I finally got around to seeing The Business of Being Born, which means I got very intimate with Ricki Lake and her female powers. Lake not only produced this documentary about the ever-increasing medicalization of birth in the U.S. but also included up-close-and-personal footage of the birth of her second son, at home, in the bathtub, attended by a midwife. The film is flawed in many ways, not least of which is its tendency to oversimplify the portrayal of hospital births vs homebirths, and the most egregious of which is the ridiculous claim by the loopy French doctor Michael Odent that highly medicalized births are leading to the death of love in our culture.
What the movie does well, though, is to offer a corrective to the mainstream narrative about childbirth, most graphically expressed by TLC shows like A Birth Story but also underlying most other popular media portrayals of birth. Interwoven with interviews with both midwives (including the legendary and highly regarded Ina May Gaskin) and mainstream obstetricians, clips from old film reels showing women giving birth in twilight sleep, and statistics about medical interventions in hospital births are the stories of a handful of women who chose homebirths. We see these women, physically and emotionally naked, laboring and birthing at home; we see them in the pushing stage and we see their babies as they slide out, all gooey and squishy and wonderful. These are graphic images, for sure, but I'll be damned if they didn't make this veteran of one highly medicalized but perfectly acceptable hospital birth yearn, just a tiny little bit, for the chance to do it all over again, at home, in a bathtub.