Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Film Festival: 'More Business of Being Born'

Box Art

I'm one of the millions of people who loved and appreciated Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein's documentary The Business of Being Born.
I especially love and appreciate Dr. Marsden Wagner's presence in the film. Everything he says is wonderful: "There's not a good history in obstetric practice of careful study of the long-term effects of all these interventions. This is why if you really want to humanize birth, the best thing to do is get the hell out of the hospital."

In 87 minutes, The Business of Being Born neatly articulates the problems with the current state of maternity care in the United States. I've heard of people dismissing the film on the grounds that it's biased (presumably against medical interventions during labor), and I say, so what? You think any film, documentary or otherwise, isn't biased? Also, most of the time, for most mothers and most babies, natural birth is just better. It's safer. (And cheaper!) Sometimes it's OK to be biased!

So yes, I'm biased, too. And I think The Business of Being Born is wonderful.

I was very excited when I heard last year that Abby and Ricki were making a follow-up to The Business of Being Born, and last week, I finally had the chance to see it. I expected More Business of Being Born to be similar in form and style its "parent" film: more of the same. In fact, More Business of Being Born comprises four shorter documentaries, each detailing a topic that The Business of Being Born didn't get to explore.

"Down on The Farm: Conversations with Legendary Midwife Ina May Gaskin" shows Abby and Ricki visiting The Farm and speaking with Ina May and other midwives who attend births there. The topic of conversation quickly shifts from the current state of maternity care ("Why do insurance companies get to be the boss of birth?" Ina May asks, pointedly) to Ina May's current work around maternal mortality and The Safe Motherhood Quilt Project.

"Special Deliveries: Celebrity Mothers Talk Straight on Birth" is exactly what it sounds like, a collection of well-known women telling their birth stories. I enjoy hearing birth stories, but I think what really makes this film work is that the women in question are used to being in front of the camera, so they're relaxed and articulate as they describe the births of their children. Alyson Hannigan is downright hilarious talking about her home birth experience, and Alanis Morissette's description of feeling slammed into her body during labor really resonated with me.

Also, I just love Alanis and totally want to hang out with her and eat vegan grilled-cheese sandwiches.

Of all the films, "Explore Your Options: Doulas, Birth Centers & C-Sections" feels the most like the educational material you might encounter in a (really good) childbirth class. It goes along nicely with "The VBAC Dilemma: What Your Options Really Are," which discusses the real and perceived risks of having a vaginal birth after cesarean, as well as the challenges someone seeking a VBAC might face.

It's a lot of material from a filmmaking team whose work I respect, but I'm sorry to say, I wasn't impressed. Perhaps it's because The Business of Being Born is so well-crafted and felt so revolutionary that More's follow-up materials seemed to fall kind of flat. Or perhaps I just had my mind set for a shorter, more traditional documentary. (I watched the film online, and was already 20 minutes in before I realized I was in for four separate documentaries instead of one.) One of the things I love about The Business of Being Born is how relatively short and concise it is. I would've loved another 87-minute video essay about issues and options in maternity care. But that's how I roll.

Despite my disappointment, I do believe that More Business of Being Born is a wonderful tool for helping people to make educated choices. Getting to look inside both a freestanding birth center and a hospital birth center, watch doulas at work, and hear mothers tell their stories in their own words is a nice change of pace from that giant stack of childbirth books you might have lying around.



Tara said...

I am also such a big fan of TBOBB, but have yet to see the follow up. I also loved the first for its conciseness, where it sounds like "More" is geared more as an educational tool for pregnant women. I am all for letting women know they're options and this looks like a great resource for just that! It would be wonderful if they could do another follow up more in the style that you've mentioned as I think that would make it more accessible.

Sarbear said...

I really enjoyed the business of being born, but have yet to see the follow up. I hate the state of the system and I am so frustrated by what is available. Our home situation doesn't allow for a very good home birth situation, but I really really want to be able to give birth at a birth center. Problem is we have none. Not a one. There is work being done to get one in the area, but probably not by the time we would need one. Right now I feel like my options are an unmedicated hospital birth with a doula present and assisting, but I really hate the idea of giving birth in a hospital. Pregnancy is such a natural thing and I hate it so often being treated like a sickness.



I have a date with a girlfriend to watch this series. I LOVED the first one SO SO SO MUCH!! Can't wait to check this out... but now I hope I'll be impressed!

The Vegan In Me said...

I loved the first one too! I think I will check out just the follow-up one with Ina May. I am fascinated with her. I am so committed to home birthing that I don't really need more information, but since I'm obsessed with all things pregnant, I'm excited to watch anyway.

Amber @ Backwards Life said...

I was actually one of the people that donated to have this second round produced. I have my very own hard copy of all 4 because of that :-)

I have to say, the first was of course better. It was revolutionary, at least for the mainstream (well kinda). I really did love MORE though. I think it's perfect to compare it to really good pregnancy books. It makes you think, and gives you some very specific information.

Now I want to go watch again since I'm almost to my VBAC date...and I'm a little nervous. Time for some inspiration!

Mama Smith said...

First one was great. I haven't seen the follow up either- my time for movies these days is so limited that from your description I'm not sure if I want to invest in four long documentaries... but it does sound good if you're in the right mind-set.

Our insurance actually wouldn't cover a home birth and paying out of pocket wasn't an option for us. In the end it didn't matter because I needed to be in a hospital but the fact that I wasn't permitted the option is crazy to me!

Lauren Knight said...

I can't wait to see this. I am astounded by the lack of information women have about childbirth. I had all three of my sons naturally- the first in a birthing center, the second at home, and the third in a hospital (we had moved to a place that is not well established in its home birth options and has absolutely NO birthing centers!!!). All three were completely different and beautiful in their own way. I am such a proponent for women being informed and to feel empowered by their birth experiences. They are life-changing, and we should be experiencing births, not having them "happen" to us.

Thanks for posting this! Love! Also, thanks for stopping by my blog, too!