Ricki Lake Gives Birth on Film The TV personality's documentary, The Business of Being Born, criticizes the U.S. birth industry, advocating alternative birth methods over hospital births. It comes out on DVD for Mother's Day.

Ricki Lake Gives Birth on Film

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This is Day to Day. From NPR News, I'm Madeleine Brand.


I'm Alex Chadwick. Sunday is Mother's Day. The question of becoming a mother, or at least giving birth, is at the heart of a documentary that comes out today on DVD. The Business of Being Born is a critique of hospital birth in the U.S. The film offers home birth and midwives as remedies. Eve Troeh reports.

EVE TROEH: Ricki Lake. Yes, the Ricki Lake, actor and talk show host, had her first baby in a hospital in New York. She didn't want drugs. She didn't want induced labor. She got both. Her son was born healthy, but she felt out of control.

Ms. RICKI LAKE (Actor, Talk Show Host): It made me think twice the second time around, wanting to be in that setting at all.

TROEH: Lake started going to midwife conferences, training to be a birth coach, and learning everything she could about natural birth.

Ms. LAKE: It's another world. What they believe, the research that they do. I mean it's just - this information wasn't really accessible to the regular folk like me.

TROEH: Lake and her friend, filmmaker Abby Epstein, set out to change that. They spent three years following Manhattan midwives, filming home births, and interviewing experts to make the business of being born. It's gained a following among moms-to-be. I sat down to watch the movie with two pregnant women in Los Angeles, both first-time moms. Maryann Oberley(ph), about seven months along, was a bit reluctant.

Ms. MARYANN OBERLEY (Pregnant, First-time Mom): I didn't know if I wanted to watch it or not, because I want to have my baby in the hospital, I'll probably use drugs if I feel like I need them. So I was worried that it was going to try to scare me out of that, or preach to me too much.

TROEH: The other woman, Julie Mullin(ph), has a bigger baby bump at 34 weeks. She's seen more friends and relatives seek out natural birth.

Ms. JULIE MULLIN (Pregnant, First-time Mom): It seems like there's been a lot of prejudice against pain medication and child birth. People were like, oh, women are supposed to suffer in childbirth, so I'm curious that the pendulum's sort of swinging back the other way.

TROEH: Both women cooed over the home birth scenes, including footage of Ricki Lake herself. She had her second son at home, in her bath tub, and you see it all.

(Soundbite of Ricki Lake giving birth)

TROEH: The water can be so cool. Again, mom-to-be Julie Mullin.

Ms. MULLIN: I mean, definitely, it's something to consider. That just looks so much more comfortable in a lot of ways than lying on a bed.

Ms. MARYANN OBERLEY: And it's wonderful to see births like - it's just - it was just so beautiful.

TROEH: That's Maryann Oberley.

Ms. OBERLEY: As long as you go into it knowing like, whatever I've decided for myself, I've decided and it's okay to stick to it even, if these people have a very different opinion.

TROEH: Producer Ricki Lake says, the business of being born is not about judging women's decisions. It just presents options.

Ms. LAKE: It is not about have a home birth like me, at all. I mean, I think it's about educating yourself, and empowering yourself to make the choice that's best for you, because I think so many times, you know we spend more time researching what camera we're going to buy, or what TV set we need in our home, instead of, you know, what is the best care provider for me, during this most precious time in my life. Women or the consumer needs to know, they have choices.

Ms. HARRIET HALL (Retired Family Doctor): If the consumers wanted something that we tested scientifically, and found out that it wasn't in their best interest, I don't think we would want to do it.

TROEH: Harriet Hall is a retired family doctor. She reviewed the business of being born for the website Science-Based Medicine. Hall says the film is moving, but short on scientific fact. Statistics in it suggests, the infant mortality rate and the number of C-sections would go down, if there were more midwives and home births.

Ms. HALL: Midwives have come up with a lot of good suggestions. We need to test the things that they do, that are different from hospital births, find out if they really give better outcome or not.

TROEH: Hall says the film presents a dichotomy, rather than a broad range of options, like bringing midwives into hospitals, where obstetricians can back them up. The film shows doctors with a few exceptions, as controlling birth. In one montage, nurses talk about Pitocin or Pit, a drug that induces labor.

Unidentified Nurse #1: Hit her, means you are basically instructing the nurse to start Pitocin.

Unidentified Nurse #2: I asked to keep upping the Pit.

Unidentified Nurse #1: Probably about 90% of our patients at some point, are on some type of augmentation.

Unidentified Nurse #22: Which is not anywhere near adequacy so (inaudible).

Unidentified Nurse #1: If you're not making that change in that segment of time that they were looking for, then we're going to try to facilitate things.

Unidentified Nurse #2: Or maybe start Pit.

TROEH: The moms-to-be, who watched with me, Julie and Maryann, felt the hospital births didn't get fair shake.

Ms. MULLIN: Actually, it probably would have been cool, if we'd seen some positive hospital births, too.

Ms. OBERLEY: Because it was ironic. I thought that they had mentioned in the movie like, women are thought to be terrified of birth, and then all they showed were scary things.

Ms. MULLIN: Of hospital births, yeah.

TROEH: Practically and financially, Julie Mullin(ph) doesn't see how home birth would work for her, even though she's now open to it.

Ms. MULLIN: I kind of got it all of a sudden, like yeah, you know maybe this really would be a good option. I have no idea how I'd even work that now,you know, with an HMO.

TROEH: Neither woman wants to put expectations on herself for her first birth. Both know several women who tried to do natural birth and weren't able. One birth in the film speaks to that. The movie's director, Abby Epstein, learned she's pregnant while shooting the film. After all her research on the topic, she decides to go with home birth.

(Soundbite of Abby Epstein moaning)

BRAND: It doesn't go as planned.

Ms. LAKE: Should I get this cab?

(Soundbite of Abby Epstein moaning)

Unidentified Man: Yeah, yeah.

Ms. EPSTEIN: Please go. It's really hurting. Oh, my God. This (bleep) (bleep). I want to get there. I cannot have another contraction in this taxi cab.

Ms. LAKE: You know, it was so interesting. It's like life and art kind of coming together.

TROEH: Producer Ricki Lake says the emergency became integral to the film.

Ms. LAKE: You know, having never made a documentary before, I really think it balances the film in a way that we couldn't have anticipated.

TROEH: No film can set the standard for the right thing to do during birth. Natural may be normal for a lot of women, but "The Business of Being Born" shows that motherhood doesn't always follow the script. For NPR News, I'm Eve Troeh.

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