All Women Should Watch The Business of Being Born


I’ve written about Ina May Gaskin (the author of Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth), my feelings about midwives, and my yearning to have a natural, vaginal birth. This film, directed by Abby Epstein and produced by Ricki Lake, covers it all, including the many myths surrounding hospital births (is all the additional technology really always for the better? Are obstetricians, who are ultimately surgeons, really qualified for natural deliveries?), as well as the stereotype of home births as a “hippie” thing, one that lacks preparation and could result in dangerous situations if it requires a last minute transfer to a hospital (although certified midwives are incredibly qualified and come prepared as a precaution with a variety of drugs and paraphernalia to each birth.)

This documentary follows many types of pregnancies and births (both vaginal and cesarean) and all sorts of view points, as well as why women are so keen on epidurals and interventions to avoid pain.

What struck me was how organic and peaceful the home births all seemed; how simple a birth can truly be without all the added technology and interventions. I was blown away by the facts: that the U.S. is actually way behind the rest of the world, getting further and further away from what birth is really supposed to be: a moment of empowerment for a woman, one where a mother and child are both under a sort of morphine-like trance, a feeling that is both temporary and incredibly important to the start of their relationship.

This is a film that every modern, educated woman should watch, whether she is pregnant or not, no matter her birth plan. We are all entitled to this information and should be able to make our own choices regarding our births and deliveries. If you do not research your options and speak up, be certain that most obstetricians and hospitals will not tell you the facts.

Here is some of the data that was gathered for the documentary:

  • Among 33 industrialized nations, the United States is tied with Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia with a death rate of nearly 5 per 1,000 babies, according to a new report from Save the Children (April 2006). This is the second worst newborn death rate in the developed world.
  • The five countries with the lowest infant mortality rates in the March of Dimes report — Japan, Singapore, Sweden, Finland and Norway – midwives were used as their main source of care for 70 percent of the birthing mothers.
  • Cesarean section is the most commonly performed surgery in the US, at a cost of $14 billion per year. Cesarean-delivery rates are now at an all time high in the United States, standing at 1.2 million, or 29.1 percent of live births in 2004. The increase represents a 40 percent increase in the past 10 years. (In 1970 the rate was 5.5%)
  • In several New York City-area hospitals, the Cesarean-delivery rate is even higher – over 40%.
  • In one 1999 survey, 82% of physicians said they performed a C-section to avoid a negligence claim.
  • Overall, according to studies by Washington-based Public Citizen’s health research group, the cesarean section rate for hospitals with nurse-midwifery services was about 13 percent lower than the average cesarean rate for all hospitals.
  • About half a million U.S. babies are born prematurely each year, data shows.
  • A new report by the World Health Organization, published in the international medical journal, Lancet, identifies complications from cesarean surgery and anesthesia as the leading causes of maternal death in developed countries, including the United States. Another report by Lewis Mehl-Madrona, MD, PhD, coordinator of Integrative Psychiatry and Systems Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine Program in Integrative Medicine, comparing 1,046 home births to 1,046 hospital births found negative outcomes consistently higher in hospital births. These included a fetal distress rate six times higher in hospitals, a respiratory distress rate 17 times higher in hospitals, babies requiring resuscitation 3.7 times higher in hospitals, maternal postpartum hemorrhage three times higher in hospitals and 30 birth injuries in the hospital compared with none occurring during the home births.

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Johanna Riehm teaches in the department of Communication and Media at Manhattanville College and in the department of English at Mercy College. She teaches courses in the history of communication, public speaking, and social media, as well as creative and technical writing workshops. Johanna’s work has been featured in Graffiti Literary Magazine, The Write Place at the Write Time, The Bangalore Review, Cactus Heart Press, and the LaMothe Review. She is working on her first longer work, a creative nonfiction novel called We Carved Our Names in Tamarind Trees.

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