Judge Clark Douglas thinks a better title for this documentary would be "Doctors Are Evil, or How I Learned to Start Worrying and Love the Midwife."
A must-see for every parent-to-be.
In The Business of Being Born, director Abby Epstein and actress/producer Ricki Lake set out to offer a new perspective on the birthing process. They are on a pro-midwife mission, and they hope to correct as much of the misinformation and as many of the misunderstandings about midwives as they can. Apparently, many countries in Europe and Asia use midwives for the majority of births. Here in America, only 8% of women have midwives. So what's the big deal? What do midwives offer that ordinary doctors don't?
Actually, it's what the doctors are offering that really concerns Epstein and Lake. Due to a variety of factors, hospital births are frequently handled in a manner that suits the hospital's time schedule rather than the health of the mother and the baby. Doctors quickly turn to unnecessary drugs, offer drugs to counter-act those drugs, offer more drugs to counter-act the counteractive drugs, and then are sometimes forced to turn to Cesarean sections due to all the problems these drugs have caused. Even when there aren't problems, C-sections are employed with increased frequency. If a woman seems to be taking too long, or if the doctors need rooms cleared, or if somebody just wants to get home in time for supper, the solution is to have a C-section. In fact, one-third of the births that currently take place are being done via C-section. This isn't entirely the fault of the doctors. Many women, being led by successful career women and Hollywood celebrities, are turning to "designer births." This essentially means picking the specific date and time you want to have your baby, getting a C-section, and having a tummy tuck thrown in for good measure.
Lake and Epstein attempt to convince us that most births should not take place with a doctor in a hospital, but with a midwife in your home. They interview midwives, mothers who have had home births, and medical experts, who all tell us that a peaceful, drug-free environment is usually the best way to go. We see footage of several women (including Lake herself) having "water births," giving birth while sitting or standing in a large tub of water. Though almost all birth is going to be very painful, these generally seem to be more serene and less stressful than normal.
The documentary is effective and thought-provoking, and it has me 98% convinced. Because, you see, 98% of natural births will go smoothly, and a home birth with a well-trained midwife would probably be the ideal setting for that. However, the other 2% are going to have complications that may require surgery or some other medical procedure that will require a trained surgeon and hi-tech equipment that only a modern hospital would have. The documentary argues that things will be okay as long as you are close to a hospital, and if complications arise you can just get up and leave. But what if something happens that requires more immediate attention? What if you don't have 15 minutes to get to a hospital before action is required? These are the nagging questions for which The Business of Being Born can't seem to provide answers. Perhaps I shouldn't expect that much of it, perhaps that fact that it simply raises questions and offers a solid condemnation is enough.
There are a few other problems, though. Doctors and hospitals are attacked a lot, but they are given little opportunity to defend themselves, so this is pretty much a one-sided show. Even Michael Moore will give his opponents the chance to trip over themselves. Speaking of Michael Moore, there are also a few tactics that veer pretty close to Mr. Moore's. Namely, the use of a silly cartoon and some clips from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life that attempt to reinforce how horrible hospitals are. Additionally, one "expert" tries to use some rather twisted logic to make a point. He informs us that when the mother has a C-section, the baby has to be taken away from the mother at the moment of birth. He tells us that at the moment of birth, the mother and baby give off a complex "love cocktail" of hormones that reinforce the mother child bond. He says that if you give a monkey or some other mammal a C-section, they will abandon their child, and then suggests that if you have a C-section…*dramatic drumroll, please*…you won't love your child and your child won't love you…which, as I'm sure any mother who has had a C-section knows, is complete bull.
Audio and video quality is an irritating. The documentary doesn't look too great (a lot of weak source material), and the non-anamorphic transfer is an annoyance. The music is a problem as well. Not only does the diverse array of music often seem inappropriate for certain scenes, but it's also turned up too loud from time to time, forcing the speaker to compete with the soundtrack. DVD extras are limited to a handful of additional scenes, which add up to about a half hour. Unfortunately, you have to watch these one at a time; there is no "Play All" option.
Despite its flaws, The Business of Being Born is an effective and engaging documentary that sheds some light on an important issue. It brings up the fact that most people spend far more time researching a car or a television than they do researching the birth process, and that is frightening. This is an issue that needs to be carefully considered and studied, and soon-to-be parents need to realize that there is a wide variety of options to consider. Just don't take this documentary's "home birth is the only way to go" solution as gospel truth, do the research yourself. That said, The Business of Being Born contains a lot of valuable material, and thus is an easy recommendation for expecting parents.
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