Review: Documentary on midwifery in United States delivers

“The Business of Being Born,” a documentary by Abby Epstein, takes aim at the way our country brings babies into the world, making a case for midwives and home births, rather thanobstetricians and hospitals, as, generally, the way to go. As such, it is convincing. And as a viewing experience, period, it is often gripping.

Epstein (“Until the Violence Stops”) combines interviews, factoids, archival material and midwife-patient interaction into an 87-minute nutshell of childbirth history, travesty and common sense. The strongest passages follow several New York midwives and pregnant women, including actress Ricki Lake (the film’s executive producer) and Epstein herself, as they go through pregnancy, make key decisions and give birth.

The United States has increasingly and incorrectly rejected midwifery in modern times, according to the film, which informs us that midwives attend less than 8 percent of American births. Additional numbers show that the nation has the second-highest newborn-mortality rate in the developed world. In nations with the lowest newborn-mortality rate, midwives were the primary care source for 70 percent of birthing women.

The film also addresses purportedly beneficial interventions that have proved disastrous — pelvic X-rays (causing cancer in babies) and thalidomide (birth defects) among them — as well as the immense increase occurring in cesarean-section births, which experts attribute to the widespread use of labor-inducing drugs due to a desire for speedy delivery-room turnover.

As an advocacy documentary, the film can be excused for presenting the anti-midwifery camp rather with a one-note tone. You just wish that Epstein didn’t present her heroes and culprits so “Sicko”-ishly predictably. The midwives are competent and caring; the American OBs (their French counterpart is another story) are arrogant and not in tune with the average pregnant patient’s needs.

The statistics and stories add up to a significant film that informatively and thoughtfully examines an issue that is vitally important to many women in a climate in which women are not informed of allthe options they have when planning for something as monumental as childbirth.

As a bonus, its fittingly graphic childbirth scenes are some of the most memorable you’ll see on screen. Generally involving a tub of water, an infant that is placed in the mother’s arms immediately upon entering the world, and exclamations of “Oh, my God,” they are immensely moving.

CREDITS

The Business of Being Born

Three Stars

Starring Abby Epstein, Ricki Lake, Cara Muhlhahn, Michel Odent

Directed by Abby Epstein

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes

artsentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

From left, California state Sen. Milton Marks, Sen. Nicholas Petris, Assemblyman John Knox and Save San Francisco Bay Association co-founders Esther Gulick, Sylvia McLaughlin and Kay Kerr watch Gov. Ronald Reagan sign the bill establishing the Bay Conservation and Development Commission as a permanent agency in 1969. (Courtesy Save The Bay)
Sixty years of Saving San Francisco Bay

Pioneering environmental group was started by three ladies on a mission

Temporary high-occupancy vehicle lanes will be added to sections of state Highway 1 and U.S. Highway 101, including Park Presidio Boulevard, to keep traffic flowing as The City reopens. <ins>(Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Transit and high-occupancy vehicle lanes coming to some of The City’s busiest streets

Changes intended to improve transit reliability as traffic increases with reopening

Tents filled up a safe camping site in a former parking lot at 180 Jones St. in the Tenderloin in June 2020.<ins> (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Proposal for major expansion of safe sleeping sites gets cool reception in committee

Supervisor Mandelman calls for creation of more temporary shelter sites to get homeless off streets

A surplus of	mice on the Farallon Islands have caused banded burrowing owls to stay year round instead of migrating, longtime researchers say. <ins>(Courtesy Point Blue Conservation Science)</ins>
Farallon Islands researchers recommend eradicating mice

The Farallon Islands comprise three groups of small islands located nearly 30… Continue reading

Once we can come and go more freely, will people gather the way they did before COVID? <ins>(Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner file photo)</ins>
What happens when the pandemic is over?

After experiencing initial excitement, I wonder just how much I’ll go out

Most Read