Ricki Lake: Changing the World One Birth at a Time
Actress-turned-activist Ricki Lake talks about her own birth experiences, how The Business of Being Born changed her life, and why she felt the need for More Business of Being Born
Ricki Lake is a woman on a mission: to help every woman have the kind of birth she wants—and she’s well on her way to doing it. Three years after the release of the landmark 2008 documentary The Business of Being Born, which she executive-produced, Lake and director Abby Epstein are releasing More Business of Being Born, a follow-up four-part DVD series that offers a practical look at birthing options and the scoop on a range of celebs’ birth stories, including Molly Ringwald, Alanis Morrisette, and Cindy Crawford. She spoke with Parenting.com about how she became interested in the birthing industry, and what she hopes expectant parents will get out of both films.
What compelled you to make The Business of Being Born?
RIcki Lake: My first birth was a success with a midwife in a hospital—I felt empowered, I did have my baby skin to skin right away, was able to breastfeed—all of those things that are so important. But there was this moment when my mother was able to see me right after the birth, and I said to her, “Mom, Mom, this is my midwife who delivered my baby!” And my midwife stopped me and said, “No, Ricki, you delivered your baby.” And at that point, I took ownership of what I was able to do. That was the beginning of my infatuation with birth.
A few months after my son was born, I saw a flyer about a birth conference, “The Art of Birthing,” and I just got sucked into this world that no one I knew knew about. And as I started learning more and thinking, “Wow! Why aren’t we questioning this rising c-section rate?” I wanted to use my celebrity to get the word out—especially after 9/11, I just thought this is a place where I could do some good. And it’s been beyond my wildest dreams—just to get the pendulum swinging even a bit in the opposite direction.
I ultimately made this film, but it started off as just an idea I had; it was so personal and so meaningful, and I believed people would care about it if only they knew to care about it.
What kind of reaction did you receive to The Business of Being Born?
RL: There have been a lot of positive things and some backlash—including some from lobbyists and ACOG [the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists]—which made me realize, “Wow, this little movie is having an impact, and we’re getting people’s attention!” We’ve heard stories of after watching the film, women speaking up to say, “No, I don’t want this drug… No, I don’t want my baby taken away to the nursery.” We’ve heard positive feedback from doctors and midwives, including a midwife recently who had been fighting for privileges at Cedars Sinai for years and called to say that she had finally gotten them, which she felt was due in part to the reaction to our film.
One of the points touched on in the film is that a woman’s experience of birth often gets overlooked. Why do you feel that women’s birthing experiences have been so discounted—with the implication that women should feel satisfied if they end up with a healthy baby, regardless of what’s been done to them along the way?
RL: At the end of the day, of course what you want is a healthy mom and a healthy baby. But there’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t get talked about, like the fact that you can have trauma when things are being done to your body without your consent. Doctors are trying to avoid lawsuits and get paid, and they have to see a certain number of patients in a given time period… But, for expectant moms, knowledge is power, and if all you know of birth is what you see in the media—the imagery of birth on shows like A Baby Story, where the picture you see is a woman numb from the waist down, flat on her back, well, you don’t know that it could be any different.
Having a baby is a privilege and a blessed event—but to feel like you were in charge of your body during that time is crucial. For example, when I had my homebirth, after my son was born in the bathtub and I had delivered my placenta, we moved to the bed, and he was nursing—two hours went by before my midwife asked me, “Is it OK if I take him and weigh him?” Getting a mother’s consent before taking her baby away?! It’s very rare to have that kind of reverence for a mother and a birth—and yet it’s a simple thing to offer her, to respect her and her choices.