Over the past century, childbirth has gone from being a natural function of the female body to a quick surgical procedure performed by doctors who have never seen a natural birth. Producer Ricki Lake and director Abby Epstein have made a film to explore the options open to expectant mothers, from midwife-assisted birthing at home or in birth centers, to “designer births” that can be pre-scheduled in hospitals months in advance.
Interviews with the mothers and footage of the birth process combine to offer intimate portraits of women preparing for and experiencing this natural phenomenon that has become increasingly mechanized. The footage of water births is awe-inspiring. The documentary clearly has a bias: It presents a barrage of statistics in favor of natural methods, and a historical overview of various smear campaigns against midwifery.
Actress and former tabloid talk show host Ricki Lake had wanted to make a film about the industry of childbirth since having her first child in 1997. After experiencing home birth with her second child in 2001, she approached filmmaker Abby Epstein with the idea of a film that would raise questions about the ways American women have babies. The result, “The Business of Being Born,” brings to light some frightening statistics as well as some empowering possibilities. While promoting the documentary, Lake talked to me about her own birthing experiences and how she hoped the movie would motivate women to learn more about their choices.
On “The Business of Being Born”:
The point of the movie is to educate the consumer about their choices, and to urge them to fight for their right to choose. I feel strongly that if someone does their homework and trusts their care provider and wants that C-section, then they should have it. I have no judgment against anybody’s choice, but I want them to have a choice.
On her first birthing experience:
When I got pregnant, I went to a midwife group that had been recommended to me by a friend. I felt comfortable there and was happy with the care I received. Had I continued to have a low-risk pregnancy I would certainly have delivered at the birth center. Since I didn’t go fast enough, I was moved to the hospital where they induced labor.
On filming her second birth:
I had my second birth at home, and it was filmed for my personal video collection. I never intended it to be shown to anybody. Then, when discussing the idea for the movie with Abby, I let her see it and she said she might want to use it in the movie. I’m still not totally comfortable with it, but I feel it’s the right thing for the movie. I get strength even today from seeing how strong I was in that moment. No doctor delivered my baby. I did it on my own.
On changing public perceptions of childbirth:
People were telling me I was crazy when I had my home birth. Now, six or seven years later, there is a wave of different perceptions about it. It is thrilling for me that this little movie that I funded on my own from an idea I had years ago has turned out to be something that is raising eyebrows and getting people to ask questions. That is what it has been all about from the start.
On choosing where to have your baby:
It’s not about hospital versus home. It’s about being comfortable where you are. If you feel comfortable in a hospital, you can have a really empowered, family-connected birth there.
On the birth center option:
For most women who don’t have complications, birth centers should be a viable option. Why should they want to be in places full of sick people when they are bringing a baby into the world? But the centers are being shut down, left and right, around the country. Doctors don’t want to take the risk of backing up midwives when malpractice suits are going through the roof. And the centers can’t operate without hospital backing.
On the future:
I’m really into this phase of my life, being a pro-midwife, pro-baby, pro-mommy advocate. Abby and I are working on a book to follow up on the movie. It will be published early next year. I still enjoy acting, but not full time. Really, I don’t want to do anything full time. Movies, talk shows, filmmaking … it’s really thrilling to keep changing it out.