When one cultivates the habit of seeing documentary films—simply by virtue of the genre—and when said one chooses to limit their self-censorship as to the scope of subjects to be explored, said one will be confronted with ego-dystonic information, ideas, and images. (‘Ego-dystonic’ is a fancy word for ‘inconvenient truths.’) For yours truly two subjects farthest from my interests and concerns were ballet and childbirth.
I have seen five films about childbirth and postpartum care—one focused on legendary midwife Ina May Gaskin, and four produced by the filmmaking team of Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein.
The primary emphasis of these films is the value of natural childbirth. Being exposed to this information and these images, I consider it crucial that everyone should have easy access to these films. More to the point, we—especially us males—should be persuaded to take advantage of that easy access. The experience of seeing these films can alter one’s character for the better.
I previously viewed two films from the Lake-Epstein partnership: Breastmilk and The Mama Sherpas. The Business of Being Born, a Kino Lorber release, contains two distinct films the second of which is entitled MORE Business of Being Born.
The first film, The Business of Being Born, presents information and images of natural childbirth, and contrasts that approach with the medicalized approach which is the most common. The inconvenient truth here is that, barring specific clinical risks, the natural approach is better for mother and child, and provides better outcomes on several parameters—including the rawest one, lower birth mortality rates. The film also covers the 19th and 20th century history of childbirth practices. It is an horrific story.
MORE Business of Being Born covers the emergence of birth centers which serve as a meeting ground of sorts for medical and non-medical practitioners. The film also introduces the ‘doula’—a kind of assistant to the mother before, during, and after labor, and, typically, works in conjunction with the midwife. The last half of the film presents more pluses and minuses of C-sections. Again, for women without specific birth risks, the pluses of a fully natural birth—one which avoids the introduction of intravenous injections of pharmaceuticals—are much greater than the minuses.
The United States does not have a monopoly on unnecessary C-sections. There are high unnecessary C-section rates throughout the world. The film spends some time in Brazil where C-section births comprise up to 93% of births amongst middle- and upper-middle class mothers. The high C-section rate there has sparked a grass roots movement promoting natural births.
The United States mainstream media coverage of women’s reproductive rights has focused primarily on abortion, and secondarily on birth control. Having seen these five films about birthing it is clear this is another front in the struggle for choice—how one grows and delivers a baby. The first battle in this struggle is information. Mothers and prospective mothers need to be provided with complete information regarding the risks and benefits of all the possible ways they may deliver their baby—or, babies.
A note about water: When water birthing was first introduced to the media around the 70s or so, it was presented as something silly, ignorant hippies do. In these five films we learn that the availability of warm water to women in labor has become common in the natural birth world—and can also be found in birth centers.