It’s not an exaggeration to say that giving birth changed Ricki Lake’s life. Discontent with the experience of her first delivery, Ricki set out to educate both herself and others on natural and home birth, and the result was the powerful, impactful documentary called The Business of Being Born.
This month, she and director Abby Epstein release the next installment of the docu-series, More Business of Being Born. Lake stopped by to chat about why she was so compelled to share her experience with others.
Weighing the options
SheKnows: When you were pregnant, what options did you weigh for where to give birth?
Lake: When I was pregnant with my first child, I was lucky enough to hear a positive birth story from a friend who had a fantastic birth with midwives at a hospital birth center. I didn’t know anything about midwifery at the time, but the idea of being cared for by women during my pregnancy and delivery felt right to me.
I liked that they were concerned about avoiding unnecessary medical interventions and supported a woman’s right to choose whatever kind of birth she wanted. My midwife, Sandy, worked at a birth center within a major hospital, so this felt like the ideal location for my first birth. I would be able to deliver in a separate floor of the hospital where the birthing suites were set up for natural deliveries, but if I needed medical intervention it would only be seconds away.
SheKnows: You opted for a home birth for your second child, but not your first. What changed your mind or influenced this decision the second time around?
Lake: With my first child, I don’t think I was really aware of home birth as an option. But after his birth, I had some questions about why I ended up with so many of the drug interventions that I had been trying to avoid.
Because my water broke and I wasn’t having significant contractions after 24 hours, I was induced. The induction started a cascade of interventions that included a drug call Stadol, which I had a terrible reaction to.
After a difficult and long labor, I was thrilled that I was able to have a vaginal birth and so grateful to have a healthy baby, but in my heart I felt that my body had “failed” me somehow. So I began to research more about childbirth, attend conferences and got my hands on every piece of material I could find about natural birth.
By the time I was pregnant with my second child, I had grown to believe that a home birth would be the best option this time around, but my husband was not on board with it. We went to a freestanding birth center and spoke to the midwives about delivering there, and they told us that there was almost no difference between delivering at their birth center or delivering at my home. Both settings were a few blocks from the hospital, and my home birth midwife would be bringing the same emergency equipment they had at the birth center.
SheKnows: What sort of research did you do and what do you recommend for other women? Where should one begin her research?
Lake: I did extensive research by reading books, watching videos, talking to doulas and going to birth conferences to hear people speak. There is a whole world of material outside of the traditional What to Expect... kind of books and I would recommend reading anything by Ina May Gaskin, Michel Odent, Henci Goer, Marsden Wagner, Robbie Davis-Floyd, Erica Lyons and of course our amazing book, Your Best Birth. There are groups called Choices in Childbirth and Childbirth Connections that have amazing websites with great resources, and we have our own informative online community at mybestbirth.com.
More Business of Being Born
SheKnows: Why did you feel it was so important to turn your own experience into the docu-series?
Lake: The original reason we made The Business of Being Born was because I wanted other women to have access to the information that I didn’t have the first time around. I had to put my privacy (and vanity!) aside to include the video footage of my home birth in our first film.
But I knew it was important for other women to see birth as a natural event. Most of our images of childbirth are women constrained to hospital beds and hooked up to a variety of different tubes and IVs.
But we are not sick when we’re pregnant, and birthing women should not be treated like “patients” if they are low risk and healthy. So I think my own experience was so enlightening and transformative on so many levels — it seemed like I had a responsibility to share that with other women.
That being said, it’s always tricky because I realize that many women prefer to have more medicalized births, and I support those choices as well. There should never be any judgment about how a woman chooses to bring her child into this world. Our new films cover all types of births in all settings but focus more on the hospital experience since 99 percent of women in this country will give birth in a hospital.
Learn more about More Business of Being Born >>
SheKnows: How gratifying has sharing your experience been? I imagine that you’ve influenced a lot of lives and a lot of women, and that is something that is truly invaluable.
Lake: When people come up to me on the street to tell me about how the film has changed their lives, I am just blown away. This has been my passion for a long time and I am so moved to hear the stories of other people who have been affected by our films and our book. When someone writes to us saying that the birth of their child or their journey to becoming a mother was forever altered because of the work we are doing, it really keeps me going.
SheKnows: How has having a home birth shaped and/or changed your approach to motherhood?
Lake: My home birth was so empowering and even more so because I had to shut out all the naysayers who were telling me that I was crazy or putting my baby in danger.
I knew that I was making safe decisions for my baby, but choosing home birth in our culture can be difficult because most Americans are so misinformed and afraid of it. So from that perspective, the home birth experience strengthened my confidence as a mother. It gave me more faith my own instincts and inner resources — I felt like I could do anything. So tapping into that inner power definitely helped me get through my divorce and continues to help me meet all the challenges of parenthood.
Dancing with the Stars
SheKnows: What inspired you to go on Dancing with the Stars?
Lake: I was inspired to do Dancing with the Stars for a number of reasons — most important was to challenge myself by learning something new. Getting into better shape hasn’t been so bad either!
SheKnows: Any behind the scenes secrets?
Lake: Right before we go on, to keep me from getting nervous, Derek always says, “Let’s put the music on and rehearse it one last time. Then we’ll call it a day!” It calms me down.