Thursday, March 3, 2011

How the baby comes out: A review of "The Business of Being Born."

The moment Smush was born.

So, I mentioned a few weeks ago that I watched Ricki Lake's documentary, The Business of Being Born. Here's the Netflix synopsis in case you haven't seen it (but really, you should see it):

Director Abby Epstein's controversial documentary takes a hard look at America's maternity care system, juxtaposing hospital deliveries against the growing popularity of at-home, natural childbirths that some expectant parents are opting for. Former talk show host Ricki Lake was inspired to produce this compelling exposé after a dissatisfying birthing experience with her first child left her with many unanswered questions.

(Hey, not sure why that "the" is bold like that. Anyway ... )

I have to say, I really liked this film. I appreciated the historical background it provided -- like, did you know that in the 1940's, women had what were called "twilight births?" Basically, they'd go into the hospital when labor started, and doctors would give them some awful drug cocktail that would allow them to be awake but unaware of everything until the baby popped out. They had to be strapped down and blindfolded. They didn't remember a thing when they woke up days later. I mean, crazy, right? Well, it happened.

There were a few preachy, militant soundbites I didn't care for, but overall, the film spoke to my senses. It presents the facts and lets the viewer decide. And quite honestly, all the facts make logical sense.

After watching, I couldn't help but think, would things have gone differently during Smush's birth if I hadn't had an epidural? If I had been allowed to push in whichever position I felt comfortable in? One foreign doctor in the film said he does not deliver while the mother is lying down. He makes her squat down and he sits on a little stool to catch the baby as it basically falls out. Since you all know I was the president of the Physics Club in high school, I'll just say DUH. Of course! Because that all-encompassing (and sometimes annoying) force called gravity would allow the baby to descend more naturally. Whereas, when you're lying on your back ... what, you're expecting the baby to crawl out on its own accord? And if your baby is facing upward like mine, he gets stuck, and the only way out is by some external force, like a vacuum. Which hurts like hell and rips you from here to there and back.

Oh, but I had an epidural, so I didn't feel it (praise be!). Which was fine and dandy, until all the drugs wore off and I actually passed out on the hospital toilet due to the extreme pain.

What, I didn't tell you that story? Oh, boy. What a great time that was. Thankfully, a nurse was with me when I lost consciousness and she was able to summon a whole bunch of extra nurses to wake me up with smelling salts.

And you all know how we couldn't "special hug" for months after because my nether regions were so jacked up. That was a little bit stressful, to say the least.

Yeah, I obviously have some pent-up frustration and regret over my second child's birth. Well, actually, the birth was great. Painless, and I didn't have to do any work. The aftermath? I would have preferred to relive junior high. Twice. Frizzy hair and all.

But I digress. The one thing I loved most about the film was the ending: director Abby Epstein's birth. She was pregnant at the time of filming and decided she wanted a home birth with a midwife, like Ricki had. But in the end, her placenta quit functioning and her baby was essentially starving. He was breech (not head first) and had to be delivered by C-section. He was premature so he needed the NICU. She said she would have loved to have a home birth, but her baby needed those interventions or he may not have made it.

The film did NOT condemn necessary interventions. It did not condemn obstetricians nor hospitals, as they have their place in the medical community. It didn't really condemn anyone -- it simply praised the old school way of doing things -- drug-free, midwife-assisted, at home -- and backed up its accolades with statistics and facts. And that's why I liked it.

So, if you have Netflix, you can watch this film streaming. Or, if you don't, you can probably borrow it from your local library. But any and every woman planning to have a baby has got to see this film. Even if you're not planning to have babies or if you're done having babies, it's worth watching.

I'm not saying I'm going to have my next baby in a tub with a midwife. I'm not quite ready to think about my next child's birth yet. I think I need to come to terms with my past experiences and go from there. But, I feel enlightened now. And knowledge is power.

In the end, it doesn't matter how the baby comes out, but mothers should know the ins and outs of all birthing methods and be prepared to deal with the consequences. It's our right and responsibility to know.


  1. Yeah I LOVED the movie! I felt like it wasn't saying that epidurals were bad, but that they really slowed down labor which makes everybody need pitocin. Pitocin is really the enemy. It should only be used in labor that doesn't progress. In combination with an epidural is horrible! I feel the same way about my 2 births. The more I talk to people, the more I hear the same story over and over again. I am convinced to have mine at home next time! Glad you liked it!!

  2. I definitely plan on checking this out.

    One word about epidurals--my mom literally would not ever dilate without the aid of an epidural (I know that's not usually how things work out) so I'm thinking I might want to take that into account, seeing as I'm genetically similar to my mother. Also, my mother in law NEVER dilated with any of her 4 babies so she had all C-sections. The craziness!

    But the more I think about natural child birth, the more I'm willing to give it a try. My friends seem to be rubbing off on me. :)

  3. Thank you for posting this. Birth is such a huge psrt of a woman 's life and we need to be informed and happy! But it is so hard to figure everything out when you're a new mom. I luckily had a fabulous birth experience. And as far as I'm concerned that is the priority. We women need to be happy with the experience or I think we will have lasting regrets. I hope your next experience is only positive; you deserve it.

  4. I loved that film. I also read two great books when I was pregnant with Rush: The Mongon Method (hypnobirthing) and A Thinking Woman's Guide to A Better Birth. I highly recommend both. That said, I don't think I could do the at home water birth thing either. But I did midwives at a hospital and had the best experience. I will definitely always go the midwife/hospital route if it's available. A lot of hospitals are starting to have water births too! I'm all for that. My labor was difficult but I had no tearing, so no stitching, and a fast recovery. I know that makes you sick to hear. I only say it to show there is hope. Next time will be better. :)

  5. I agree that this movie was amazing. I was shocked and horrified at the way women gave birth in the past. And the not-so-distant past too. Like when they strapped the women down with lamb's wool so the marks wouldn't show later?! I mean, hello! What were you thinking, world of obstetrics? It really riles me up. I also was impressed at how the film ends with the C-section. It really does open one's eyes to all the different aspects of L&D, which I feel should be researched thoroughly by any pregnant woman. I have to say that I would be one of those women at home with a tub if I could afford the $2,000-3,000 it costs for a home-birth midwife. I hate hospitals and don't feel like it should be the place for a healthy woman with a normal pregnancy and delivery. Oh, I also agree with Julie on both of the books she recommended.

  6. I really want to see this documentary now. I agree that too many drugs are given in hospitals when they aren't really needed. Though I'm afraid of not getting an epidural, my last one only worked on one side anyway. So I've been really thinking of not having one this time, and maybe trying the water birth. German hospitals are really modern, yet they recommend to go as natural as possible. I love that. I would never have an at home birth, but only because I feel safe in a hospital.

  7. That sounds like a great movie.
    I had my oldest in Durango, CO were the community is very naturalistic as a whole, so I did labor in all sorts of positions and they even tried a vacuum and well in the end after 4 hours of pushing I had to have a c-section. Oh and I did all of that pushing with no drugs.

    So yes women should be able to have a say and choose-but in the end thanks goodness for medical technology!

  8. I'm curious to check this movie out and we have netflix so it's really only a click away, but I have SO much anxiety about labor and delivery that I'm afraid watching this movie will only make it worse. What do you think? Will it help or hurt my anxiety?!?

  9. Sara, I really think you should watch it! If anything it will help you feel more at ease because you will understand the drugs doctors are offering you and you'll be able to resist them if you choose to. I always feel less scared about things when I understand them. I encourage you to watch and read all you can about labor and delivery before yours; it will really help.

  10. I've been meaning to watch this documentary for so long, and now I'm determined to watch it tonight. I might even make Reece watch it with me.

    PS - We might be moving to your hood in a few months. If we do, I need an AZ friend!

  11. i loved this movie too. i was already planning on a natural birth and i had one, but even if i hadn't i think i woulda liked the docu. still. her friend, the one that ended up with an early c-section, was still cool about everything so i think it showed a great range of women.

  12. I'm totally going to check out this film. I love birth. Its amazing. I've loved every one I've seen. And I can't wait to deliver again...even though my recovery was similar to yours. I totally had the same experience in the hospital bathroom...almost passing out and having three smelling salts broken in my face. Craziness. But kind o entertaining. Anyway...can't wait to watch the film.

  13. Hello more than a year later! I saw a link to this post on your blog while reading your most current, and (of course) was fascinated. Veeeeeery interesting. I'm looking it up. Thanks!

    ps. Hopefully it puts me in labor. But I won't be 36 weeks til Sunday, so maybe I'll wait a couple days, then watch it. :)


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