There were two roadblocks to my catching The Business of Being Born in a theater, though I now wish I'd spent the money to give it the box office support. The first was that my only knowledge of Ricki Lake had been as a talk show host, and I stay away from viewing any of that type of material. The second was that, as a woman who may eventually give birth, I was extremely queasy at the thought of watching live births happen on camera. I love a good horror movie, but why torture myself watching what everyone says is the most painful experience of any woman's life?
What turned me on to watching the film was reflecting on the combined reactions of many of my peers, who are now mothers. While their children are all healthy and strong, most of them have had complaints about treatment during their deliveries, and all of them have been forced out of the hospital as soon as possible, after what could be the most physically traumatic experience they have yet encountered.
As it turns out, the main reason why The Business of Being Born is so useful to watch is that it provides a three-dimensional definition of an alternative option to giving birth in a hospital setting. From several points of view we learn that this option -- midwifery and birthing centers specifically -- is safe, educated and trained, affordable, and in fact comparable in healthy results to the treatment of a standard obstetrician. Filmmaker Abby Epstein, who is contemplating her own options, thinks of all the arguments against giving birth at home. The course of the film is bracketed by variety of subjects surrounding birth, from the drugs that mothers are given and what the process chemically does to both mother and child, to what is covered by insurance. The interviewees speak engagingly in their disregard for all the stereotypes about why it may be risky to give birth in your own space.
We follow several women who are at the end of their pregnancies and have chosen to give birth at home with a midwife, or in a birthing center. Their vocal decision-making process, which includes their partners' comments, is intertwined with many medical personnel from both the world of "western" medicine and birthing centers explaining the benefits of midwifery and natural childbirth. A few snippets of archival footage explain practices from the beginning of the twentieth century to convey how little care we have always taken with this process. The history lesson isn't entirely followed through on, but you get the point quickly anyway.
Granted, Business is a film with a fairly singular point of view, and if you're expecting an egalitarian comparison of paths toward motherhood, this will not be it. On the other hand, this focus on the after-effect of the birth process on both mother and newborn is one that nobody else has really ever taken on. More deserving in respect to its approach is that it's not a commercial for one doctor or one birthing center so much as a film trying to educate women about the questions to take into consideration in order to bring their child into the world. That said, there is a minor attempt to even out the tone by showing one mother who originally chose home birth but who required an operation because her child was in a dangerous position.
Admittedly, I still shook when watching a baby literally come out of a mother more than once, but I also noticed that I shook more violently seeing a woman's abdomen get torn open for a cesarean. When it comes to something so personal, and possibly so lasting, as the very beginning of a life, The Business of Being Born is an effective glimpse into the need for personal research, and a solid argument for making informed choices.