birth number 187. Contrast that with 1 in 3 births today end in a C-section.

One of Ina May's quotes that she had in the movie, which I loved, was right before she gave the C-section number in her practice, was an answer to the argument that women in America are different from other women in the world, hence the high C-section rate. Right after she stated that they didn't see a C-section until birth number 187, and then they didn't see it again until a birth in the 300's (I can't remember the exact number she gave). She said, (and I went back and reviewed several times what she said, and wrote it down), "That tells me the pelvis of the American woman is just fine-thank you very much."

There was another man who was in the movie several times, with some powerful statistics and commentaries. Forgive me, but I did not get his name at the beginning, and by the end of the film I was too exhausted to go back and find his name. But he was the older gentleman with the short grey beard, and I believe he was a doctor, but am not for certain.

He was giving a lot of background information on birth in this country, and how they used to tie and strap women down in the hospital, give drugs during labor that caused children to have severe deformities, etc. He said at one point, "If you want a humanized birth, get the hell out of the hospital."

He also drew a great analogy. He mentioned that when he speaks to groups of OB/GYN's and tell them about home birth, he said he always gets groans and heads shaking. Then he asks the doctor's who have actually witnessed a home birth to raise their hands. He said he has never gotten a doctor yet, who has actually observed a home birth. He said they are like a geographer who is trying to describe a country that they have never been to, but are too afraid to visit. I couldn't agree more.

There was another doctor an, older OB/GYN in the film who was also a researcher. I didn't catch his name, but I do remember his credentials. He was from another country, (Ireland?), and had a heavy accent, so when he spoke there were subtitles. This made it very easy to write down what he said. He had many, many, compassionate and very true things to say about birth, and how we need to just stop down the road we are going and go back to square one. He said square one starts with the midwife.

There were so many other important points and information in this movie. It was amazing. I didn't know it was possible to make so many points about birth in just under an hour and half. It touched me deeply, and I imagine it would strike a cord with almost any woman, whether you "believe" in homebirth or not.

It wasn't so much a "homebirth" message, but a message on birthing, and women are powerful and are capable of managing their births the way they want. It shows that there are some options that we don't hear about very often, the option of homebirth.

The only small critique I have of the film is when they showed statistics, it would have been helpful to list the source of the statistic. It could have been listed in the closing credits, but I didn't watch for it. I think it would have been more powerful and more creditable to list the source of the statistic when it is shown. But it is an excellent film, and one that I hope to watch again.

If you have even the slightest interest in maternity care, or why hospitals and doctors do the things they do during birth, this film is a must see. It is by far the BEST media subject I have seen on birth. If you do watch The Baby Story, watch this. You will be astonished. I am so grateful that this film was made. At the very least it has helped me in the last 24 hours come to terms with the feelings I have about Ryan's birth.

I will leave you with a quote, which was extremely powerful for me, from the wonderful OB/GYN researcher in the film. He said so elegantly, when talking about what we are doing is clearly not working, and is not what is best for mothers and their babies was this," When you talk with certain women who still have a sort of intuitive knowledge of the importance of what is happening when the baby is born, they cannot accept that caesarean section is the future. They cannot accept that."

(Originally posted on A Mama's Blog at

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