I made my 2008 documentary The Business of Being Born to educate women about choices in childbirth, and raise questions about maternity care in the U.S. For example, why were C-section rates skyrocketing? Why were options such as birth centers and home birth disappearing? And why does a country supposedly committed to health care reform seem opposed to safe, cost-effective options that include midwifery and well-woman care?
The impact of the documentary was monumental. The blogosphere blew up (I can handle a few people yelling at me if it means my message is being heard!) Every day women stop me on the street to share stories of their safe, successful, meaningful births. Many say they felt "in the dark" about their options until seeing The Business of Being Born. But unfortunately, due to the highly medicalized climate of hospital births and the financial interests of insurance and drug companies, our birth options are disappearing at an alarming rate. It's seems that the more we know, the fewer choices we have. In the last five years, New York City alone has witnessed the shuttering of its only freestanding birth center, two hospital-based birth centers, a popular childbirth education center and a major hospital that offered privileges to a large number of hospital midwifery practices and home birth midwives. This has left many parents-to-be struggling to find birth options outside of the traditional OB/GYN approach.
But why is all of this important? Why does it matter if a mother's prenatal visits are 10 minutes long or last more than an hour? Why does it matter if the care provider at her birth is someone she has built a trusting relationship with over 9 months or a stranger-on-call? Why does it matter if a woman brings her child into this world in a way that makes her feel empowered and respected, as opposed to feeling pushed through a delivery where she is not an active participant in her care? Does how we are born really matter if mom and baby are pronounced "healthy" in the end?
Well, I have seen that it matters quite a bit. For me, this is not about promoting natural birth or home birth or claiming one model of care is superior to another. What I have come to realize is that, at its core, the birth process is directly connected to most important thing in this world -- loving and caring for our children. The bottom line is that mothers who receive attentive prenatal care and have a positive birth experience are in a better position to create a healthy attachment to their babies, have more success breastfeeding, and enter the experience of motherhood feeling empowered and energized. And that concept -- the respect for birth as the sacred beginning of motherhood -- is what has become sorely lost in our mainstream medical system. Yes, having a healthy baby is of tantamount importance, but what could be more essential to the emotional and physical well-being of future generations than to honor and empower mothers through pregnancy and birth? Sometimes I think the only people who really understand the relevance of this issue are the mothers themselves, and we are all just too tired and busy raising our children to make a stink about it.
I, however, am making a stink. It concerns me to see that a growing number of mothers feel coerced and undermined during the birth process, and rates of post-traumatic-stress disorder after birth are on the rise. There is a blasé attitude toward rising cesarean rates, which now make up one third of all births in the United States. Any doctor will tell you that a Cesarean is major abdominal surgery, so why is this the only example in modern medicine where a post-op patient is sent home to care for a newborn? We have absolutely no system to follow-up on mothers after birth and make sure they are able to care properly for their babies. In other countries, new mothers are visited daily by nurses or doulas who help them with breastfeeding or household chores.
The entire pregnancy and birth process is physiologically designed to prepare women emotionally and physically for motherhood. Mother nature has endowed us with a complex interaction of hormones that literally reshape the human brain for motherhood. Doctors have not even begun to crack the surface of understanding the neuroscience behind the hormonal interactions between mom and baby during the time of birth. In fact, they do not even understand what causes a woman to go into labor, which is why labor induction methods remain crude and statistically double one's chances of ending up with a cesarean. (Most women aren't informed of this risk and blindly opt for the "convenience" of a scheduled induction.) There is a complete lack of evidence-based medicine when it comes to childbirth. Although I am worried about the effects of all this intervention, my true passion is making sure that new parents are informed.
To further this conversation and give expectant women more empowering information to make their own decisions about their births, I decided to create a series of educational DVD's called More Business of Being Born.
The topics covered in my new videos will not be discussed at the typical 5-10 minute obstetric appointment. But the information is essential -- so essential that we decided to forgo the traditional studio distribution model that we used for the original film and self-release, market and distribute these videos. This has been no small task as we have yet to see a dime of revenue from The Business of Being Born and had to ask our filmmaking team to create the 6 new hours of video for no salary. We have created a Kickstarter campaign to raise all the necessary funds for self-distribution.
I ask you to join me in fighting for the right of all mothers to have access to safe, intervention-free options, and to let other women know what those options are. How and where you decide to bring your child into this world is a choice that belongs to you.