Abby Epstein’s ‘The Business of Being Born’ (2008)


A labor of love for actress and TV personality Ricki Lake, The Business of Being Born is upfront about its bias. Executive producer Lake and director Abby Epstein obviously think it would be better if more women in the United States used midwives rather than OBGYNs, and they make a pretty good case for their argument. They discuss the statistics concerning the number of babies delivered by midwives in other countries, which are significantly higher, and the number of infant and mother mortality rates, which tend to be much lower. They also provide some interesting glimpses into the effort to discredit midwives in the 20th century, which intended to make birthing truly an industry dominated by doctors instead.

I was fascinated with the sexism inherent in the discrediting of midwives, the drugging and confinement of women in the 1950s and ’60s, and the rush to deliver that characterizes modern childbirthing practices in hospitals, but Lake and Epstein barely even touch upon it. Instead, the film features a lot of footage of home births, including Lake’s. I grew a little weary of watching babies emerge from strangers’ vaginas, but I think one of Lake and Epstein’s primary intents with this film is to demystify the home birth, which is why they included so much footage of various women’s labors.

I must admit that I knew very little about the business of being born, having never given birth myself. As the film began, I found myself agreeing with the women who expressed that they would rather give birth in a hospital because they’re near people who could operate if need be. By the time the credits rolled, my opinion had changed quite a bit, which isn’t something that I can say at the end of many documentaries.


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