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