(In a Jaunt Review Sort of Way)
The Business of Being Born, Ricki Lake's movie project to educate the masses about how insurance companies, hospitals and doctors have a near-monopoly on the minds and wallets of birthing women around the United States. After Ms. Lake’s first (typical) hospital birth, she became quite the birth activist, becoming a doula, attending conferences, reading as voraciously as the rest of us reading this right now. She had, at one time, said she wanted to be a midwife, but when she had her second child at home, in her bathtub, she decided she could better use her power/clout/money/influence by making this movie. While that might be debatable, she has certainly done a wonderful job with this movie.
Note: Major spoilers ahead. If you do not want to hear anything negative about this movie, do not want to know small nitpicky details that only a midwife, doctor, nurse or childbirth buff would notice, DO NOT READ FURTHER!
YOU ARE FOREWARNED.
My apprentice Donna, her 3.5 month old daughter Kyra, my new apprentice Lexi, her almost 3 month old son Hunter and I filled my red Explorer with car seats and cackly women yacking about birth and placentas and leaking milk and we headed north from San Diego having borrowed Tom Tom (the Australian Navigator) from my partner Sarah. It seemed like a blink before we were there. It’s that way when you are with good friends and talking about birth, isn’t it?
We’d learned about the movie being in Los Angeles from a midwife semi-spammer – this was actually one thing I appreciated getting from her. I spread the word about the limited release – it was in LA for a mere 7 days – with no publicity at all, only there so it would be able to qualify for the Academy Award Documentary category. Still, we assumed the theater would be swarming with birth activists and I was frantic to make sure we bought our tickets on-line as soon as we knew for sure we were going… the morning of the day we were heading north. Happily, we got the tickets. They were only $8.50! A bargain – and they were for 8:30pm!
We got there about 90 minutes early and exchanged our on-line receipts for tickets and then went to eat dinner at a restaurant across the street. We had the WORST service I have had in years and it was clearly because we were three women, two who had their boobs out. The other women who had their boobs out got great service. I don’t know what their issue was, but for crying in a bucket, if he would have even come around for more than 10 seconds twice, I could have told him my mother was a server and he might have gotten more than a 9% tip. He was vile. Grrrr.
So, we high-tail it back to the theater to make sure we get good seats and on our way in see a gaggle of La Leche League folks from the LA area and one from the desert. Hugs all around by Donna (also a LLL leader) and we go right into the theater where, I am stunned to say, there are about FIVE people there! What?!?
With the LLL folks and the few other people that wander in, there turn out to be about 20 people total in the very small theater. I almost cried.
An adorable blonde woman came up to me and asked if I was a midwife and when I introduced myself, she did, too, and she said she read my blog all the time and we had corresponded and I loved meeting her! She sat with her husband and was as sweet as could be. I am bummed I can’t remember her name – please email me and tell me again!
So, the movie opens with a midwife getting ready to go to a birth, getting her supplies ready… IV solutions, her instruments out of the oven, suture equipment… and then she eventually gets to the laboring mom’s house. It was an interesting opening, this vision of homebirth midwifery with emergency supplies – oxygen… it was extremely apparent the audience (OBs? RNs? Vanilla people everywhere?) was being told “Midwives are not illiterate, horseback riding, barefoot witches. They are professional, emergency supply-carrying, car driving women.”
The people we crunchy granola folks know and sometimes love that were in the movie included Ina May Gaskin (looking extremely crunchy and very, very matriarchal to our homebirth midwifery sisters – she was very well-spoken!), Michel Odent (thankfully, with subtitles… I adore that man… and realized, during the movie that Dr. Wonderful is Michel Odent 30 years ago) and Robbie Davis-Floyd (who had wonderful things to say about the history of midwifery).
Interspersed throughout the film, Ms. Lake gently and unobtrusively talks to folks we know and don’t know. Sometimes, voices of frustration come across as sarcastic or licked with disdain (and you know I completely understand why) , but I think would have been better for the director (Abby Epstein) to really encourage folks to speak as unemotionally as possible – and perhaps she did. Because I know if she had interviewed me, she would have had to do 35 takes to get all the sardonic-ness out for a final cut.
(It was a very educational lesson for me – watching the movie and my “seeing” it through The Mainstream’s eyes – and paying attention to how I need to modulate my own words and voice when speaking to doctors, nurses and vanilla folks. I can see an argument for not caring what The Mainstream thinks about “us,” but I also know you get more flies with honey than vinegar. I’ve been a lot of balsamic vinegar in my birthing career. I’ve been more cotton candy [at least in front of the docs & nurses] in the last decade and feel I have made a lot more progress for midwifery and my clients. The questions are: Does the end justify the means? And when does it compromise one’s values? Do we overlook a lot so we get a lot more for all of us? Ongoing questions… always ongoing.)
But, I suppose if Ms. Epstein would have had to ask the midwifery contingent to watch their snideness, she would have had to ask the medical folks to check their snottiness at the door – and that would have probably been impossible. In fact, the different vocal nuances were probably critically important and imparted a great deal of the message that might otherwise have been missed. I think, though, that that is part of why I suggested the midwifery folks remained less modulated, so the medical ones sounded more shrill and hysterical.
Some of the comments by the doctors bordered on the absurd. Well, were absurd. One doctor who was saying how dangerous it was to have a homebirth said as an afterthought (something like), “I don’t know. Do they carry oxygen or anything for an emergency? I don’t even know.”
One of my biggest complaints about the movie is there were no Licensed/Certified Professional Midwives in the movie except Ina May. Because the homebirths shown were in New York State and non-CNM midwifery is illegal in New York, no other types of homebirths were shown but CNM births.
(Let me step sideways and critique for a moment. The main CNM shown in the movie, during several births, wore no gloves! During births, she wore no gloves – during land or water births. Do we think the medical folks will pick up on this and run with it? Absolutely! Sure, she may carry emergency supplies, but if she doesn’t practice the basic universal precautions, she looks foolish at best. If her clients didn’t want her to wear gloves – which happens – and she agrees to that, then some mention needed to made of that fact. Completely ignoring her obvious departure from the norm of birth protocol was reckless on the part of the moviemakers, in my humble opinion.
And the director, who got pregnant during the filming, used this midwife, was pregnant with a baby with IUGR [Did the midwife catch it? It didn’t seem like it. Ricki Lake did, though.] and they all knew the baby was breech [footling or kneeling, if I recall] and the mom went into pre-term labor – and the midwife went over to her house to check on her first! I was absolutely stunned watching because this mom was in full-blown labor and obviously needed to get to the hospital. When the midwife got to her, she did a vaginal exam [!!!!!][with a glove] and she was, in fact, quite dilated and then came an hysterical [not the funny kind] trip to the hospital before her eventual cesarean section. I can imagine the medical establishment folks having a field day with this entire scenario – if the midwife had ruptured the woman’s membranes and the cord prolapsed or a foot came out… oh, the commentary could be endless. Why this transport had to be shown is beyond me. I understand it was the director’s but it is not the typical midwifery transport!
All that said, I know I could never, never withstand the scrutiny of being filmed like this and shown to the masses. I would be judged mercilessly, too. I do know that. But, I know my thoughts and expressions won’t be unique.)
So, positives included salient points made by moms about their reasons for homebirthing and birthing with midwives, the wonderful quiet births that were captured beautifully on film, the exhilaratingly joyous birth of Ricki Lake’s second child, being able to see the sad history of childbirth in our country as it has unfolded thus far and the realization that it is doing nothing but continuing right this very minute, watching women birth in bliss at home compared to women birthing in blah in the hospital, knowing we aren’t alone in our beliefs and the thrill of anticipation of owning this movie to show our friends, family, childbirth classes and clients (who won’t pick it apart like me because they won’t recognize the stuff I did).
I only wish the movie ended with a glorious homebirth. Instead, it ended with the above mentioned cesarean and the director’s postpartum processing, including her difficulties with breastfeeding. She was feeding her baby a bottle (the LLL women in the audience groaned seeing it) – why couldn’t the bottle have been left out of the movie? There were no breastfeeding women that I can remember. Anyone else remember any? I don’t even remember any slings. I could be wrong, though.
(If I were making the movie, I would have seen it as an opportunity to de-sensitize the vanilla masses to a lot of crunchy things! – but it was probably best for them not to. I can see Ms. Lake and Ms. Epstein saying to each other, over and over, “Stay on-track, only midwives, only homebirths, only birth….”)
Overall, I enjoyed the movie. I know it might seem funny considering the critiques here, but I am really so, so happy Ricki Lake did this movie for us. We needed this movie. Sure, there are things we could have all added – and left out – but overall, she did a beautiful job and I am proud to call her our own. She knows her stuff. This movie also offers the rest of us who consider ourselves activists a springboard from which to fly! If you have a talent, skill, money or art – put your gift towards The Cause of Birth. Ricki Lake did it. So can we!
After the movie, I gathered the women in the audience together for a picture and we introduced ourselves to each other. There was a Family Practice Physician (who teaches medical students how to be humane, she said), a Certified Nurse-Midwife, the LLL folks, a few doulas and others. It was so wonderful! I asked permission to put the picture on my blog and when asked where the blog was, I wrote it down on the back of my business card and handed it out. A woman next to me began squealing after reading it, “You’re the Navelgazing Midwife!” and I laughed saying I was, indeed. Her friend next to her also started jumping up and down. Donna came over and said, “You’ve been blog-sided again.” Laughing, I hugged the women and felt like a mini-celeb for a moment. Several of the women there said they read my blog (waving hi!), so I’m glad to finally be getting this out there. Picture and all! I look forward to what you all have to say about the movie, too. Share, share!
Our drive home was stalled by lane closures, but we kept ourselves occupied talking about UFOs and how to see sub-atomic particles with the naked eye. Nahhh, we talked about birth! We dreamt about birth that night, too. I’m sure we woke up the next day and talked birth again, as well. In fact, I am sure we did. We had a full day of prenatals – starting at 9am.
Isn’t it amazing how we never get tired of talking about birth?
The Business of Being Born opens in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco at the end of October and then will be available for rent only through Netflix by the end of the year. New Line Cinema will be selling the DVDs sometime next year.