Review: The Business of Being Born DVD

10 May

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.

The trailer:

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.


16 Responses to “Review: The Business of Being Born DVD”

  1. debdunlevy May 10, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

    If it’s reassuring at all, let me say that I had three c-sections by three different doctors in three different hospitals, two of which were in Argentina, which does NOT have better health care than the US, and I never had any complications or any trouble bonding with my children. You are right. A c-section is a weapon of last resort. I would never have chosen it. The first was an emergency and the others were because the first made them necessary. But it didn’t ruin the experience of childbirth. And it has had no effect at all on my children or my relationship with them. I’m only one person, but at least you now know one who didn’t think it was the end of the world. 🙂

  2. Rochelle C. May 10, 2011 at 5:40 pm #

    Hey, Jer,

    I had 3,yes count ’em 3, c-sections . . . all out of necessity. If you want to ask questions from someone who labored for 9 1/2 hours and then had a c-section and then 2 scheduled c-sections, feel free to e-mail me. Or maybe have Carey e-mail me. ;op

    People with agendas are rarely unbiased. My son could have died if it weren’t for my doctor. I don’t know which hospital this documentary filmed in, but what they said in the trailer was nothing like what I experienced all 3 times. I trusted my doctor (especially by the 3rd) and the hospital staff couldn’t have been more accomodating.

    I don’t know why it has to be one and not the other. Can’t both co-exist peaceably? I would never have dreamed of a mid-wife . . . somehow I just knew I would need a doctor. I can’t believe I said it outloud for the first time. I knew. But I have had friends who have done the home deliveries and it works for them. In some cases it’s a matter of personal choice in others it’s decided for us. I think you can trust the “system” if you trust your doctor.

    I’ll be interested in what you decide!

  3. Molly Detweiler May 10, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

    For what it’s worth (and I may be brainwashed on the other side due to what I went through), but I really didn’t have a bad experience with either of my c-sections. With Betsy, I was in labor for 12 hours plus 2 1/2 hours of pushing before it was decided that a c-section was necessary. While it wasn’t what I wanted, it went very smoothly and I recovered really quickly. I had decided on a scheduled c-section with Clare but went into labor 3 weeks early and decided to try for a VBAC but that went south really quickly and I had to be rushed into emergency surgery. It is not an exaggeration to say that this decision saved Clare’s life, and perhaps mine as well. The recovery was a little more difficult the second time around, but still wasn’t terrible and I only spent two nights in the hospital.
    Anyway, all this to just encourage you that not all c-sections are horrible and if you can find a truly compassionate, caring physician the experience can be a wonderful one, even if it’s not exactly what you want. I’m enjoying reading about your journey…wow…what a ride!

  4. Kelly May 10, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    I can see you already have some other reassuring words from other C-section moms. I wish I had your candor sometimes, but there are also certain pluses to have only had C-sections. Would I have planned to have 3 C-sections no. But I am amazed at God’s protection and thankful that when medically necessary it is an amazing and many times life saving intervention. There are still many ways to communicate to your doctor about how to make the birth your own. I insisted on seeing my second two “fresh and naked out of the womb” since with Abby I didn’t get to see her until that had weighed her and wrapped her up. It was just a few seconds but it made a big difference to how I felt. With the younger two everything was done in my site and with our last one, Elena, they put her in my arms to take us to our room (probably something not every hospital would allow) and bathed her right there in my room. We continue to pray for you and Carey and your family, especially for health and safety. Much love.

  5. Jessica and Jerry Renshaw May 10, 2011 at 6:08 pm #

    Jeremy and Carey, lots of our friends have had c-sections and I haven’t heard one horror story yet, not even a complaint.

    We also know a couple who have delivered all 7 of their children at home–admittedly one at a time though Tiffany, the mom, has had such good experiences she probably would have had the babies at home even if they had come in bunches.

    As each new member joins the family, there is a larger group of siblings crowding with both sets of grandparents into the bedroom to greet hir/m. A friend and I stopped by their house one evening to check on Tiffany’s pregnancy and were greeted at the door by her m-i-l.

    “Come on in,” she said cheerfully. “Tiffany’s upstairs having the baby. You can just go on up with everyone else. I’m staying down here with the other children until the baby comes.” We thought that a bit over-the-top and excused ourselves but Tiffany might not have minded. . .

    I’ll call and ask her opinion about multiples and midwives and see if she has anything to add to this discussion.

  6. Mieke May 10, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

    If it helps, check out this blog by an OB on the subject of homework and midwifery –

    The stats in The Business of Being Born are, unsurprisingly, fairly heavily cherry picked. I saw it recently too and you’re right, it really is an ad for midwifery. They have their place, but personally I’d prefer to stick with my OB.

    • Jason May 11, 2011 at 10:16 am #


      Great link. Thanks. My wife and I are having spontaneous triplets in a week or two as well. I was freaked a bit by all the “C-Sections are bad” information out there. I know in our case it’s basically 100% required to have a C-Section to ensure Mom and babies are kept safe etc. Anyway, great to read some actual facts for once…

  7. Mieke May 10, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    * sorry, homebirth (not homework!)

  8. Erin May 11, 2011 at 4:08 am #

    Well, from someone who used a certified nurse midwife with Parker and had an OB c-section with Audrey I can say that really both have their place. Yes, I preferred the nurse midwife’s approach during the pregnancy visits, and I love the experience of being involved in a vaginal birth. In fact, I cried a lot once I found out I would not be able to deliver Audrey with a midwife vaginally. But, to be honest, the C-section recovery was no harder than my recovery had been with Parker. And, the bonding with Audrey was NO different at all. I wish I could have held her when she was seconds old like I did Parker, but when I did hold her a half hour or so later, it was as if we were bonded instantly. Both births were the 2 best days of my life. Both were exciting, both were full of love. Sometimes we don’t get to choose, life chooses for us… but I’ll bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how wonderful even a c-section birth can be. No doubt, it will be the best day of your life.

  9. Jon May 11, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    Just caught this article over on When a Home Birth Ends in Tragedy, Can the Midwife Go to Jail?” The comments section is actually more interesting than the article itself — lots of back and forth between MDs, midwives, and assorted people with birthing experiences on either side of the debate.

  10. meg watwood May 11, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    i gave birth to twins vaginally in a hospital with my OB. let me say, if i had not been in a hospital with doctors and a NICU right there my baby B could have died!! i would one million times rather have a c-section for multiples vs. a homebirth of multiples. way too many risks when you’re talking about YOUR CHILD. videos like this and even things about “co-sleeping is best” or “exclusive breast-feeding is best” rarely if ever take into account parents of multiples. i promise though the unique blessing of multiples makes all the hardships worth it!!

  11. lauren May 11, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    I’m with Rochelle. Can’t we all just have our opinions and stop with the agendas? I happen to feel like my OBs that have delivered the girls are 2 of the most caring people I know, and would recommend them to anyone. But I know people who are very into their au-naturale midwives too. I happen to be of the “pain free” camp–I loved being able to focus on all the excitement of the day and birth without the pain… BUT I totally respect those that go without the meds. I mean, heck, if they WANT to sign themselves up for a crap-load of awful contractions, go for it I say! 🙂 I know Carey might prefer to be a little more on the natural side, but I think you will both find that you have placed your little boys’ lives in very caring and capable hands. You will be well taken care of!

  12. Heather Cristina May 11, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

    I labored for 29.5 hours and then had an unexpected c-section. I will tell you, it’s not that bad and from my point of view it seems there are less cases of tragedy with a c-section than vaginal birth. For most, c-sections are all about safety for the baby. My husband held the baby when she was first born & brought her over to me to hold my finger while I was being stitched back up. It was still very special.

  13. Valerie May 11, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

    Great review!

    When I found out I was having twins, one of my first questions to my doctor was whether or not I’d need a csection. I was not looking forward to it and tried everything I could to get my kiddos in the right position to launch, but they were as stubborn then as they are now. I ended up with a csection and not the calm unmedicated birth that I had envisioned when I first found out I was pregnant. My csection experience was a good one. I did a ton of research ahead of time to make sure I knew exactly what would happen and talked to my doctor about a bunch of the details, even including how I would be sewn back together. My hospital also offered classes for expectant parents of multiples and I asked a bunch of questions about the hospital during those classes. For me at least, those discussion were a key factor in having a great delivery, despite it not being at all what I had initially envisioned. I hope that your families experience is as great as mine was.

  14. StayatHomeTripletDad May 12, 2011 at 9:35 am #

    My wife’s C-section went well. If we all did what was “best” we would live off the grid, grow all of our own food, and ride bikes everywhere. Since we all don’t do that we do the best we can:) Just be sure that you know YOU are the advocate for your Wife and your kids. If something does not seem right, say something. I hope you are OK being the “bad guy” as you will need to be from time to time.

    The wife and I had some discussions that I encourage you all to have. Here were the questions/issues we discussed the answers to. BTW, her opinion trumps yours in many of the answers:) lol

    1. If I have to make the choice between saving you or saving one or more of the kids or you in the C-Section who should I choose?
    2. We decided that NO ONE except for me got to see the kids before she did. I mean NO ONE! If they are in the NICU this is not an issue as you have to give permission for anyone to enter:)
    3. She would give me a “look” or a codeword when she was tired and I got everyone out of the hospital room.
    4. To cut or not to cut for the boys.
    5. Find a pediatrician
    6. Talk about who to call first, second, etc… How to communicate the “announcement” We did not tell anyone except for close family as we did not want visitors in the hospital.
    7. Can people visit once we are home? We let some people with some VERY strict rules.
    8. If you don’t like our rules… then don’t visit. This included our parents.

    Have fun Buddy!


  15. Tami May 18, 2011 at 5:14 am #

    Jer, I know what you mean about the video. I have a friend with four month old twins who wanted like hell to have a natural childbirth, but there aren’t even any midwives here who would do a first pregnancy twins. So, then she hoped and prayed for a natural birth at the hospital with midwife assist. She did all the spinning, taking herbs to get them head down, etc, but in the “end”, she had them a month and a half early by c section. Guess what? They’re just fine. They nurse like crazy, and they’re even starting to sleep through the night at the same time (miraculous). The regret here is the stress it caused her from clinging to the ideal and the grief (death of the ideal) and fear (BofBB type images) she felt as the c-section was going on. I hope it will not be that way for you and Carey. May you have peace with what needs to be.

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