33w, 1d. For as long as I can remember (OK, technically back to when we finally got cable TV when I was in high school), I’ve been obsessed with watching and hearing other women’s birth stories. Whenever I was home from school, I’d tune into TLC to watch “A Baby Story” and a slew of pregnancy programming on Discovery Health has certainly sucked up more than a few hours of my life.
But I can’t watch those kinds of births now—the in-hospital births where doctors and nurses tell patients that they’re not progressing fast enough and need Pitocin—or worse yet, a C-section. Or the ones where moms schedule an induction or C-section because they’re just “ready to be done” with the pregnancy. Or those where someone says, “Thank goodness I was in a hospital because the baby had the cord wrapped around its neck!” I’ve found them terrifying ever since I gave birth to my first son in 2007, in a well-regarded NYC hospital, but attended by some particularly callous nurses. I’ve written before about how traumatic I found the experience, despite the fact that yes, I ended up with a healthy baby and no, I did not have a C-section. But I didn’t feel respected or cared for; I didn’t felt like I mattered in the process, despite the fact that it was my body being subjected to all kinds of procedures I repeatedly asked to avoid. All of that led me to try homebirth for the birth of my second son in 2009—an option I hadn’t even considered during my first pregnancy. I even considered momentarily trying to head for The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee, where Ina May Gaskin continues to practice midwifery in addition to speaking around the world and writing what should be required reading for expectant mamas—books like Spiritual Midwifery, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, and her latest, Birth Matters. Ultimately, instead of heading for Tennessee, I found the kind of supportive mother- and baby-friendly care Gaskin writes about much closer to home, in a pair of homebirth midwives who attended the birth of my son Henry and will attend the birth of this next child in a mere seven or so weeks.
In the years since, I’ve continued to admire Gaskin and her approach to pregnancy and birth—that they are natural processes, that the policies in place in many (most?) hospitals are there not because they are the best or safest for mothers and their babies but because they’re often the best for insurance companies or hospital profits. And so I was delighted to re-read Gaskin’s books during this pregnancy but also to attend a screening of a new documentary about her life and work at The Farm, Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin & The Farm Midwives. Not only did I get to learn more about the incredible subject of the film, but Gaskin and the two filmmakers (Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore, both young mothers) were there for a brief Q&A as well. (Good news for NYC-based readers—the film festival which included Birth Story just added a third screening for this evening, Thursday, 11/15 at 5:40 pm! You can buy tickets here. Click here for info re: additional screenings around the country.) Check out the trailer here:
A number of points have stuck with me since I saw the film earlier this week:
- birth is indeed a natural process that can be supported with minimal intervention most of the time (Gaskin herself states that no midwife would ever say that OBs aren’t necessary—despite the fact that plenty of OBs would love to do away with midwifery)
- women in the US who want the opportunity to try for a natural birth owe Gaskin a great deal as she has fought to keep the art (science?) of midwifery alive in a time when it was in danger of extinction
- vintage birth videography ROCKS (seriously—the archival footage alone makes the film worth seeing, although there’s lots more to it than that)
- relaxation and humor are incredibly important during birth (something I’m hoping to keep in mind during labor this time around)
- having birth attendants who are in love with the birthing process and the mothers who are going through it is invaluable—the birth experience is vastly better when a mother is listened to, respected, cared for and loved instead of pitted against a clock by a hospital staff who wants to do business as usual
None of this was particularly news to me after having read much of Gaskin’s oeuvre, but hot damn did it make me feel good to hear and see all of that up on a big screen and then to get to see Gaskin in person afterward—such a dynamic and vivacious woman in her 70s who continues to do such powerful work. That and being surrounded by so many others in the audience who were also expecting or were involved in the birth world in some way, either as doulas, midwives (I ran into both of mine there!) or open-minded OBs.
Are you crazy for birth stories and birth documentaries (be they on cable TV or awesome ones like this on the big screen)? Share your faves with me below!