The Business of Being Born

3.24.08: A documentary about childbirth in the U.S.


I just got a chance to see The Business of Being Born—a documentary produced by talk-show host Ricki Lake. The film, which takes a hard look at the culture of mainstream maternity care in the United States, gets up close and personal with a seasoned midwife and several mothers who've opted for natural, at-home births.

The Business of Being Born shines a spotlight on the fact that the U.S. spends almost twice as much as any other nation on delivering babies, but has the second worst infant mortality rate in the developed world. The film attributes this to the fact that the majority of women in the United States give birth in hospitals, where it's all-too diffult to avoid unnecessary medical interventions. (Midwives attend more than 70% of births in Europe and Japan, but fewer than 8% in the U.S.) To illustrate the point, the filmmakers interview a group of medical students who've never even witnessed an entirely natural birth. They show nursing stations where pitocin is routinely pushed at a certain point in the labor, and cite C-section rates peaking at 4 p.m. and 10 p.m., presumably when doctors are anxious to get home for dinner or bed.

The film blames a lack of empowerment in childbirth on a culture driven by celebrities who are "two posh to push," doctors who are forced to practice defensive medicine to avoid lawsuits, and insurance companies who are solely focused on the bottom line. Interspersed throughout the documentary are some downright scary statistics about C-section rates going through the roof (nearly one in three deliveries is currently a Cesarean) and some very graphic scenes of the history of childbirth in America—picture women strapped to hospital tables in the 1920s, writhing around in pain as they give birth in twilight sleep. Even the footage of today's commonly-used epidural techniques seem completely gruesome when juxtaposed against women giving birth in bathtubs with hardly a grimace on their faces.

And here's where the film does have its flaws. It's more than a little one-sided in its coverage, and is so focused on home births that it fails to give any sense of the range of options that might be available to women today. It also sadly ends on a note where a scientist insists that women who don't deliver naturally can't possibly love their babies. (Tell that to the one in three women out there who've had C-sections!)

But the bottom line of the film rings true: our bodies were built to deliver babies and naturally know what to do. And we, as women, need to feel more empowered to trust in our bodies' innate abilities.

Did you see the movie? Did it change the way you view childbirth? Chime in below. Then, check out our articles on creating the kind of birth experience you want:

Create Your Own Birth Plan

Think of it as a wish list for your labor experience. Create and print a plan to discuss with your healthcare provider early in your pregnancy.

Have it Your Way

From traditional to alternative, there's a world of choices in childbirth education.

Midwives Go Mainstream

Increasing numbers of women are opting not to have an OB deliver their baby. Here are the facts you need to make that decision.

Gimme a C

Is choosing a Cesarean for a nonmedical reason wise?

Induction Decision

Want to schedule your baby's birth date? First you should consider whether it's worth the potential risks.

More Labor & Delivery Articles

Dana Rousmaniere is FitPregnancy's Managing Editor. While she loves the idea of natural childbirth, after twenty hours of labor, an epidural was just the sort of empowerment she needed.