Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein‘s documentary, The Business of Being Born, helped educate thousands of women about how to advocate for themselves and get the natural birth that their babies and themselves deserve.
It also single handedly ruined my birth experience.
It was 2009. I was suffering miscarriage after miscarriage and obsessing about all things baby. I read a blurb about a documentary that Ricki Lake was producing about her disappointing first hospital birth, and subsequent joyous home birth. I rented it immediately.
I sat horrified through scene after scene of women being led, drugged-up, into operating rooms and coldly advised to induce their babies with Pitocin – or worse – threatened with Cesarean sections if they couldn’t hurry up and deliver. I wept when French doctor Michel Odent spoke of monkeys in the wild who rejected their young after they were given C-sections. Oh God, those poor monkeys! What is going to happen to their babies? It seemed that if you chose to deliver in a hospital, you were rushed, pumped full of Pitocin, and eventually shamed into a medically unnecessary C-section. I was determined that this would not happen to me.
When we finally got a pregnancy to stick past the first trimester, I dropped my OBGYN, found the only free standing birthing center in Brooklyn, and began my quest for the perfect, natural birth. I devoured books like Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth. I convinced my husband to sit through a five-week hypnobirthing course, where we sat in a circle with eigh other couples talking about perineum massage and viewing countless natural birth videos. I spent months visualizing my relaxing birth.
Then Lucien pooped in the womb, his heart rate dropped, and during the last of my routine weekly appointments, my midwife said, You have to get to the hospital. Right now.
I got to the hospital at 3:30 pm. My child was born, via emergency C section at 8:48. The flurry of activity that went on in those five hours was my birthing nightmare – and a situation I never imagined I would be in. There was the oxygen mask. The inserting of a heart rate monitor onto my child’s head, via my unmedicated vagina. The faint sounds of my mother panicking in the hallways. he recommendation and my struggling rebuttal against any painkillers and especially Pitocin. And then there was the sound of my son’s heart rate slowing dramatically and all of my choices grinding to a halt. This baby has to come out right now. We’re taking you into surgery, okay?
After my son was born, I remember staring into his eyes and thinking, I’m the monkey. I’ve been robbed of my natural birth, and now I’m the monkey. My friends with children who sent message after message offering their congratulations were saying things like, Did you ever think you could love something this much? You won’t believe it, but this love will continue to grow and grow!
All I could think was, No it won’t. I’m the monkey. It seemed Ricki Lake and that awful French doctor were right. I was not bonding with my baby. I didn’t have those immediate feelings of maternal warmth and connection that my natural birth would have assured me. I wept. And wept. I didn’t come out of my depressed fog for months.
Clearly, it’s not Ricki Lake’s fault that my birth experience sucked. But I think natural birth advocates should also account for the fact that sometimes medical intervention is necessary. When you want a natural birth and end up with a surgical one, you are in a post-birthing no man’s land. Those who don’t care about getting a natural birth don’t understand why you are depressed. They say things like, Thank God for those doctors! The baby is okay, and that is the only thing that matters. Natural birth advocates say things like, Oh God. How awful. I’m so glad I had a patient doctor that didn’t force me into that. I’m not sure which made me feel worse.
Lake and Epstein are doing important work educating women about the benefits of natural childbirth. I just wish all natural birth advocates would take into consideration the fact that every woman’s experience is different. When medical birth is presented as the worst case scenario, and you end up with it – then what? I don’t have the answer to that. Apparently Ricki Lake doesn’t either.