Thursday, September 30, 2010

Graduate Women's Caucus Presents

Today, less than 1% of babies are born in the home.  Yet 100 years ago, that number was almost 100%-- so what's changed?  Searching for answers, Ricki Lake and her investigative team get down to business; The Business of Being Born.

In another installment of their feminist film series, the Graduate Women's Caucus exposed BGSU to the medicalization of childbirth.  This stunning documentary explores the disappearance of the midwife and the rise of the obstetrician-- data which seems to correlate in the United States.  Labor pains incite an almost Pavlovian response to get to the hospital.  But then why is the United States experiencing such high rates of infant and maternal mortality? 

Midwives have been discredited and their services likened to voodoo.  Yet, as we follow a real New York midwife from one home birth to the next, we see this method is both safe and efficient.  The midwife plays a supporting role, while the mother is the real star of her delivery.  Over and over women describe their experiences as empowering, compared to the alternative, which is frightening and restrictive.

While a home birth is fluid, the hospital offers only one method that keeps women flat on their backs.  OB/GYNs rule like tyrants and mothers lose any autonomy in their own birthing process.  Epidurals and pitocin eventually lead to invasive surgeries, a sequence that our society accepts as the norm.  But these interventions are unnecessary, not to mention increasing exponentially.  Under experts' watchful eyes, Cesarean sections have risen 46% since 1996.  And while doctors enjoy the convenience, the procedure is actually more dangerous for women, putting them at risk for deadly infections. 

One midwife makes the point that American women don't know what birth looks like.  As one of them, I would have to agree.  And last night I found myself in a theatre surrounded by many more.  Indeed, most of us were witnessing babies naturally emerge for the first time, having only another movie or sitcom as a point of reference.  And while childless college students seemed to agree that vaginal births are pretty gross, real footage of Cesarean sections are worse than even the raunchiest episode of Nip/Tuck.

So thanks to the Graduate Women's Caucus for keeping our minds open, even if our eyes were occasionally shut.  And thanks to The Business of Being Born for putting the midwife crisis on our feminist radar.

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