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Business of Being Born, The
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by brianorndorf

"if I had a vagina, it would be weeping right now"
5 stars

Being both male and blissfully unaware of the boundless affection newborns offer, “The Business of Being Born” hit me like a truck the way it details the fight of motherhood in America. This isn’t so much a documentary as it is a call to arms for pregnant women everywhere; begging those with child to rise up and question their birthing preferences. If I found it a captivating, disturbing film, I can only imagine the picture is a must see for most potential parents.

Producer Ricki Lake stumbled upon something while in the process of her own pregnancy: her delivery choices were not being made out of education, but a predestined medical road all expectant mothers take. It spooked her into action, and along with director Abby Epstein, Lake delved into research, discovering the well-oiled obstetric machine wasn’t particularly concerned with proper care for new moms. Lake and Epstein hit the streets to find a better way, a more natural step, toward improved pregnancy health and medical standards.

The argument is simple: hospital stays have replaced midwives over the last 50 years in America, and the results have been alarmingly negative (while other developed nations have retained midwives and their positive birthing outcomes). With infant mortality on the rise, along with a sharp increase in caesarian births, something has soured within the delicate motherhood process; the excruciating, yet oddly simplistic journey of life now complicated by the evils of corporate structure and unnecessary medical procedures. “Being Born” asks the question: what happened to the midwives?

Once a ubiquitous presence, midwives are gradually being stripped of their legitimacy. Lake and Epstein point their fingers directly at the medical industry and their decades of propaganda; luring women to the comfort of a hospital presided over by half-interested obstetricians and gallons of drugs to both speed up and numb the birthing process. It’s a one-sided argument, but it’s a persuasive one. “Being Born” also steps into the time machine to revisit barbaric maternity ward standards of the early and mid-part of the 20th century, while also tracking the rise and fall of midwives. These women have faced dire employment opportunities standing in the shadow of the well-funded and comforting medical industry, who slowly caress their favorite six-shooter: the unforgiving insurance racket. Who needs proper health care and delivery procedures when there’s ingrained routine and serious coin to be made?

Interviewing health specialists, authors, and prominent New York midwives, “Being Born” is a convincing document and a wonderfully informational piece of filmmaking. It’s impossible to not be outraged by the statistics: birth is now treated more as a mild inconvenience than the life-altering freeze frame it actually is, even passing into unbelievable realms of a mild cosmetic irritant with recent c-section selection madness (a topic which really gets the juices of the picture flowing).

Discussing the peril of the inducing drug Pictocin, the financial realities of midwives (they’re cheaper), and general distrust of hospital scenarios, “Being Born” hits some awfully troubling topics, but the best is saved for the intimate moments. With various mothers-to-be allowing Epstein access to their home deliveries (even Lake reveals her own video), it’s stunning to behold the strenuous process up close and personal. It’s a peek into nature few dare to witness, outside of defanged basic cable reality shows. The plus here is the amazing attention to detail and the general peacefulness of the event, outside of the expected yowls of pain. Again, as someone who regards birth as a mysterious, undefined creature not unlike the unicorn, to witness these women endure the momentum of delivery is an unreal experience of pure beauty and unbridled joy.

“The Business of Being Born” doesn’t waste much time getting to the heart of the beast, and I adored the passions of the filmmakers as they assemble a valentine to motherhood and the warm-water relief of a natural delivery. The twist of the film is Epstein and her own pregnancy odyssey during filming, which comes back to challenge the ideas of the documentary and provide startling clarity. It’s a wonderful twist of fate in what is a wonderful piece of filmmaking. A top viewing priority for those even entertaining the idea of bringing a new life into the world.

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originally posted: 01/12/08 10:20:48
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  09-Jan-2008 (NR)
  DVD: 06-May-2008



Directed by
  Abby Epstein

Written by

  Ricki Lake

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