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Ricki Lake: Changing the World One Birth at a Time

Gene Reed

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.

What advice would you give to a first-time mom who’s hoping to have a drug-free vaginal birth at a hospital? Or one who says she trusts her OB to do what’s best for her?

RL: Watch our movie and read our book [Your Best Birth]. It’s really for that woman who wants to have a hospital birth. There’s a lot of scary stuff in books like What to Expect. Our goal was to get these women so they’re psyched to experience labor and feel those contractions.

And pregnancy and birth are different for every woman—we’ve heard lots of stories of women switching practices halfway through their pregnancy or even at the end of it, once they realized that their doctor or midwife wasn’t a good match for them. It’s about learning to advocate for ourselves—no one can do that for us. It’s about getting that information, asking questions like, “Is my doctor answering my questions?” And for women going to large obstetrical practices, “Am I OK with the fact that I may have never met the person who will deliver my baby?”

 

What do you say to those who discount you as being pro-homebirth and anti-obstetricians or hospitals?

RL: I’m not. I can only say it so many times. I want women to have the information they need to make the right choices for them. I care about the safety of mothers and the babies being born, and I want them to then go on to tell their daughters about their positive birth experiences. I want all women to have beautiful, transformative, positive birth experiences. I can feel the shift happening; it’s not about where you deliver or who delivers your baby, but feeling your power as a woman.

 

What do you think are the biggest roadblocks to better birth experiences for women in the USinsurance companies, hospital policies, VBAC policies, lack of information?

RL: All of the above—and lack of options. Birth centers are struggling to survive and being shut down, midwives being prosecuted when there’s an infant death—it’s really unfortunate; there’s inherent risk in all birth, and not all babies are born perfect, but our society wants someone to blame when things don’t go well. It is an uphill battle for anyone to have the birth experience that she envisions. So it’s about fighting fear-based perceptions, judgment… it’s preposterous that many insurance companies won’t cover homebirth. Really, midwives could do all well-woman care and low-risk pregnancies and leave ob’s to do what they’re best at—dealing with higher-risk pregnancies—and save this country I don’t even know how much money. Ultimately, one of my goals is to change legislation and there are so many issues involved that I still need to decide where to focus my efforts.

 

Why come out with More Business of Being Born? And why DVDs instead of a theatrical release?

RL: We’ve heard from a lot of parents who still have questions after watching The Business of Being Born. So we address some of those questions, like more information about doulas and VBAC [vaginal birth after cesarean]. It’s really an educational tool, not a film with a narrative like the first one. It’s more about giving people information, for anyone who is interested and wants more.

 

Tell me a bit about the Kickstarter campaign. Do you think that it’s working because women want to feel a part of spreading this gospel? Why Kickstarter instead of more traditional funding?

RL: We chose Kickstarter [a funding platform for creative projects where Lake and director Abby Epstein are raising $100,000 to market and distribute More Business of Being Born] because we couldn’t get funding. And the women who are a part of our online community at MyBestBirth.com are really the driving force in raising this money.

 

What do you still feel you need to accomplish in the world of maternity care and birth? Where do you see yourself in this movement?

RL: I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing in this area, including supporting midwifery care. I’m also following Ina May [Gaskin]’s Safe Motherhood Quilt Project [inspired by the AIDS Memorial Quilt, it attempts to draw public attention to the current maternal death rates and their underreporting in the U.S.].

Next, I want to see our outcomes getting better—a woman’s experience in birth can impact so much other stuff, like breastfeeding and bonding. I am advocating that women have access to the correct information—not wanting everyone to have a homebirth or a drug-free birth—because the power I got from birth has stayed with me through every part of my life.

And, I think for me, I’m all about reinventing myself. I’m going back and doing a new talk show in September 2012, I just submitted a first draft of my memoir, I’ve got a new platform this fall that I can’t talk about yet… I love checking off something else from my bucket list. But this is the most fulfilling work I’ve done, and it has gone so far beyond my wildest dreams. I think it will go down as the most important thing I have done in my career—and it’s from the heart and for the right reasons. I tell my homebirth baby, Owen, who just turned 10, “Your coming into the world has had such an impact on so many people that we will never know!” And he says, “I know, Mom.” And I think he really does.

Learn more about The Business of Being Born (available for viewing 24/7) and More Business of Being Born (coming in October 2011) at thebusinessofbeingborn.com.

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