A supposed investigation into America’s attitude toward childbirth, The Business of Being Born quickly turns into a propaganda piece for midwifery before closing on a fortuitously complex note. Motivated by friend Rikki Lake’s experiences giving birth both via C-section and naturally, director Abby Epstein sets out to examine how our medical industry—which has the second highest infant mortality rate in the developed world—denies women their rights to intervention-free childbirth for reasons both economic and expediency-related.
Epstein’s film fingers hospital costs, the fear of malpractice suits, and the absence of midwives during the procedure for these deaths, but only does so anecdotally via countless midwives and pro-midwifery talking heads, and without any convincing scrutiny of the statistics that are so brazenly tossed about. Graphic depictions of home births—including that of Lake’s in a bathtub—freely commingle with archival photos and medical footage of early-20th-century birthing methods, a Michael Moore-ish animated segment about the labor-inducing drug Pitocin, and interviewees who decry a childbirth culture of fear and then simultaneously say extreme things like “we [America] are completely lost” while implying that caesarean births are somehow bereft—to our cultural detriment—of “love hormones” and, consequently, love itself.
Doctors periodically appear to provide less one-sided thoughts on the hospital-versus-home birth issue, but The Business of Being Born so often presents that choice as between powerless terror and ecstatic harmony that it weakens its more cogent points, such as the deleterious role played by insurance companies and doctors’ selfishness in creating an environment inimical to offering a woman options in the decision-making process. Epstein and Lake surely intend to simply shed light on what they view as the importance (and feasibility) of experiencing a natural delivery. Yet more often than not, what their documentary does is merely preach forcefully in favor of one side of an argument, a situation truly rectified only during a finale—in which Epstein’s own home birth goes awry—which would get more credit for complicating the prior midwife lovefest if it weren’t wholly accidental.