The Business of Being Born | Notes & Review

Posted on February 27, 2009


The Business of Being Born. New Line Home Entertainment, February 2007.


There are a couple great reviews out there.,,, and a fairly critical one by


After watching the film (via Netflix’s Instant Watch feature) and reading the reviews, I’m a little torn and confused.

First, I have an appreciation for the blatant bias of the film, and the filmmakers, and believe they are honestly pursuing an area that needs grand attention. There is something beautiful, mystical, and even beneficial of doing things “the old fashioned way,” like home births with a midwife, and that banner ought to be waved and applauded. I agree that we must rid ourselves of the propaganda that would falsely characterize midwifery as barbaric and unsophisticated. From what I’ve read (which is admittedly minimal), home water births with a midwife ought to be considered a completely valid, safe, and practical (not to mention economical) method of birthing with many benefits and preferences.

However, I’m not fully bought in to the suggestion that the “birthing business” is that conspiratorial. The characterizations of the OB/GYN field seemed overtly negative, and unnecessarily so, though there may be some studies to suggest manipulation of the field. Agreed, there are economics and “business” practices that are influential, however, we must be reminded that the medical profession exists for good reasons, not least of which was exemplified in the film itself. It was clear that the midwives go with the tools of modern medical developments, not in lieu of them, and even the filmmaker’s own birth required emergency C-section due to complications, and that by a doctor who was supportive and favorable to the home birth idea from the start.

So, it seems fair to say that the film raises some excellent insights into the “business” and into the nature of birthing, and it raises the awareness of home births and midwives, an endeavor I applaud. It even provides some snap shots into the scary history of birthing in this country, what I felt could have been something akin to the Middle Ages. Even the filmmakers ought to admit that we’ve come a long way.

But I have questions.

  • While they cite that the US mortality rates are the second highest among industrialized nations, they never answer the question “Why?” Tying mortality rates to hospital births was weak, and no real good reason was provided, nor even explored. It was simply assumed that home births in other nations were the key or primary reason.
  • The Netherlands is cited as having lost “fewer women” and “fewer babies” than the US, and (emphasis in original tone) 1/3 of their births are planned home births. Perhaps, but it wasn’t clear if that was a percentage, or the actual number. Given the population of the Netherlands is around 17 million, and the US upwards of 350 million, that would make a huge difference. Why not the clarity?
  • The suggestion that chemical “interventions” are related to “minimal neurological conditions” such as “autism” and “ADD” is an area that deserves much attention and research with vigor and intention. But the emphasis in the film should have been on the “we don’t know” as verbalized in the film. What studies have shown this to be true? And, have similar questions been asked and researched in those other industrialized nations that are struggling with the same rise in these same diseases? It seems to make for a weak argument that this can be tied to “hospital births.”
  • The citation of “so many women” having complications with C-sections doesn’t seem to take into account the actual numbers. If there are, as the film reports, a vast majority of women having C-sections in this nation, then it would make sense that the number of occurrences of complications would also rise with that. What are the statistical proportions of those nations that have home births?
  • The film suggests that “most of the deaths that happen in the U.S. happen for those who have gone to the hospital.” But again, is there not a correlation in proportionality? If 99% of the population goes to the hospital for births, then it would make sense that “most of the deaths” happen there. Again, where are the real numbers and statistics behind this research?

Overall, the film is strong in captivation and in platforming their position well, but weak in the numbers. Their arguments are more argumentative than substantive, and that can pose for a precariously misleading “documentary.”

Still, I am enlighted and intrigued with the idea of a midwife and home births, and have this film to owe for that shift in thinking for me.