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

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