The Business of Being Born

The Business of Being Born, directed by Abby Epstein, feels more like 2 movies (albeit rather good movies) than an integrated whole.

The first is the movie suggested by the title, namely, a criticism of how the U.S. medical system runs more like a business than a system devoted to what is best for women’s health. This part of the film presents facts about the low standing the U.S. has in infant mortality and interviews mothers and health professionals about how women in labor are rushed through the system and unnecessarily drugged to induce labor and offered nonessential c-sections. The second movie is the story of several women, including Ricki Lake, who opted for home births with midwives.

Although The Business of Being Born moves back and forth between these two issues, there seems to be something missing to really connect the two. Part of the problem is that, during the filming, director Epstein becomes pregnant and devotes extra time and gives added weight to this aspect of the film. Or, maybe I just have issues with directors inserting themselves into documentaries when that is not their initial intention, as I had the same problem with My Kid Could Paint That.

Another problem that contributes to this sense of the film being two movies is that the part that is critical of hospitals presents a lot of statistics about how hospitals are failing. However, the film resists giving any statistics, other than anecdotal, about the benefits of home birth. This part of the film also feels slightly repetitive as the various women have similar reasons for and reactions to choosing midwifery.

Despite this dichotomy, The Business of Being Born is a very interesting documentary touching on a subject many people may not be aware of. The film reports that, in the U.S., about 1% of women opt for home births, whereas in other countries (with better mortality rates) as many as 30-40% of women opt for home births.

All the women are interesting and very engaging, making emotional involvement very easy and natural. Many of the women were very generous in allow Epstein to film them giving birth.

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