BANG Movie Review: The Business of Being Born

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.

C-section Delivery

  • 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).

normal vaginal delivery, birth

  • 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.


7 thoughts on “BANG Movie Review: The Business of Being Born

  1. Auntie CL says:

    boy o boy. I can’t agree with you more about the whole health-care-as-big-business schtick in the U.S. And about the medicalization and even pathologizing of childbirth.
    However, as a two-time C-section mom who felt pretty bonded with her kids, i have to defend that: i understand that in my case, without a section, both mom and child would have died in childbirth, despite my up-to-then lifetime fantasies about perfect natural childbirth being undoubtedly my destiny. And yes, i investigated VBAC for the second birth, but alas, the bits that didn’t work weren’t going to. Got two miraculous kids, though!
    You say: “It just doesn’t get more real, more raw, more human than that.” – and i agree, sort of, except that all mammals and even some reptiles do give birth to live young. But i also say it doesn’t get more miraculous than that. You and i both know through experience some of the potentially and actually fatal hazards that can and do occur during that perilous journey from conception. When you think about the number of maple seeds that turn into inch-high seedlings in the spring, compared to the number that grow into mighty trees, it’s amazing that there is so little waste in the reproduction of human beings. If only each amazing infant could indeed be as cherished and carefully nurtured before and after birth as yours!

    • diblog says:

      Auntie, you are one of the people I think of with thanks for the surgeons, since who knows how many of the three of you would have survived without them? Very grateful.

      And I’m really glad that we live in a province where the medical professionals seem very well aware of how important it is to help and encourage the bonding to happen, no matter how the birth went. I know many moms my age who have had C-sections, and things have gone very well for all of them.

  2. Auntie CL says:

    that’s good to know! i had dreamed (earlier on) of having home births, though midwives were hard to come by in the early 80s. i have had many many reasons to be thankful for our health care system, and couldn’t even have considered having a child in the US! but i am really happy that doulas and midwives are available now, because that de-pathologizes birth, een for the doctors, to some extent. in general, childbirth isn’t a medical emergency, and i am glad moms and midwives have begun to reclaim it as a beautiful intense family event. yay for you!

  3. Carrie says:

    Guess I know what DVD I’ll be renting asap! (My guy won’t be able to handle it though!) I felt such a sense of pride and accomplishment that I was able to bring my child into the world on my own terms (natural, even though My Midwives were a mite concerned it wouldn’t be that way) and literally sat there repeating “I did it, I did it” for what seemed like an hour! (you know how the first hour blurs with the shakes and the stitches and the exhaustion….was probably only 10 seconds!) Birthing – in any form – is a true miracle and reminder of how good God is!! Thanks for the reminder Di!

    • diblog says:

      Was that true of both your births? I still haven’t heard anything about your second… (Looking forward to it!)

  4. Beverley says:

    Just read this post and I’m hoping to see the movie. One of my daughter-in-laws has now had 2 beautiful home births with midwives. They were an amazing and positive experience for her. Unfortunately with the second birth, the baby became jaundiced with a blood incompatability within 24 hrs. and had to be hospitalized for 4 days. My daughter-in-law then had to experience a hospital routine that was set up without her needs in mind (it was a children’s hospital) which made it difficult for her and the family. The baby is now fine and doing well. Even the most “perfect” birth can have many unforseen events and we in Canada are truly fortunate to have so many choices…..which socialized medicine has allowed us. When I had my 2nd child in the 70’s, eventhough I didn’t have a midwife, I did have “natural childbirth” in the hospital (no drugs at all) and was always proud that I had accomplished birthing on my own (with support of my husband)! My first birth was drug free until after a long labour and 2 hrs. of pushing, I had to have an epidural and forceps to help my son out. The support of the medical profession is necessary, but we need to birth on our own terms. (I guess I should really write my birth stories in more detail and submit them to you Dilovely!)

    • dilovelyadmin says:

      Beverley, that must have been scary and painful – it’s hard to think of a newborn hospitalized, especially when Mama’s needs aren’t being met. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about childbirth, it’s that the birth “plan” is often very very far away from what happens! Also, I’ve learned how lucky we are not only to have socialized medicine, but that midwives are covered.

      Good for you, having a natural childbirth – and the “non-natural” one as well (it’s pretty hard either way, no?). I would be THRILLED to receive your birth stories!!

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