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The Business of Being Born

I finally got around to seeing The Business of Being Born, which means I got very intimate with Ricki Lake and her female powers. Lake not only produced this documentary about the ever-increasing medicalization of birth in the U.S. but also included up-close-and-personal footage of the birth of her second son, at home, in the bathtub, attended by a midwife. The film is flawed in many ways, not least of which is its tendency to oversimplify the portrayal of hospital births vs homebirths, and the most egregious of which is the ridiculous claim by the loopy French doctor Michael Odent that highly medicalized births are leading to the death of love in our culture.

What the movie does well, though, is to offer a corrective to the mainstream narrative about childbirth, most graphically expressed by TLC shows like A Birth Story but also underlying most other popular media portrayals of birth. Interwoven with interviews with both midwives (including the legendary and highly regarded Ina May Gaskin) and mainstream obstetricians, clips from old film reels showing women giving birth in twilight sleep, and statistics about medical interventions in hospital births are the stories of a handful of women who chose homebirths. We see these women, physically and emotionally naked, laboring and birthing at home; we see them in the pushing stage and we see their babies as they slide out, all gooey and squishy and wonderful. These are graphic images, for sure, but I'll be damned if they didn't make this veteran of one highly medicalized but perfectly acceptable hospital birth yearn, just a tiny little bit, for the chance to do it all over again, at home, in a bathtub.

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Self-documenting

Lake's documentary does provide a nice alternative to the over-medicated, factory-line American birthing business. It seems we've moved as far away from the natural process of giving birth as we've moved from knowing the origins of our own food. But that's our American way - if something can be commodified or "convenienced," it will be, in a way that makes us unfortunately and increasingly infantile as we become more and more dependent on industry and "experts" for our own survival. As you say though, the documentary does have many flaws, not the least of which is the self-indulgent chronicling of the filmmaker's birth at the end. When Lake's filmmaking partner turns the camera on herself - the filmmaker becoming too much of her own subject - things start to get self-indulgent and the viewer is left wondering how much of the film was meant to be educational and how much to be self-serving. It's unfortunate that that should overshadow a conversation that deserves much wider attention.

People are not products. www.adfeminem.org

People are not products. www.adfeminem.org