“The Business of Being Born”…Please See This Movie!

14 Jan “The Business of Being Born”…Please See This Movie!

I saw a screening of “The Business of Being Born” downtown at the IFC on Friday night with a few of the teachers. I had been anticipating the release of this movie for months. Within moments of the start of the film, I was already teary. The facts and images that came across the screen deeply saddened and moved me.

The film illustrates the history of birth in our country. During the 1920’s there was a shift from birthing at home to birthing in hospitals. At that time, the treatment of laboring women was horrifying. They were strapped to beds and given drugs that would prevent them from remembering the experience – but wouldn’t prevent the pain. In the 1950’s women were having their pelvises x-rayed to see if they were the ‘right size’ to deliver babies. Years later, it was discovered that x-rays are harmful to the fetus. In the 1970’s the drug thalidomide was prescribed as a sleeping pill and to treat morning sickness – until it was linked to babies being born with significant birth defects. In 1999 it was determined that the use of Cytotec, a still commonly-used induction drug, was causing uterine rupture in a significant number of women giving birth VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean). According to literature provided by a law firm which advocates for patients affected by drugs such as Cytotec, “It can be reliably estimated that between 1990 and 1999, as a result of the widespread off-label use of Cytotec for vaginal birth after Cesarean section, well over 3,000 women in the United States suffered a ruptured uterus, resulting in at least 100 dead newborn babies.” Currently, there is a frightening trend of inducing labor with the drug Pitocen. I am curious whether or not, years from now, we will find out that this drug too is harmful. The film also briefly mentioned the correlation between the rise in autism, asthma and allergies to the increase in commonly-used intervention drugs.

One common misconception discussed in the film is that hospitals assure a safer birth experience than homes do. When in fact “The United States has the second worst newborn death rate in the developed world” (direct quote from the film). The film went on to explore the birth practices in other countries. One of the most profound segments was about the role of midwives in birth: In the majority of developed countries, midwives attend to women for the majority of births, and OB/GYN’s are expected to step in ONLY when there is a problem. Also, the mentality abroad is that the body works perfectly fine and that the occurrence of a problem is the exception, not the rule. However, in the United States, the mentality is that we should expect a problem and treat all women as if there will be a problem – which explains why so many routine interventions have become commonplace. The film features several recognizable NYC doctors, included well-known OB/GYN Dr. Jacques Moritz who quipped “98% of obstetrics is boring, 2% is exciting”. So why are we treating every women coming through the door like a problem waiting to happen?

I fully support and encourage the viewing of this film. It provides an excellent resource for women who want to see the bigger picture of birth at this time in our country. I am not asserting that every woman should birth at home – that might not be the right choice for everyone. However, I am advocating educating women to make informed decisions about where and how they wish to birth. Women should give themselves the opportunity to hear from multiple experts, see the data, see natural birth – and then decide what is right for them. They should allow the sense of empowerment to outshine the sense of fear.

Here is the trailer of the movie for your viewing

  • Leanne
    Posted at 07:32h, 16 January

    Thank you for your blog – I have been processing my rather negative birth experience at a NYC hospital and the blog came to my attention after attending Mommy & Me yoga at the center.

    I am curious – is there any kind of help for women in my birth situation, which was PROM at term? I had an extremely low risk pregnancy and was looking forward to the same trouble-free birth experience most women in my family have had, but when my husband called the hospital to tell them my water had broken, it was the beginning of the end. I was told to come in immediately, etc…and once there, everything that I had been told in my hospital-sponsored childbirth class (Lamaze-based) and even the tour itself seemed to go completely out the window.

    In the tour I was told that an IV would be “placed,” but wouldn’t be hooked up to anything unless I had to have an epidural – in reality, I was hooked up to a very painful IV in my hand immediately as I sat in triage. I was told on the tour that they had a few rooms with telemmetry-based “wireless” EFM and it was first-come first-served, we had only to ask for it – in reality, my nurse looked at me quizzically and said they never just use those on request, and then hooked me up to the monitors, which kept slipping if I moved at all. In the childbirth class and the tour, we were told to be assertive about moving around – not my strong point, but I did ask if I could stand and walk around. In reality, it was made clear that this was a nuisance – I could get up “for a few minutes,” and some of my nurses were more amenable and helpful than others, but they’d have to hook me right back up again. In the childbirth class I was told to stick to my guns about my birth plan – in reality, the attending OB (not my doc) immediately told me he wanted to start me on Pitocin, almost as soon as I had hit the door of the laboeing and birthing room. When I said “let’s wait,” he acquiesced, but when he came to check me again and my husband asked how long we could reasonably wait, the doc said, “well we’re past the point of safety now.” Over the next 27 hours I had the classic cascade of intervention (Pitocin, unbearable pain which led to an epidural before 4cm, failure to progress, I got a low fever and my son’s heart rate went up, internal fetal monitor, c-section).

    I didn’t feel prepared for PROM at term. It was only marginally covered in my childbirth class. I knew that PROM created a special situation in that there was a risk of infection…but then after the fact I heard of women whose water had broken being allowed to labor for 40+ hours. I heard of women who spiked a fever being given antibiotics instead of a section. It’s hard for me to process what happened to me because I can’t decide whether I was shoehorned into this less than ideal birth, or if because of my situation there was very much a real danger to my son. All I knew was that after 12 hours of failed augmentation, exhausted from the maximum dose of Pitocin and an epidural that kept coming in and out and at one point was accidentally turned off, I wouldn’t have had it in me to push for 3 hours even if I wanted to. I was so doped up during my section (since my epidural kept wearing off) that I couldn’t make any requests, and with my son believed to be at risk for infection, he was whisked away to the NICU before either I or my husband had ever held him. I just saw him, briefly, and I remember when the nurses held him to my face I hoped I wouldn’t vomit on him because I was so nauseated from the anesthesia.

    My son was fine. Breastfeeding got off to a shaky start, but I am stubborn so eventually it was a success after about 4 days of supplementation. I rejoiced in my healthy, beautiful son, but I wish other women could be spared my experience. I felt completely prepared to be a bulldog and stick to my guns with a normal labor – PROM changed our game plan entirely. I am not sure how else it could have gone, but I certainly hope there are alternatives.

  • Kimberly Steinhorn
    Posted at 04:43h, 01 February

    Dear Deb,
    I attended classes at your center and I have been meaning to share my story with you but the two Fridays I have come to postnatal Jane has been the teacher.
    Anyway, you can read it on my blog (www.steinhornindia.blogspot.com) and I think you’ll be quite impressed.

  • MR
    Posted at 11:11h, 03 March

    Actually, I took my then 7 month old in my carrier and we went to see the very last showing of this film at the film center. I had planned my whole pregnancy long to birth with a midwife, preparing along the way with her. Then, when it come time to give birth, I had to go to the hospital. Because I had read so much stuff with information like this film, I was devastated and had to have my baby delivered by a perfect stranger. The truth is, there are a ot of complications that can happen-that’s why so many women used to die in childbirth in the old days. Yes, there are too many C-sections happening these days, but if I had been at home instead of at the hospital, I would probably have had a sezure and my baby could’ve died. That was enough of a scare to make me appreciate the medical route. I am 25 years old, and in excellent health, and I was in the hopsital for a week after having my baby and I feel so lucky I was. In the olden days I probably would’ve been one of those unfortunate women who died in childbirth. Thank God for hopsitals.

  • Deb
    Posted at 13:37h, 10 March

    To the writer of the comment above, I absolutely agree with you. I am very thankful that when a medical incident occurs, we are fortunate to have modern medicine and technology to fall back on.

    I am not against hospitals, I am just disappointed that the birthing paradigm of our society relies so heavily on them that many women are not often encouraged to see what their bodies are truly capable of doing.

    I am glad to her that you and your baby are doing well.



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