Three years after the release of their seminal documentary, “The Business of Being Born,” filmmakers Abby Epstein and Ricki Lake are at it again. Motivated by a desire to provide valuable additional information about birthing options and the maternity care system to mothers-to-be, Epstein and Lake have created “More Business of Being Born,” a 4-part DVD series that features celebrity birth stories, VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) options, information about doulas and birth centers, and conversations with the legendary midwife, Ina May Gaskin. The DVDs will be formally released on Tuesday, November 8, and I am so excited to have been asked to review the DVDs ahead of time. I am also thrilled to be able to offer a GIVEAWAY of all 4 DVDs (via digital download codes) to one of my lucky readers (more on that soon).
Last night, I had a chance to screen the first in the series, “Conversations with Legendary Midwife Ina May Gaskin.” I had heard of Ina May Gaskin before from my friend, Patricia Madden, a birth doula practicing here in the San Jose Bay Area. In fact, every doula I know raves about Ina May, so I was extremely eager to watch this DVD and learn more about her. While the overall experience of this first piece was poignant and positive, I wouldn’t say that I appreciated this DVD until the second half of it.
In my opinion, the first half of it suffered from two major storytelling flaws: (1) In the first 27 minutes of the 56 minute DVD, we don’t hear much from Ina May Gaskin at all. There’s a long exposition and buildup wherein we see Ricki Lake’s infectious enthusiasm to go and actually visit the Farm, then we watch them getting lost on the way, then we see them arriving at the Farm, and then we watch them have conversations with…other midwives and other women? It isn’t until halfway through that Lake and Epstein finally step into Ina May’s kitchen (it looks like a kitchen) to sit down and have their titular “Conversations.” (2) Then, when they do go to talk to Ina May, the filmmakers hand her a very baffling gift. Perhaps it’s just out of context for me because I never watched the original “Business of Being Born” (but now I really, really want to), but they hand Ina May a gift bag containing…sex toys? Ina May pulls out what looks like a “Hitachi Magic Wand” and then opens up a velvet box containing a silver gadget that Lake and Epstein tell her is “an anal plug.” I’m thinking to myself, “HUH?” But after the sex toys are gifted, that’s it. They don’t really explain any more about why they’re given, and I am left to surmise (from something Ina May says about teenagers giving birth) that maybe clitoral stimulation during birth causes the vaginal area to “open up” more and possibly reduce the chances of tearing? I have no clue, and really wish I had one.
With that said, the rest of the DVD was FANTASTIC. SPLENDID. TOUCHING. And EYE-OPENING. Ricki Lake is right: Ina May Gaskin is mesmerizing. There is something hypnotic about the way she talks. What she says is so reasoned, so well-considered, and so thought-provoking that I found myself asking, “Why hasn’t anyone thought about these issues before? Why are we not more curious about these issues?” What Ina May is dedicating her life to talking about, in effect, is the rising number of unnecessary interventions (whether inductions or C-sections) in the United States, as well as the startling statistic that the maternal mortality rate in this country has nearly doubled since 1982. She made a lot of cogent points that really, really opened my eyes and have my wheels turning, especially because they touched my life specifically:
- We’re seeing a rising rate of labor inductions in this country. Whenever a woman is induced into labor, she has twice the chance of having to have a C-section (I was induced, by the way, and have told my less-than ideal birth story on this blog in several parts. Thankfully, I was able to have a vaginal birth).
- A woman’s due date is really just an estimate…anywhere from two weeks before to two weeks after is very normal, with many first-time Moms going a week past their due date (I think she said 80% of first-time mothers go past the due date). Rushing to induce the baby is often times just a way for obstetricians to avoid liability, or conform with insurance company protocol. I remember my OB telling me, “If you go 41 weeks, I want you to let me induce her, okay?” I ended up caving in to this request because I was afraid that something would “happen to the baby.” But if I had thought about my cycles, which tended to be rather long (about 35-36 days), then I would have figured out that my “due date” was actually a week too early.
- Midwives generally trust in the process of nature. Their general philosophy is, “If the mother is healthy and doing well, then there is no need to rush to induction.” I would have benefited from this train of thought, I think. I was very healthy and did very well throughout my pregnancy, but I found myself doubting my body because of hints from my OB that my placenta might degrade and the baby might lose oxygen.
- We really don’t know what the chemical cocktails that pregnant women are given to induce labor do to our babies. Who knows what effect the combination of Demerol, Pitocin, and the epidural is having on our children? Could it be associated with the rising rates of autism in this country? Why isn’t anyone asking these questions?
- Lastly, Ina May’s “Safe Motherhood” quilt moved me to open tears. Basically, she had gone and sought out every woman who had died near the time of giving birth since 1982 and created a quilt piece honoring them to bring awareness to the fact that too many women are dying while giving birth in this country, and not enough is known about the reasons why. (Much to my shock, my beloved country, the USA, is NOT among the countries with the lowest maternal mortality rates.) As a result, not enough attention is being paid to remedy this situation, and the fixes can be very simple. She pointed out the quilt piece of Tatia Oden French, a highly educated, 32-year-old mother in great health who was induced at 40 weeks with the drug, Cytotec. Both Tatia and her baby girl, Zorah, perished as a result of a disastrous reaction to Cytotec. We infer from Ina May that unnecessary induction is what caused the death of Ms. French.
- She also highlighted the quilt piece of Tameka McFarquhar, the 22-year-old Army clerk who was found dead in her Watertown, NY apartment on Christmas Day 2004. Her baby girl, Danasia Elizabeth, died as well, presumably from starvation. In Tameka’s case, she had bled to death, potentially from a piece of placenta still inside the uterus. This single mother had no support system whatsoever, and had there been a protocol of looking in on her a few days after she gave birth, Tameka’s death, and that of her baby’s, might have been prevented. In the world of midwives and doulas, postpartum checkups are regularly done to make sure that all is well with the new mother and child. But in our conventional medical system, this does not happen. I remember clearly my OB telling me, “Call me if you see any bright red blood, okay? If it’s brown and old, then that’s okay.” The onus was clearly on me to call her and keep her informed, not the other way around.
There were many more gems of wisdom that I collected from Ina May as a result of watching this first DVD, not the last of which is, “Babies really need their mothers.” So if we want happy, healthy babies in this country, then we need to take care of the mothers who have them, regardless of income or class or educational level. Health care is a basic right, according to Ina May and her midwife colleagues. If this first DVD is any indication, I can’t wait to watch the others! Stay tuned for my reviews of the other three, as well as for how you can enter my giveaway and win digital codes to download all 4 DVDs…