Thank you for a very informative film - follow-up question

I am 8 weeks pregnant with my first child (FINALLY at age 42, after 18 months of fertility treatments). I've always wanted a natural birth and will be interviewing CNMs soon. I just watched The Business of Being Born at the urging of my friend, who had both her children naturally and with a midwife, and I was riveted. Several things about the film struck me -- particularly the explanation of what pitocin and epidurals do to you and the baby, and also the amazing calm with which every one of the women whose births were profiled went through her labor.

So my question is about that latter point. I told a friend of mine about that aspect of the film -- that none of these women were screaming or hollering bloody murder. They seemed very calm and in control, and even when Ricki herself got scared during her labor and told the midwife she was afraid she couldn't do it, she didn't strike me as panicked (although maybe she felt that way!). It was obvious that the experience is intense and painful. But seeing these childbirths in all their glory made me even more eager to have a natural delivery.

However, my friend suggested that the filmmakers deliberately left out any chaotic birth scenes and only included the calm, self-possessed women.

As someone who always questions what I read and view and is always aware of bias, I thought it was worth asking the flimmakers/Ricki and those of you who've had a natural childbirth whether this view of natural childbirth that I've come away with is skewed or if, in fact, there's something about natural childbirth and the assistance of a midwife that's more calming and soothing and therefore helps women remain so seemingly serene and self-possessed during their deliveries.

Thanks! Can't wait to read the book.

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Hi Kathleen,
Congratulations on your pregnancy! There are many mothers well into their 40's who have fantastic natural births with midwives. We know of one woman who had a fabulous home birth at 47 after using fertility treatments to get pregnant.
In terms of your question, I have to confess that I as a filmmaker I was also very surprised not to find any women shrieking like stuck pigs during their labors. After viewing a few un-medicated births on television shows, I too fully expected to hear screams of bloody murder from some of these women. But the truth is that we did not edit out any chaos and I think we were very up front and transparent about how painful these labors are. When Ricki described her home birth to me as the most blissful event, I had to laugh when I eventually saw all of her labor footage showing her in complete agony and looking miserable. But the truth is that is how she remembers the experience. She only remembers the ecstasy.
Many of the births I attended sounded more like porno movies than horror flicks. I found that women will moan a lot during labor in a very uninhibited, sexual way. There was definitely a calm amidst the pain.
Of course we did include the midwife Cara's birth, showing a woman who was admittedly NOT very stoic during her labor and we also included the chaos of my own labor - where I was not calm and definitely about to grab the wheel from the cab driver. So Cara and I were definitely not self-possessed!
I think your friend is suggesting that we manipulated the footage to make the births look easier, but the intense pain these women are enduring is tangible and there is no way we could have made it look "calm."
(And be careful of sharing with too many friends that you are interested in natural birth. You are bound to end up with a lot of their fears projected onto you.)
I hope that answers your question. Believe what you saw! All the best of luck with your birth.
xxAbby
Hi, Abby:

Thanks so much for responding and elaborating on what you experienced as you were making the film. Although my friend definitely was suggesting that you might have left out scenes of natural births that included the mother screaming her head off, I really didn't think that was the case, but I wanted to make sure because seeing the calm and serenity with which these women went through labor and delivery just further cemented my desire to do it all au naturel.

It is really amazing that Ricki's recollection is of nothing but bliss because she really did look like she was ready to throw in the towel at any second. It's reassuring to know that's not what she remembers.

And yes, you are darned right about what I've experienced after sharing my desire for a natural childbirth with friends and/or urging friends to see this film. "Oh, Kath, you just don't get it. It's not like running a marathon (I've done 4). It's so hard. You think you won't need drugs, but just you wait" is the collective mantra. One friend just went off and said that I shouldn't tell her that natural is the only way to go because her son "wasn't coming out" and she had to have a C-section. Yet I only recommended the film -- I never said natural childbirth was the only way to go. It's amazing how disempowered and guilty many women who had C-sections feel!

Finally, a little more about me, for what it's worth: I am single and decided to conceive on my own about two and a half years ago. I didn't actually start the process until August 07, while I was living in NYC. I continued once I moved back to Chicago, and it took a hell of a long time, despite my having what my doctor called the fertility levels of a 30-year-old. I had a miscarriage, I dated, I got my heart broken, I experienced ambivalence about whether I really wanted to do this on my own, and then I finally came to a place of peace about the whole thing -- it was a hell of a journey. After two IVFs failed, I decided that searching for a needle in the haystack could take forever, so I had a pregenetic test done on my embryos to screen for chromosomal abnormalities (the most likely cause of implantation failure). And I'm now pregnant with one of four normal embryos the test uncovered (the rest are on ice).

Thank you again for an amazingly empowering film and for responding to my question. I look forward to reading your book -- waiting for it to arrive in the mail!

Kathleen, 42
8w4d
Chicago
HI and congrats!
My last birth was 11 months ago, in a hospital. I had NO epidural or anesthesia of any kind and I had to have pitocin because I had ruptured membranes for over 12 hours.
My baby was posterior (sunny side up), and had a nuchal hand (his hand was on his cheek when he came out), so I had some definate pain going on, and let me tell you, in the end I was screaming my head off. I felt like I couldn't catch my breath and it was super intense.
Wouldn't change it for the world, but it's definately ok to scream and holler as loud as you want! If you lose it, that's ok.
In the end, it doesn't matter what sounds you made to birth your baby...if you do it pain med free you have the right to let it all out!!
With this birth, I hope to be a little more centered and calm, but I'm ok with whatever happens as long as my baby is healthy! Good luck and don't sweat the small stuff!
Thanks for sharing your story and experiences thus far, Kathleen.

My wife and I are expecting our first and are about as far along as you. We saw Abby and Ricki's movie early last year and loved it. I then went on to read Dr. Marsden Wagner's book Born in the USA and my wife read Naomi Wolf's Misconceptions and we've both decided that a natural childbirth with a midwife is the way we'd like to have our baby.

My wife is 39 and worried her age will negatively affect her pregnancy and the birth. Those worries are compounded by the same comments you hear and that Abby warned about: that a natural childbirth sounds like a good idea but why risk your child's life and experience a level of pain when you don't need to. Hearing these kind of comments make my blood boil.

I suppose all of us feel like we know what's best and we have our own fears, but I don't understand why some people feel the need to share their fears by telling others what to do. It seems to happen at every step of having a baby, too, from choice of doctor or midwife to choice of name to how to discipline a child, there's no dearth of unsolicited advice. (I wish that advice was channeled into the financial realm instead.) We're only 8 weeks in, but I hope I can learn to better ignore the self-appointed nannies and save the decisions for my wife and me.

The biggest lesson I've learned from the movies and books I've read is that women are amazing. You contain within yourselves the miraculous power to nurture and deliver a human life. That is so awesome. Congratulations, Kathleen!
I think it just has to do with the woman and the birth. Some women do not feel the need to scream, etc. Others do. I screamed with my first labor (in a hospital, on pitocin, no drugs/epis, natural, vaginal birth) because I was "not allowed" to birth in any position but laying on my back with my feet up.

With my home births, I did no screaming. I was allowed to walk around, squat, move, rock, whatever I felt I needed to do. I got my energy out when I needed to. I was also much more relaxed birthing at home. I feel, that as a result of that, I was able to allow my body to relax more and the process was much more smooth.
I've watched a couple of other birth videos and noticed the same thing. These women did not appear to be in in out-of-control pain.

Some people remarked on this in a class I was at, and the doulas giving the class talked about how they notice many women DO get excited and start to fit more of the "screaming woman in labor" model we are used to seeing, but that one of the techniques they use to provide comfort in labor is to coach women to vocalize in a low tone, and to concentrate on the process, instead of reacting to the sensations. They also commented that many women who receive epidurals may appear to be in great pain because they have little connection with the sensation of the contraction, and thus need to be told when to push, etc. and instead of reacting to the pain, they are reacting to being told what to do.

I dunno, I've never given birth - am 27 weeks with my first - planning a home birth - I've been pretty lucky (and surprised) that I haven't experienced more people jumping in with their experiences. In fact, I've been more ticked at people's reaction to the sex of the baby than to their reactions to the type of labor I want to have.

There are a lot of births on You Tube that are pretty amazing...
So Angela pretty much nailed it. Since reading her reply, I realized that I experienced the same stuff.
They were freaking out telling me not to push because my doctor wasn't there yet, I had pitocin (ouch), and I wasn't comfortable either. I work in labor and deivery, I know these girls like my family, and the surroundings are TOTALLY familiar to me, but the nurse told me to stay in bed, she didn't really want me on my ball.
Maybe I screamed so much from frustration of not being comfortable and knowing that it was absurd that they were telling me to stop pushing.
I have seen the light! Thanks Angela! :)
Well, stick to your guns, the two of you. 39 is young, in my humble opinion. Of course, relatively speaking, your wife and I are older than most first-time moms, but I have been so physically active since my late 20s and have taken such good care of my body that I am not at all concerned about giving birth at what will be four months from my 43rd birthday. I think of how both of my grandmothers had babies in their 40s (my maternal grandmother was 46, bless her soul), and that was back in the 40s when exercise and physical activity weren't the norm for most people -- and they did it. I think your wife will be fine.

If she's not already a yoga practitioner, I highly recommend prenatal yoga. I'm a pretty avid yoga enthusiast, and while I have stayed away from anything but long walks since I got pregnant, I plan to resume yoga and add some weight training once I'm out of the first trimester.

Best of luck to you two!

Kathleen

Drew Biehle said:
Thanks for sharing your story and experiences thus far, Kathleen.

My wife and I are expecting our first and are about as far along as you. We saw Abby and Ricki's movie early last year and loved it. I then went on to read Dr. Marsden Wagner's book Born in the USA and my wife read Naomi Wolf's Misconceptions and we've both decided that a natural childbirth with a midwife is the way we'd like to have our baby.

My wife is 39 and worried her age will negatively affect her pregnancy and the birth. Those worries are compounded by the same comments you hear and that Abby warned about: that a natural childbirth sounds like a good idea but why risk your child's life and experience a level of pain when you don't need to. Hearing these kind of comments make my blood boil.

I suppose all of us feel like we know what's best and we have our own fears, but I don't understand why some people feel the need to share their fears by telling others what to do. It seems to happen at every step of having a baby, too, from choice of doctor or midwife to choice of name to how to discipline a child, there's no dearth of unsolicited advice. (I wish that advice was channeled into the financial realm instead.) We're only 8 weeks in, but I hope I can learn to better ignore the self-appointed nannies and save the decisions for my wife and me.

The biggest lesson I've learned from the movies and books I've read is that women are amazing. You contain within yourselves the miraculous power to nurture and deliver a human life. That is so awesome. Congratulations, Kathleen!
Honey--go for it--have your natural birth! But make sure you feel safe--panic comes from not feeling safe. I birthed naturally and was at complete peace with my surroundings and who was at my birth. I do not have a high pain tolerance at all--but I was so calm during my delivery. I gave birth in water---it was incredible. Feel safe--wherever that is for you--and you will be fine. Have great people with you and you will do AMAZING!

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