Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Business of Being Born: A Review

I watched the documentary "The Business of Being Born" recently, because as a potential future mother, I wanted to arm myself with the information.

I should preface my post with a little background: When I think about my ideal childbirth experience, my goals extend barely beyond the obvious: a safe delivery for my child(ren).  I say "barely" because in an ideal world, I'd prefer to give birth with somewhat limited medical intervention, and probably (?) in a hospital setting.  (I'll figure out the details when it's more relevant to my life, but at this point I am thinking in general terms).

The premise of the documentary is that while the US has a very advanced health care system, it also has the second-highest infant mortality rate of any industrialized nation, leading some to question how doctors and hospitals handle "the business" of childbirth.  "We should constantly be asking ourselves 'Is this an improvement, or are we making things worse'?"  That quotation was early on in the film, and I really liked it.  I think that's a fair - and valid! - thesis, and I agree with it.  (It certainly applies to other aspects of life, too).

The documentary is graphic, but so is birth so I wouldn't call it gratuitous.  I'd never seen a birth before, and there was a very vivid scene where the audience witnesses a child being born.  But while it was graphic, I wouldn't call it gross - I'd call it beautiful.  I cried, actually.  The awesome responsibility that comes with the privilege of pregnancy was more obvious to me than ever before.


(You knew that was coming, huh?!)

I can't fully endorse the documentary, because I think their position was unfair, and a bit judgmental.  They argue that women should be "empowered" (that was a major buzzword) to choose a homebirth with little medical intervention ("If you want a humanized birth, the best thing to do is to get the hell out of the hospital") and yet they fail to recognize that some women ARE empowered to choose a hospital birth... and it's not dehumanizing!  Neither option is lesser, and neither option holds the monopoly on empowerment.  The film positions all-natural homebirths as the best choice, and while I can certainly agree that it's an under-utilized birth option, I'd also argue that there is zero wrong with electing to birth in a hospital setting, with as many medical interventions as the mother chooses.

To me, that bolded section ("as the mother chooses") is the most important part of the equation.  Homebirth is not better - or worse - than hospital births.  In fact, I think both are equally sound choices, with significant pros and cons to each.  My only wish would be that mothers-to-be put serious thought in to their ideal birth plan, and make sure they have a facilitators (doctor,  midwife, birth coach, spouse) that are both understanding and supportive of their wishes.

As mothers (and "someday mothers" as I call myself) I think we should come from a general place of support, not judgment, and this documentary ruffled my feathers.  The message was loud and clear:  unless you have major complications, you are doing something bad for your baby if you choose to birth at a hospital with medical intervention.  (Example: "What happens in birth is very important to the future development of that child").  And that's just wrong.

My bottom line opinion is that I liked the documentary, and was intrigued by the ideas presented, but I wish their message was more supportive and less judgmental.  Homebirth was presented as the only option for good mothers (unless you're among the 2% that have complications), and that's inaccurate and unfair.  I think the film is a great watch for future parents, but I'd also encourage doing your own research, and spending time really thinking about your vision and what feels best for your life, your baby, your birth.

Maybe you'll agree with The Business of Being Born, and maybe not.  The best option isn't one that a documentary or pop culture tells you to have, but the one that feels best in your heart.


  1. I teach about IMR in my AP class and the differences throughout the world. I'm curious, did they mention the differences of the IMR among different racial backgrounds in the US? That information is even more startling.


    1. They slightly touched on it (if I'm remembering accurately.. it's been a week or so since I watched) but the racial aspect definitely wasn't a primary focus.

      I just googled that though, and you're right - it is very startling.

      Thanks for sharing, M.

  2. I agree with your views on the documentary. It definitely opened my eyes to a lot of issues with "modern" childbirth but it also just adds fuel for the mommy-wars.

    And also, as a mother who had a natural, unmedicated childbirth in a hospital setting, I have to say that I am VERY happy that I made that choice and did not opt for a homebirth. There's a LOT of nasty stuff that they just cleaned up and took care of without my knowledge. It was nice to just enjoy my birthing experience and not worry about cleaning up after it!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous. Interesting to hear from someone who has actually been there! I agree with your thoughts - nice to have the support staff on-hand working behind the scenes so that new parents don't have to. Plus, I kept thinking about that 2% statistic - apparently only 2% of births have complications that require medical attention. I don't know how I'd live with myself if I happened to be in that 2% and was at home instead of in a hospital. I know hospitals and doctors have their own issues and agendas, but - for me! - I think that the pros outweigh the cons.

  3. Kate,

    I've heard a lot about the movie, and based on several blog posts from multiple perspectives, I will not be watching it. I know my situation is unusual, but I am the 2% and I am so glad that I was in a hospital when Teddy's heart wasn't beating. I don't think going through childbirth without drugs knowing that my son wasn't going to be breathing when he arrived would have been a possibility for me.

    I fully support a woman's right to chose whatever works for her, but natural/home childbirth isn't always the best option, even if a woman does not have any complications going into the delivery.

    Thanks for your perspective!

    1. Wow - thanks for your comment, Tawnia. What a perspective - and you further solidified my gut feeling (that a hospital setting would be best for me someday). I have a hard time with just about anything/anybody who says "THERE IS ONE RIGHT WAY AND IT'S MY WAY" and that was just about 99.9% of this film. :)


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