I was tricked into a natural childbirth. As the midwife hauled me from birthing tub to hallway walk to music-filled, softly lit delivery room, I kept saying, no, thanks. No more tub. No music. Narcotics. Now. Actually, birth being what it is for me, I screamed it. But my midwife was determined that I would become the natural childbirth success story I’d never particularly wanted to be.
In retrospect, I don’t resent her disregard for what I thought I wanted (even though I swear she said I could have drugs). I’d chosen to give birth with her, in the hospital, because I trusted her. She was also with me, less than two years later, for my emergency Caesarean section. But my only goals for giving birth were that it be easy (never achieved) and successful (nailed three times). Other people, as evidenced by my midwife, may care a great deal about how women give birth. Some care that we do it their way, whether that’s a nice, convenient, scheduled C-section, a beautiful, empowering home birth or something in between. Others just want women to be able to give birth according to our own wishes and choices, an idea that sounds perfectly reasonable until you’re in a position to realize that the baby clearly did not read the birth plan. Somewhere after births left the home in the 1920s (back when as many as one in eight women died in childbirth) and before the Caesarean rate in some private clinics in Brazil reached up towards 90 percent, how women give birth became an “issue” instead of a private matter.
Into all of this, in 2008, came “The Business of Being Born,” a documentary produced by Ricki Lake and directed by Abby Epstein. Ms. Lake and Ms. Epstein set out to pull the curtain back on the ways giving birth may no longer be controlled by the mother or by the baby, but by outside forces, some with good intentions and some without. This year, they’ve followed it up with the release of “More Business of Being Born,” a four-DVD sequel filled with more births, birth stories and interviews with pioneers in the holistic childbirth movement.
Ms. Lake and Ms. Epstein intended to empower and inform women and to promote alternatives to the hospital default choice. While they’re clearly fans of home births, you can see their movies and be moved to push for changes in hospitals and birthing centers rather than a total return to the days of yore. Or you can see them and become, as the Entertainment Weekly film critic Owen Gleiberman did, a complete, passionate and misguided (or at least misinformed) convert. Mr. Gleiberman, whose wife gave birth at home last year, admits his bias, but that doesn’t stop him from filling his approving review of the movie itself with the zealous but dubious statements of a proselyte.
His review raises the specter of Brazil’s “sci-fi nightmare” 93 percent C-section rate happening here (that rate is exaggerated; countrywide it’s closer to 37 percent — still startling, but far less dramatic). Instead, hospitals across the country are actually banning elective early deliveries (in itself arguably an intrusion over a woman’s right to choose her birth experience). He insists that “in a hospital, the baby is taken away from you” right after birth, which may be true in some hospitals, but certainly not all. He cites the statistic, favored by home birth advocates, that home birth is “safer” than hospital birth. He declares, without attribution, that the “numbers don’t lie.” I’m not opposed to home births. But the most cursory research reveals credible studies both supporting and questioning home birth safety.
Shouldn’t I let one new dad neophyte off the hook for his enthusiasm? I would, except that his public zeal impacts others. It’s one thing to support an informed decision about home or hospital birth, and another to promote an antagonistic relationship between the two, which serves no one. See the “The Business of Being Born.” Watch the sequel, if you’re up to four more DVDs worth of birthing. Talk to, as the trope goes, your health care provider. But the advice from your local film critic? I’d skip that.