Saturday, May 5th, was International Day of the Midwife. In my city, it was celebrated by a special screening of a documentary by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein called The Business of Being Born.
This film is a few years old (2007), but I had not heard of it until Daily Buzz Moms did a feature on birth stories, along with Ricki Lake. As you may know, I am fascinated by birth stories and collect them in a blog I call MotherGather, so I suddenly felt a kinship with Ricki that I’d never expected.
When I heard about the screening of this documentary, I really wanted to attend – not just to honour the midwives I admire so much, but to see the movie. Unfortunately, it was a choice between that and an all-day retreat I was hoping to get to (MOTL), so I didn’t make it to the film.
Thankfully, there’s Netflix. I watched the movie, cried, had my eyes opened… and then made Sean watch it with me.
Here’s our li’l bullet list o’ reactions.
- The principle of the documentary is that in the United States, in contrast to the rest of the world, rates of birth interventions, especially Cesarean section, have been skyrocketing, without true informed consent from mothers. Is this damaging to women and families and society? The film argues YES. A resounding YES.
- We are more relieved than ever to be living north of the border (which I might not have, if U.S. politics had been different in the 1960s). We’re so thankful for socialized medicine – and, from my experience, much more baby- and mama-friendly hospitals that the ones mentioned in the film.
- To be honest, the very idea of hospitals being businesses that need to turn a profit – and doctors being likewise businesspeople – gives me the heebie-jeebies. The need for turnover in birthing units… The “Just section ’em!” mentality… shudder. I, as an expectant mother, am not profitable if I take more than 12 hours to have my baby… so chances are, in a U.S. hospital, I simply would not be given that leeway to let my body do things its own way.
- It’s even creepier to imagine being sick, and being diagnosed and treated with the profit-based mindset. I have NO IDEA why there are so many right-wing Americans who are all up in arms about socialized medicine. Doesn’t it make more sense for doctors to be accountable to the system as a whole, rather than to their bottom lines? Just sayin’.
- Even if you’re a skeptic and make the assumption that all the statistics (about C-section rates, infant and maternal death rates, etc.) are biased, it’s still shocking and scary to think of how many women are being unnecessarily operated on, never knowing the empowerment (not to mention the high of bonding hormones) of a natural birth.
- You’d also be shocked at the experimental, dangerous nature of the history of hospital births in the U.S. If you’ve never heard of “twilight sleep”… brace yourself.
- If you’re going to watch this movie, be warned: you are going to see babies being born. Yes. Tiny people actually exiting the womb through the vaginas of their moms. The kinds of images that made the slackers in my Grade 11 parenting class leave the room because they “couldn’t handle it” (at least not without a smoke break).
- In case you’re wondering, yes, that means there’s nudity. Quite a bit of nudity, and not just of newborns.
- It’s rather more goopy than the above image. (I guess it’s because all these births were babies, not goddesses.)
- When that first baby came out, I’ll admit I was surprised. Whoa, they really just showed that, for real, we totally just watched that lady give birth to that kid.
- Then, of course, I got teary-eyed. Look at that beautiful, live, warm, moving baby. This woman made that inside her. It’s incredible.
- Then, of course, I got tears in my eyes for every single birth they showed – and there are at least five. It just doesn’t get more real, more raw, more human than that.
- In talking with some friends who attended the screening, I discovered I wasn’t alone. There was apparently plenty of sniffling by moms during the birthing scenes – good sniffling.
- When I watched the film a second time, with Sean, I found myself grinning during the births, for basically the same reason I’d choked up before. For the record, Sean was not unaffected either. The two of us have been through two births together, one live and one still, and we both know how momentous birth is – and that it should be treated as such. I was proud that he didn’t squirm at all during those graphic birthing scenes – though the glimpses of C-sections made him cringe.
- With this post coming quickly on the heels of my Di-atribe about Why I Love My Midwives, I feel I should include my own personal kudos to modern medicine as it relates to birth. Although I agree there’s some effed-up stuff going on in hospitals, especially in the U.S., I do not demonize the medical system. During E’s birth, I had almost every intervention possible except for a C-section, and I greatly appreciated each one. I was glad I was given prostaglandin gel that helped my contractions to begin, when I was a week-and-a-half overdue; after 20 hours of labour, I was very grateful for the shot of narcotics that allowed me to doze; after 37 hours of labour, when my contractions began to slow down, I was beyond thankful for that epidural and Pitocin; and if it hadn’t been for that, plus the vacuum assistance and episiotomy at the last moment, after 43 hours of labour and 2 hours of pushing… I honestly don’t know how I would have gotten my beloved E into the world. If I’d been birthing him 150 years ago, I’m sure I would have been one of those mothers who died during childbirth, from sheer exhaustion. So my perspective on interventions and the professionals who perform them, when they are necessary, is: THANK YOU.
So, to sum up: I declare that anyone who has been, is, or will be associated with a birthing experience (and that’s technically all of us, since we were ALL born) should see The Business of Being Born.