My wife and I purchased The Business of Being Born, a documentary about the decisions expectant couples (particularly American mothers) make concerning the delivery of their new children, shortly after she discovered her pregnancy and shortly before we discovered we were having triplets.
We were in a strange sort of multiples-limbo when we watched the DVD. It was our Dark Weekend, just after our OB had told us she saw multiples, but it wasn’t yet confirmed that we had 3 (our fingers were crossed that the scans would confirm twins, but no such luck).
We settled into our viewing of TBoBB, having only read a few comments online and watched the trailer. Carey had heard great things.
In general, the film’s advertising is a little misleading. It’s billed as a sort of blow-the-conspiracy-wide-open piece of investigative journalism about the shady practices of hospitals and their care (or lack thereof) of women in labor. Those elements are certainly present in the film, but I suppose I was a bit unprepared for what turned out to be a 90 minute commercial for midwives.
Make no mistake, they make a compelling case. You walk away sufficiently terrified of American hospitals and 90% of American doctors. The statistics and history presented are sobering: from the “scientific” emphasis on birthing in the first half of the 20th century (leading to absolutely horrific, concentration-camp-style scenarios for women in labor), to the Thalidomide crisis, to the contemporary overuse of the dreaded labor-inducing drug Pitocin. It paints a picture of American doctors as a lazy and distracted group who often can’t be bothered. Or, what may be worse, a medical community beholden to insurance company bottom lines and hospital room turnover rates.
Not surprisingly, much of the film focuses on Ricki Lake, the “star power” of this particular documentary. She compares the cold, clinical experience of having her first child within The System with the warm, soothing, all-natural experience of having her most recent child in a home-birth scenario, with the help of a midwife. To hear Ricki, it’s the difference between torture and paradise and, in a moment not for the squeamish, we see the woman herself giving birth in her home bathtub, uncut and uncensored. (Of course, by that point in the doc, we’ve already been exposed to plenty of footage of other home births, so we’ve had some opportunity to ease into the, er, guts of the matter.)
We follow a midwife around, going about her midwifery and along the way we pick up lots of useful information about how things are done outside of the United States, where midwives are used much more frequently (resulting in far better infant mortality statistics). You get the sense that it’s not just a run-and-gun sort of job, that midwives sincerely do put their heart into their craft. You see the relationships between mothers and midwives and you’re left with the impression that these people genuinely do know more about baby birthing than their competition, doctors and nurses.
The final act of the film concentrates on the pregnancy and birth experience of Abby Epstein, the director herself. As the DVD extras confirm, this wasn’t exactly a planned story arc… Epstein had already gotten fully underway with her doc when she discovered her own pregnancy. But we as viewers enjoy the benefits of this happy accident, watching her take her own pregnancy on through the birthing process. (Spoiler alert: not everything goes according to plan.)
Overall, there’s no shortage of midwife-focused information, with plenty of genuinely exciting and heart-filled moments mixed in. It’s a decidedly biased take on the business of birthing, with a perspective sitting squarely in the home-birth camp and it’s helpful to know that going in.
I can’t fault the film for having precious little information about multiples pregnancies. After all, it’s really not the subject of the documentary. But it would have been nice to at least a mention a few instances, like ours, where home-births aren’t necessarily the best idea. After watching this, my poor wife has been trying to figure out a way to work out a natural, vaginal, midwife-assisted home birth for our triplets, but the experts continue to tell her No Dice.
As soon-to-be parents via C-section, it is, in retrospect, unsettling to recall the section dedicated to the horrors of C-sections. From botched attempts to the lack of proper hormone-release, mother-to-child, the film makes it clear: TRUST US, YOU DON’T WANT A C-SECTION. I can appreciate that it should be more of a weapon of last resort rather than a part of the baby-and-a-tummy-tuck assembly line that’s become fashionable in recent years for pregnant celebs and ladies of means. But for those of us who are doing it out of genuine necessity, it’s fairly disheartening.
Anyhow, as a documentary, it works pretty well and it clearly has an agenda, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it required viewing for anyone expecting children, but it certainly couldn’t hurt, particularly if your mind isn’t made up about how to handle labor and delivery.