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.