Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Movie Review: The Business of Being Born

Over the past two nights, Brett and I watched the movie The Business of Being Born. I was interested to watch it, since it talks a lot about the rising c-section rate in this country and the commercialization of birth. The stuff about rising c-section rates, anyway, hits close to home.

*disclaimer: It's entirely possible that I'm a little overly sensitive about this topic, given my own experience, so take what I have to say with a grain of salt.*

I came away from the movie feeling a mixture of frustration and sadness. I was frustrated because the movie really seemed to vilify the idea of giving birth in a hospital, especially with an OB instead of a midwife. It specifically seemed to vilify having a c-section. Sure, lots of the interviewees would say things like, "...unless a c-section or hospital birth is medically necessary," but the filmmakers just let those statements hang: they never pursued that line of thinking. I wish they'd explored more what "medically necessary" might mean, but they just didn't. And that surprised me, since one of the main people in the movie attempts a homebirth but has to transfer to a hospital while she's having agonizing contractions. (Her water even breaks in the cab. Pretty intense.) In the end she winds up with a c-section.

It seemed like the overwhelming message of the movie was that giving birth naturally -- that is to say, vaginally and without pain medication -- with a midwife, in a birthing center or at home, is the only "right" way to birth, and anyone who does it differently is somehow less of a woman. Yes, it may be ideal to birth outside the hospital without interventions. Sure, I'll accept and even agree with that. But I felt as though the filmmakers really made hospital births attended by OB/GYNs out to be this horrible thing that takes away the womanhood of those who choose to birth a baby that way, and that the OB/GYNs are just out for profit, that sometimes they just do c-sections because they want to go home for dinner or to go to bed, that they push interventions out of convenience or ease.

And I'll give them the fact that maybe that happens with some hospital births, but I don't feel like that was the case with me at all. Yes, I gave birth in a hospital, under the care of an OB/GYN, not a midwife. Yes, I wound up with many more interventions than I wanted -- an epidural, continuous fetal monitoring, intravenous medication like Zofran, and, ultimately, a c-section.

But in no way do I feel that the doctors and nurses made those decisions because they were out for profit or because they wanted to get home for dinner or for ANY reason other than my best interest or Elanor's best interest. A homebirth or a birthing center birth would have been disastrous for me. I cannot imagine how horrifying it would have been to have been transferred when I was feeling that intense, profound pain after almost three hours of pushing. To have to have gotten in a car and driven 20+ minutes (probably more; it was rush hour and snowing at that point) to the hospital would have been more than traumatic.

So while I was angry that hospital births were given such a bad rap, I also felt guilty and sad. One of the things I most wanted out of my birth experience was to get to hold the baby right away, to have that skin-to-skin contact, and to get a couple of hours of bonding with the baby and Brett by ourselves. And I didn't get that. I was far too out of it with pain medication after the c-section to open my eyes, let alone hold Elanor. When I finally did get to hold her, it was only for a couple of minutes, since our families came in to the room pretty much as soon as I was reasonably coherent.

It was hard to watch all of these beautiful, natural births and see that moment where the baby was put up on the mom's chest, all wriggling and wet. To see the wonder and love and the tears in the mom's eyes. I wanted that. I have to say that not having that and not having those minutes or hours with Brett and Elanor after the birth is, in retrospect, the one thing I struggle with about her birth. I don't care that I had a c-section, I don't care that I wound up with an epidural, but I do care that I didn't even get to see Elanor up close until she was an hour or two (maybe more, maybe less; I have no clue) old. But I can't change that, and she was born in the way that she needed to be. Ultimately, I'm thankful that she and I are safe and that we live in an era and in a city in which access to immediate emergency care is both excellent and readily available.

So yeah. The movie made me angry with its blanket indictment of hospital births, specifically c-sections, and it made me sad when reflecting on parts of Elanor's birth, which in turn made me angry, because at the core of it, I am satisfied with almost everything about her birth. Who are they to put a burden of guilt on me for birthing my daughter in a hospital? What regrets I do have are not anything I could have changed, since like I said, I feel 100% confident that I was taken care of completely by my doctors and nurses, and that Elanor was born via c-section because she needed to be, not because the doctor wanted to get home in time for the 11 p.m. news.

After watching the movie, I wish in some ways that I hadn't. It's a good thing, by the way, that I didn't watch this while pregnant or about to deliver. It would have scared me to death. Even 10 weeks out from Elanor's birth, some scenes were really difficult for me to watch without tearing up, shuddering, or needing to turn away.

I guess my point with all of this is that the movie seemed one-sided, favoring midwives/natural birth completely over OB/hospital birth, failing to recognize that some midwives are more intervention-minded and some OBs are much more like midwives in their approach to labor, which I feel that mine was. The movie seemed to lack balance, which frustrates the journalist in me, who always has to try to see both sides of an issue. Then again, it was clearly an opinion-type piece, so maybe I am expecting too much if I want balance.

So yeah. Bottom line? If you're really intrigued by birth, watch it. If you aren't, then you'll probably be either bored to tears, freaked out by the graphic scenes of babies being born, or scared out of your wits. And for all my pregnant friends out there -- don't watch this until quite a while after you've had your baby.


Rachel said...

The problem with movies like that is that they are usually not objective.

I had to have pitocin, continue fetal monitoring, and I pushed for 2 hours, and eventually the vacuum was used, none of those were things I wanted, but they were necessary. I also didn't get to hold LG right away (about 20 minutes) because he wasn't breathing right. I am so glad I was in a hospital, what if he had breathing trouble and was born at home? The time it took for an ambulance to arrive may have been too long.

In the end it is nice that we live in a country where we can make decisions for ourselves.

Xin Lei said...

Sorry the movie upset you...a lot of documentaries like that have a particular point to get across...and aren't always going to champion the mainstream options. Thank goodness for choices though, because maybe you can have a v-bac the next time! For me, I feel no shame in having pain relievers and delivering in a hospital. Remember that our sense of womenhood is more defined by how we mother our children over their lifetime, not the few hours it took to bring them into this world. Just like a marriage isn't defined by a wedding day, neither is your parenthood defined by a method of child delivery. You are a great mom Kathleen!

Isabel said...

Great post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

A woman at church, who is HUGE pregnant, recently stood up and suggested that all of us watch the movie. Now, reading what you have to say, I wonder what this women will think about the movie after she actually gives birth.

I think we all have this "magical" idea about how our birth experience will be. But the bottom line is that we want to be safe and we want our child to be safe.

And for me, and my child, we would not have made it through a home birth.