Firsthand review of “The Business of Being Born”

Below is a review of the movie “The Business of Being Born” by Rachel, from Queens, New York City, NY, a woman I met on Mothering.com. She saw the movie during the premier at the Tribeca Film Festival and gave me permission to print her review here.:

I was able to see this movie last night (May 3, 2007) at the Tribeca Film Festival. It was fantastic. You can read the synopsis on the website, but basically the film features women who choose home birth with a midwife, contrasting this with what happens in a hospital birth, the stats of US births v. other developed countries, some history about birth in the US like “twilight sleep” and Cytotec and cesarean rates, lots of interviews with mainstream OB/GYNs, labor and delivery staff, midwives, birth activists and educators, and women about birth. Michel Odent is featured, and a few short snips of an interview with Ina May Gaskin. We follow NYC home birth midwife Cara Muhlhahn as she tends to her patients in prenatal care and at the birth itself. One humorous segment has Cara talking about her own home birth spliced in with footage of her home birth. She admits she wasn’t an ideal patient and could write the book on “home birth midwife begs for c-section!” Less than 90 minutes long, the film was tightly edited and kept me enthralled the whole time.

The facts and expert opinions are mixed in with the experiences and birth footage of women featured in the film. I think 4 or 5 home births or birth center births were shown, all so beautiful and natural and moving in their simplicity. I cried through each one, and the audience literally gasped with joy as each baby was safely and gently delivered and given right to mom. It was a stark contrast to the footage of hospital births.

As one moviegoer said in the Q&A after, “thank you for making a film that celebrates life.”

Parts that stood out for me:
-The filmmaker interviews 3 OB/GYN med student residents and asks them how often they get to see a natural birth. They stare at her blankly before admitting “not very often.”
- All of the births: home, birth center, and hospital.
- A range of opinions from the OBs, those who don’t know anything about home birth and think it is crazy, to those who fully support it
- How women were treated in the hospital vs. at home

The message is very straightforward. It wasn’t preachy and condescending. They use a lot of humor, intelligence, facts, and humanness to illustrate their message that “hey! Women deserve options in birth and to learn what those options are.” Most of the audience seemed already open to or educated on the topic. Even the family physician and OB who spoke up at the Q&A were not newbies to the concept of home birth. The former said that he found the film very balanced and was now interested in learning how to offer home birth as an option to his patients, and the latter is an OB who had her babies at home and said this movie captured the message that she was always trying to give her colleagues. I’d be interested to hear what a skeptic would think of the movie.

Ricki Lake was the executive producer and is featured in the film, too, talking about her own journey to home birth and showing the experience itself. My opinion of her as a Jerry Springer-ish talk show host has definitely changed! She comes across as smart and strong and I’m so happy that she is using her wealth and celebrity to get this important message out. She mentioned that one journalist had written an article slamming her as an opportunist for making this tasteless film, and he wrote a long retraction after seeing it and finding it very worthwhile. I’d love to read both if anyone finds them.

On a more personal note, I was deeply moved by this film. Having been grouchy and depressed for days, my mood turned to elation watching this film and I still am high from it. I wish every woman thinking about having a baby could see it. But I know it would not impact many of them, since so many of us in the US are conditioned to see birth as a nightmare to just get over and do whatever the OB says and nothing really matters but getting a healthy baby in your arms at the end of the day. To me, my birth experience DOES matter. I want it to be the transformative, powerful, life-altering experience I know it can be. Seeing this made me so excited and proud that we are planning a home birth, and grateful that I live in a state and have an insurance company that makes it possible. And that my husband supports my choice despite his misgivings. I hope it gets distributed before our baby comes so he can see it.

Another funny story—the NY Daily News said this movie “wasn’t for the squeamish.” And when I picked up my tickets at will call, the woman who gave them to me said, “are you sure you want to see this? It is very graphic.” I said, “I can’t wait to see it! I’ve heard such great things about it!” She said, “well, won’t it scare you, you know, with all you’re about to go through?” [indicating my pregnant belly] I was a little tongue tied for a moment, and said, “It won’t scare me, it will prepare me.” And she seemed happy with that. I just think it would be so weird to be thinking, “Ok, my body is about to go through this tremendous experience, so I’ll just be sure to remain as ignorant about it as possible.” But I guess that is true for a lot of people. I didn’t get the “squeamish” or “graphic” comments at all. Considering what you see in movies and TV these days, these births were so simple and beautiful. Maybe I’ve just seen enough birth footage already that this wasn’t shocking to me. We are so cut off in our culture from birth and death. How it all starts and ends. Interesting.

Everyone should see this movie! Enjoy! You can sign up for the email list on the website, and I assume they will send an update when they get a distributor.

Thank you, Rachel, for letting me share this with my readers. :)

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One thought on “Firsthand review of “The Business of Being Born”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Rachel makes a good point about how cut off from life and death we are in this culture. It’s no wonder that we spend so much of the time between those two events wandering around in confused circles!

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