I was seriously unimpressed by The Business of Being Born. It’s one of those films which is often praised in feminist circles, and I attended a screening tonight, wanting to see what it was all about and what my friends liked about it.
I was mildly perturbed by certain aspects of the film throughout; I was irritated by the lack of representation of disabled pregnant women, the glossing over of issues related to class and accessibility in relation to home birth/midwife use, and the set-up of this dichotomy of “natural” and “unnatural” birth. I was fuming silently each time someone in the film implied that women who chose a home birth had something “special”, or “intuitive” about them which set them apart from women who chose hospital birth.
The very heart of the film’s greatest problems were summed up by the way they defined the word “normal” childbirth: For the filmmakers, a “normal” birth was one which was performed vaginally by a woman who is healthy, able-bodied, and neurotypical. This completely ignores the realities of many mothers, who may have Type II diabetes, sensory processing disorder, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, or something else which may make a medical, hospital birth in their best interest, outside of an emergency situation.
Where were their voices? Why was the discussion of C-section birth limited to talking about this busy, modern type of woman who choose to induce and have a “scheduled” birth, so they can get on neatly with their lives, or women who were unaware that they had other options? If I were a film critic, that would have put the film in C+ territory for me, at most.
Then, the crown jewel of my hot-button anger issues came up in the film: A (male) narrator implied that that there was a correlation between the increase in hospital/C-Section birth, and “conditions (sic) like autism and ADHD”, musing that when women didn’t have a vaginal birth, they wouldn’t release the feel-good chemical cocktail (including the one I love to hate, oxytocin) which would allow them to bond with their children right after birth. The narrator mused about how this related to the relationship between mother and baby, impacting the love felt between them.
How curious, an allegedly feminist film bringing forth a newly repackaged version of the Refrigerator Mother hypothesis, the entire intention of which was to shame and belittle women for not making the right choices and being bad parents as a result! I actually audibly gasped when this happened in the film, I was so shocked and disgusted. The irony of a film which purported itself to discussing the medicalization of birth to turn around and rely heavily on ableism and the medical model of disability as an accident or a tragedy was not lost on me either, and it definitely wasn’t lost on the panel who discussed the film after the screening.
Speaking of the panel, I would like to say something about it, and the group who screened this film: They are a wonderful crowd, and they addressed all of my concerns before I even asked my questions, explaining why the lack of representation of poor women and the framing of women who chose home birth as being more enlightened and informed were problematic, and offering solid, intelligent critiques and provided great discussion about reproductive justice, choice, and the history of feminism and medicine. I’m grateful to them for screening this film and critiquing it the way they did, because these are very necessary conversations to have at the moment, as a pro-choicer, a feminist, and a woman with a disability who may one day want to be a mother.