A couple of months ago, I sat down and finally gave the time of day to The Business of Being Born. In it, Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein take a critical look at maternity care in America in order to help us understand how being born has truly become a business. Since I watched the film in April, I have been eating up information on birth justice, and have come to realize it as an essential part of advocating for sexual health, reproductive rights, and healthcare. Being pro-choice is not just about the right to choose abortion. When someone chooses to carry a pregnancy to term, they deserve the opportunity to be safe, empowered, and comfortable in giving birth. Although I would not point to this movie as an essential part of birth justice advocacy, I do see it as a great starting point for both activists and people interested in parenting. Learning about all of the options on the table is revolutionary, and for allowing me and many others the chance to grasp onto this issue and explore it I believe this film has succeeded.
First, lets start out with what the film did well. While it was certainly not perfect by any means, the birth scenes and stories were moving and I left the film feeling empowered and significantly less terrified of the whole process. These scenes are a far cry from the way the media typically depicts birth. It gave me a chance to really process the ways we all think and talk about birth in our culture and how it may not actually match up with the real experience. It does a wonderful job of explaining the way that birth has become increasingly medicalized in America and why this can lead to a lot of problems.
The film gives many startling statistics and historical claims about birth in our country. Of course, we did not always regulate birthing to the hospital, and since it was moved there it was definitely a bumpy ride (giving x-rays to pregnant people, and using twilight anesthesia for example). Now, the United States rates 29th in infant mortality and we are all left asking why. Throughout the course of this film, this is a question that is constantly being interrogated.
While casting a critical lens on our healthcare systems and how we may over-medicalize birth, the documentary also follows several alternatives to a hospital birth such as home birth, water birth, and midwifery (or a mixture of these things). Over the course of the film we are able to follow several women throughout their pregnancy and births. In doing so, we get a real look into what an alternative birth could look like. We see people who are truly empowered by their birthing processes, and that quite frankly is not something I have ever seen before.
Again, this film is far from perfect. Although it does address hospital births as legitimate and sometimes critically important choices, it still seems to point to the home birth as the healthiest option for both a mother and a baby. This is problematic since it simply is not an option for everyone, and there is no shame in desiring to have your child in the safe hands of medical professionals. Perhaps the most problematic part (at least for me) was the instance that having a c-section deprives a parent from creating a true bond with their baby. This appeared to be a pretty obvious way to shame those who choose this option, and I am just not okay with this stretch of logic. Cesarian Sections definitely have their issues in this country, but shaming is certainly is not the best way to justify change.
Despite its shortcomings, I think The Business of Being Born is a valuable and important documentary that I would suggest to anyone interested in learning more about birth and birth justice. It allowed me to see that birth can be an empowering process if you want it to be no matter where you choose to do it. What is empowering about it is that you choose the way it goes, because in the end you know what is right and safe for you and your child.