Is it conceivable that in the United States, profit is increasingly driving the business of birthing--sometimes at the expense of the best possible outcome for mothers and babies? Should birth be viewed and treated as a natural process or a potential medical emergency?
This documentary, produced by Ricki Lake and directed by Abby Epstein, opines that money and fear are changing the way Americans give birth, and not necessarily for the better. Beginning with shocking statistics that the United States has the second-worst newborn death rate in the developed world and one of the highest maternal mortality rates in industrialized countries, the film presents interviews with medical professionals including Dr. Jacques Moritz, OB/GYN from St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital; Dr. Michel Odent, OB/GYN researcher; and Masden Wagner, MD, former Director for Women's and Children's Health at the World Health Organization.
Each expert paints a dismal picture of American birthing and emphasizes the frequent overuse of medical procedures in what are otherwise potentially normal deliveries. Stressing the prevalent use of midwives in birthing in other developed nations (70% of births are attended by midwives in Europe and Japan, versus 8% in the U.S.), the documentary then follows Cara Muhlhahn, a certified nurse midwife in New York City, as she attends a variety of home births.
The footage is candid and sometimes very graphic, showing various home-delivery methods, including water birth. Interviews with Cara and her clients emphasize their shared philosophy on birthing as a normal life process that, when attended by a caring and well-trained midwife, can be both empowering and exhilarating.
Though a midwife is often characterized as a supportive, but medically untrained birth attendee, the film dispels that stereotype, stressing a good midwife's solid training and knowledge of when it's appropriate to seek outside medical intervention. Key in every birth is a commitment to doing what's best for mother and baby, regardless of pre-planned agendas.
The filmmaker's lament is that hospitals and doctors often too quickly advocate medical intervention in the interest of saving time and avoiding potential litigation. While unquestionably advocating midwifery over hospital birthing, this documentary presents solid expert opinions, concrete facts and statistics, and anecdotal experiences of both mothers and midwives that are crucial in making an informed decision about the use of midwifery in birthing as well as enlightening as to the current state of birthing in the United States.
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