Business of Being Born



Palm Springs International Film Festival

PALM SPRINGS -- Apparently Prissy from "Gone With the Wind" isn't the only one who don't know nothin' about birthin' babies.

From the perspective of "The Business of Being Born," an eye-opening look at maternity in America, the nation's hospitals and insurance companies place a close second.

Initiated by executive producer Ricki Lake and directed by Abby Epstein, this investigation of contemporary childbirth "management" is in many ways "The Inconvenient Truth" of obstetrics, not to mention a convincing endorsement of midwifery.

"Being Born" screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival ahead of a limited theatrical run. It will be offered by Netflix in February.

A close-up and personal film, in which several of its subjects -- including Lake -- allow the camera to capture their chosen methods of delivery in indisputably intimate detail, it is a must-see for any woman who's pregnant or planning to have kids.

At first glance, the notion of deliberately giving birth outside of a hospital (as Lake did in 2001, in her bathtub with her second child) might seem to be a risky proposition.

But then come all the disturbing questions:

-- Why does the U.S. have the second-worst newborn death rate in the developed world?

-- Why are more than 40% of the deliveries done in some New York hospitals all Caesarean sections?

-- And why, according to a study, are the peak hours for Caesarean procedures at 4 in the afternoon and 10 at night?

As the film probes the circumstances that have led to midwife-attended births in America dropping from 50% in 1938 to less than 8% today (whether in or outside hospitals), while in the five countries with the lowest infant mortality rates, midwives figure into 70% of those births, it points to those Michael Moore-approved usual suspects: namely the health care and insurance industries.

But though some doctors admit to pressing for time-efficient, $14 billion-a-year Caesarean sections as a way of avoiding negligence claims, and questionable practices are nothing new (Thalidomide, anyone?), "Being Born" makes its best case when documenting those natural-birth alternatives.

Casting vanity to the wind, Epstein's subjects permit Paulo Netto's unimposing camera to witness the miracle of birth in a big-business-free environment, and the effect, like the production itself, is as poignant as it is potent.

Red Envelope Entertainment and International Film Circuit
Director: Abby Epstein
Executive producer: Ricki Lake
Producers: Abby Epstein, Amy Slotnick, Paulo Netto
Director of photography: Paulo Netto
Editor: Madeleine Gavin
Running time -- 87 minutes
No MPAA rating