Labor Pains: ‘The Business Of Being Born’ Gave Me A Birthing Complex

The Business Of Being BornRicki 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.


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  • Claire

    I think part of the problem is the fact that birth and labor have become more about what the mother wants and how she wants it than about the baby. It’s been so thought about and so planned that unfulfilled expectations are almost a given and therefore some kind of disappointment is inevitable.We have somehow managed to make birth even messier and more complicated than it is supposed to be.

    • Guerrilla Mom

      I think you are right to an extent. I personally went through a 6 year cycle of miscarriage after miscarriage – so yes, I definitely think I was consumed with all things birth – and it became very much about me.

    • Courtney Lynn

      Unnecessary inductions and c-sections are not about the baby’s well-being, either as was in my case. I think every mother wants to best for her baby.

  • Lastango

    Around here there is good psychosocial support available for mothers experiencing postpartum depression and other mental health concerns. Usually, those services are available on an ongoing basis. If someone is still feeling emotional effects well after delivery, these programs can still help. In a situation like yours, for instance, someone could feel as though something was taken away from them, and this person might be experiencing grief — our natural response to profound loss. Grief is strange stuff, and can come out years later. Grief is healthy, but can manifest in ways that are not, and that’s when professional support can really help.
    (I don’t know your situation, or how you are feeling these days. I’m just giving that as an example, for the benefit of the readers here.)

    • Guerrilla Mom

      Thank you for this. Yes, there was a profound grief, but also SO MUCH GUILT for feeling grief after I finally was able to conceive. I should have reached out for some support – but honestly it didn’t even occur to me.

  • Justme

    I love you for writing this. It is absolutely perfect. You get the message across without being defensive or offensive – just stating the facts and urging people to see both sides. Love, love, love it. My sister-in-law is one of those home-natural-birth people and is VERY “passionate” (ie – aggressive) about her beliefs. So when I had a completely medicated hospital birth that ended in a c-section my brain was full of her negative “jargon” about my doctor, my decision, my baby, my body….everything. I think the one thing we can all agree on is that birth is personal and should ultimately be left up to the parents and their OB or whomever they see….the rest of us just need to be supportive and love on that baby.

    • Guerrilla Mom

      Thanks. I think if I had succeeded with my natural birth, I may have been one of those women! Nothing like a little dose of reality to make you a little more accepting of all options.

    • Justme

      I was so resentful of all the negativity in my own brain that when she was giving birth to my third nephew I secretly hoped something would go wrong and she would have the same c-section that I did…….so that it would help her to become softer and less judgmental. Yikes.

  • AniAngel

    Very honest, thank you. I also was consumed with natural birth and successfully had two easy (relatively) births at home. My last birth was in a hospital for insurance reasons, I was terrified of ending up a horror story. Things did go wrong as the little guy was face up and would not flip over for delivery leaving him stuck in a very painful position for both of us. Thankfully I had a midwife with a lifetime of experience, my hero, and she was able to deliver him. In the end she confided that we were very close to emergency c-section. I know I would have likely felt many of the same emotions you had. Even if you prepare yourself well the “failure” of the birth experience is real and deserves to be talked about openly.

  • Lindsay

    “When medical birth is presented as the worst case scenario, and you end up with it – then what?”

    Thank goodness that you had competent midwives who didn’t mess around when they realized that your baby was in distress. I support natural childbirth, and I don’t think it’s so much that a medical birth *is* the worst case scenario, but that it should only be employed in a worst case scenario. It has happened that incompetent midwives assured a mom that she could still have her natural birth even though there was meconium in her fluid, and the baby ended up dying because – I guess as a matter of pride or arrogance or incompetence – the midwife did not call an ambulance at this very obvious and straightforward sign of fetal distress.

    I’m really sorry that you had post partum depression, but you might have had that even if your birth was conducted in a birthing pool in your living room. The rush of hormones you think you missed out on can cause a lot of emotional responses, including crushing depression– depression can happen whether you think you were “the monkey” or not. I think that portion of the Ricki Lake video was asinine — just as we shouldn’t shame women who need to use formula, we shouldn’t shame women who need C-sections. It is correct to point out that the C-section rate is unnaturally high in the US for many of the reasons you read about or heard about in the natural birth materials. However, in your case, the C-section was absolutely necessary and probably saved your child’s life. I hope you can come to feel better about your birth.

    • AniAngel

      I had that same thought about her having a great midwife.

    • Tinyfaeri

      Ditto. I know the birth center I used prepared the crap out of us for the possibility of having to go to the hospital, to be induced if I had failure to progress, that if a C-section were needed it would be happening, etc. I’m sorry it doesn’t sound like the OP was as prepared.
      And I’ll second the ppd bit as well from Lindsay… I had a vaginal birth with no epidural and I still had some depression early on. Not so much not bonding with my babygirl, but feelings of anxiety, being a failure, doing everything wrong, etc. I was not myself. I still have some of that 5 months later, though it’s getting better. People aren’t monkeys – we’re a lot more complex than how we give birth.

    • Guerrilla Mom

      I’m certain that the c-section wasn’t to blame for all of the depression I was feeling – but at the time I thought that it was because of everything I believed about natural birth. I had a hypnobirthing doula that basically spent a whole class talking about all the different reasons they give for c-sections, and why they actually aren’t necessary. I.e. breach can be manually corrected, low amniotic fluid isn’t cause for concern, etc, etc. At the end of the day, I should have been more prepared for alternate scenarios. But I wasn’t. Sorry that you had a hard time after your birth, too :(

    • Tinyfaeri

      Yeesh. Your doula and my “intro to breastfeeding” instructor should go bowling (that class was 2 hours of crazy propaganda and maybe 30 minutes of useful information about actually breastfeeding). For the record, I wasn’t saying you were at fault for the lack of preparation – it sounds like the doula was a zealot that let you down in a huge way. :(

    • BigBlue

      A doula is not a medical professional and should not be giving medical advice. And the only way to know whether a c-section was “necessary” is to wait and see if the baby dies. I don’t want to find out, do you?

    • MommyK

      Thanks for your comments that we should not shame women who need C-sections and formula!

      I was induced with my son at 2 days past my due date because I had developed pre-eclampsia all of a sudden (healthy pregnancy throughout). My son still had not really dropped, and was still high up when, due to the labour not progressing past 5 cm, and the baby’s heart rate dropping (and my complete exhaustion of 9 hours of labour with no food or water), they called for a C-section.

      I watched Ricki Lake’s documentary 2 or 3 weeks later on Netflix, and felt like the worst mother ever for not giving birth “the right way”. I wept and wept with guilt and shame, and went over in my head so many times, “What could I have done differently to prevent this?” I understand the point of the documentary in a way, but it is delivered in a very insensitive and judgmental manner.

  • kate

    very well written, i know what you mean. With all three of mine i had to be induced for medical reasons (one emergency, the other two planned but still needed) and I had to listen to people tell me how it was wrong, then with the third one face a week long NICU stay because her lungs werent ready (at37 weeks). A NICU nurse, around midnight when i went t osee my baby, said to me “so….her lungs werent ready and you induced ANYWAY?” The next day, in tears, I told my OB who assured me she and the perientologist agreed the baby needed to come out, and that the amnio for her lungs at been OK, then she went down to the NICU. I never saw the nurse again, i like to think she got fired. ;)
    anyway, sorry if that seemed unrelated, but your story really got me thinknig about what we do or didnt want out of birth! 15 months later i still feel robbed of those 3 days in the hospital with the baby next to your bed,and the stream of well wishers, etc etc

    • Tinyfaeri

      :( I kind of hope the nurse got fired as well, that’s terrible!

    • Guerrilla Mom

      I can’t believe she said that. That is so awful.

    • kate

      thanks ladies :)

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  • C Lo

    Um, we DO take those things into account. The thing is that EVERYONE is a special snowflake and thinks THEIR story is the one exception to the rule and they ALL believe they REALLY needed those interventions. They almost all think that. They cannot all be right. But when we say that, all of the sudden we are not supportive? So talkin’ facts is suddenly being judgmental and unsupportive…….and then what?

    If you feel like your experience was crap, that sucks. And it sounds crappy. And maybe you did need the c section. But you feeling badly about that doesn’t mean that I, as an advocate of natural birth, am not supportive. And it’s SUCH a tricky road to walk because birth is SO personal and SO emotional.

    “Natural Birth Advocates” walk a tough road. We don’t follow the “norm” and when we talk facts in a deeply personal and emotional territory, we are labeled harshly. I urge you to see that even Ina May recognizes the necessity for a hospital birth now and then. Most of us all do. But sitting here focussing on the exceptions to the rule just seems to make EVERYONE think they are the exception and just seems to perpetuate the really crappy myths about birth that are out there and that are making women and their babies unhappy and unhealthy.

    My last birth was a really shitty hospital birth. My son pooped in the womb too. It freaking sucked. And I was treated pretty badly in the hospital. It doesn’t mean the facts are wrong or that natural birth advocates are against me. It just means I had a shitty birth. And it makes me feel that much more strongly that women should not have to go through what I went through unnecessarily.

    • Anj Fabian

      Passing meconium is a sign that the baby is stressed.

      Having a “shitty” birth also means the possibility that the baby inhales the meconium into their lungs and.well…I think anyone can understand that a lungful of crap is bad for babies. Potentially fatally bad.

  • K.

    At the risk of sounding unsympathetic, I think that your own expectations for a natural delivery clouded what you took home from the documentary. The film I watched ended with one of the filmmakers herself having to go in for an emergency C-Section, which her midwife soundly advised her to do. And she talks herself about the mixture of personal disappointment but also deep gratitude for the medical community that she felt. I felt that the documentary DID account for the fact that medical intervention is occasionally necessary–in fact, one of the commentators (who may have been Gaskin herself? I can’t remember) is quoted in the documentary saying that they are grateful for advances in medicine because of how they can help save mothers and babies in emergency circumstances.

    But the key here is “emergency circumstances.” The documentary’s thesis was, as I understood it, that the medical establishment likes to treat ALL pregnancies as more or less, emergencies, which has led to a dismissal of a wealth of knowledge and experience of those who practice midwifery. So yes, it is biased, like most documentaries, and there is advocacy of natural childbirth and midwifery, but I don’t think that Lake is saying a woman is some sort of failure or motherhood is lost if she needs medical intervention with a birth. I think she’s questioning the assumption that many in the medical field seem to have, which is that pregnancy and childbirth is some kind of pathology. And I did agree with the message in the film that all women, regardless of whether you want to give birth in your own bathtub or pen a C-section in on your calendar, should be educated about the birthing process so that they can at least know what they want (even if they don’t end up getting it!) and have a sense of self-advocacy and control in the process.

    I’m also not arguing that the natural childbirth MOVEMENT (ie, broader than the film itself) isn’t judgmental and I’m sorry if you’ve experienced that yourself. I did want to point out that the film was, to me, more of a policy critique than it was a referendum on individual women’s choices, that’s all.

  • Heather

    Um…did you even watch the movie? If so, you might remember that one of the creators of the show, Epstein, actually DID have an emergency C-Section. She started having contractions early, her midwife encouraged her to go to the hospital, Rikki went along with her — 100% supportive, btw — and she had a C-Section to save her baby which was apparently not getting any nutrients from her. Earlier in the film they even had an interview with her OB who had talked about being there if/when she needed him. At the end of the film, they showed her being happy and lovey dovey with her baby.

    Just because you took the one french doctor’s comments about MONKEYS a little too personally doesn’t mean it’s the movie’s fault. I thought they did a fantastic job of balancing the idea that birth can be something different than a medicalized, doctor driven experience but that at the same time, modern medical interventions are really great for those who need them.

    • MLC

      Thank you, Heather. You make a lot of sense. I’m a Lactation Consultant and a Post Partum Doula and had all my children via C Section, (after very long labors, 50 hrs + with my first two) and I LOVE The Business of Being Born, It has not made me feel “inferior” or “guilty” as I know my C Sections were due to very rare situations (an android pelvis in my case) but I felt empowered knowing I did everything I could to try to have vaginal births.

      ONE comment by Dr. Odent is not the main focus of the movie.

      I know many women are very sensitive shortly after childbirth, and I advise not delving into “what ifs” if your birth was difficult for a while, until you have healed emotionally from the disappointment of having to have a C Section.

      However, the vast majority of the movie was factual, helpful and true.

      I hope the OP is able to heal so that she will not take off the cuff comments and apply them to her own life, when it was NEVER meant for her as an individual.

      Abby Epstein, the producer of the movie, planned a home birth IN the movie and had to be transported to a hospital for a C Section, Rikki was very supportive and Abby and Rikki also went on to make a second Part II (in four parts) to TBOBB.

      Perhaps the OP will see this with a more clear attitude after she has had time to heal.

      My thoughts are with her and I hope she heals and is able to take things as a Gestalt, not take certain sentences out of context as a reason to feel bad.

      Maybe wait a year or so and see the movie again,after she have healed.

      Blessings and healing thoughts.

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  • mm

    A healthy baby and mom should be the only goal expected and desired in ANY birth experience. I had two natural childbirths (small but healthy babies) and guess what? My sister had big babies and three C-sections. So what? We are both mothers and how we GOT to be moms isn’t the point. Adoption doesn’t ROB a woman of being a mom. If we were broodmares than maybe the birthing experience would be the highlight but I think becoming parents is the joyful goal line. . Ask any woman who has struggled with infertility if she had the option of a C-section or adoption, bet that C-section would feel like a sacrament. What is important is what kind of life and love we provide for those babies after we leave the hospital, The propaganda of TBOBB is disgusting. Yes, home births are natural and maybe only .08 or .10% go wrong but if happens to you or your baby, then it is 100% bad (or fatal) for YOU and YOUR baby. And that scientist is wrong. Monkeys don’t HAVE c-sections except when HUMANS perform them on them. And since you can’t explain a c-section to a monkey, or why there is a need for one like you can do for a human, they may not know they have even given birth, only that they are in pain. How confusing and frightening that must be for an animal. And do they keep the baby away from the mom monkey? Of course, the mom monkey just had surgery and can’t care for it. Double whammy.We try and keep human babies close to mom even after a c-section unless there are medical complications that prevent them from rooming-in.

  • mm

    And if you wnat to feel better about hospitals and modern medicine go to and read the heartbreaking stories of women who wish they could have a do-over. The dr who put the site up was so sad and MAD about all the preventable injuries and deaths she was seeing that she knew she had to give a forum to women who did not have good outcomes. If you go to any birthing center web site or doula/midwife site you will NOT see any testimonials from families that did not have a positive outcome, And when these women DID get to a hospital they found compassionate and competent staff, in some cases saved their babies’ lives (although some are living with problems caused during the delivery). One mom pushed so hard and long on an undilated cervix that she had a huge blood clot on her bladder that was mistaken for the baby’s head crowning. She is 23 and is living with horrible bladder and UT problems but doctors advise against repairing it until she is done having children as it would be damaged again under the pressure of subsequent pregnancies. And the stories go on. Two women had great home births but their midwives did not call in for the Group B Strep (GBS) tests and their healthy babies were exposed in the vaginal canal to GBS and died within 12 hours of birth. No immune system, GBS and pneumonia = bad. I am grateful someone recognised your baby’s distress and got you proper medical care in time to prevent a deadly infection in your baby’s lungs.

    • areawomanpdx

      I think it’s actually heartbreaking.

  • Sarah

    I just love this article. I had almost the exact same experience as you did– in 2009, too! I ended up with a medically necessary C-section and dealt with so much pain and guilt afterwards. I ended up having a VBAC with my second child two years later, but by then what mattered most to me was not the type of birth I had, but the healthy baby and the ability to accept that every birth is different. To this day it rankles me when women present “natural” birth or home birth as the “only way” a birth can or should go. I think they’re forgetting how many women used to die in childbirth before hospital interventions were available. In a way, I feel stronger than some of these women I meet who have had everything go so easily during their pregnancies and births. I know firsthand the range of experiences women can have. I have deep, empathetic regard for ALL of the ways women bring children into this world.

    I also agree with others who have commended your midwife. A good midwife recognizes what interventions are necessary and when.

  • Mrs. W

    You want a real no man’s land – be the woman who wants a surgical birth and gets a natural birth – THAT’S a no man’s land. I feel for you none the less though, and I personally detest TBOBB….

  • Tara Dukaczewicz

    Way to trivialize her experience. And for the record, she’s not the only woman who found that BOBB inaccurately portrayed hospital birth. Sadly, I know quite a few women who were so terrified of having a hospital birth after watching that movie that they chose a homebirth. Their babies didn’t make it. BOBB is the worst kind of dangerous propaganda.

  • Tara Dukaczewicz

    “when we talk facts in a deeply personal and emotional territory, we are labeled harshly.” I have seen natural childbirth advocates tell mothers that it’s okay to birth a transverse baby at home because it’s another variation of normal, gestational diabetes is not a risk worth worrying about, placenta previa can be birthed at home if the midwife pierces the placenta with a drinking straw, 3 days of labor after ROM is nothing to worry about, pre-e can be treated with eggs, a midwife can treat PPH by blowing cinnamon breath at the woman while she is bleeding out, or just her to stop bleeding. I have read natural childbirth advocates tell women who have life saving measures that they just didn’t have the guts to go all the way, that their babies weren’t really born. And I h also seen natural childbirth advocates berate women who lost their babies from midwife negligence and tell them to own their own outcomes and get over it because their babies were meant to die. The road natural childbirth advocates travel is hard because many of them are grossly mistaken in the advice they give and are actually a danger to women and babies. I do not wish to make a blanket statement about ALL NCB advocates because there are some that present a balanced and compassionate viewpoint. But in my 3+ years of being an advocate for improved midwifery I have not come across very many.

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  • Bianca

    Maria, you make an excellent point. Sometimes, medical intervention IS necessary, and when it is, that does not constitute a failure on the part of the mother. Let us not forget that women used to DIE during childbirth because they did not have access to medical intervetions that could have saved their lives and the lives of their children. Educating one’s self about natural birth and delivery is important, but in the end, if a C-section is your only option, then so be it. I’m glad this article was written. I hope it encourages other moms in her position to grieve the loss of the idea they had for themsleves (natural birth) and accept the final outcome without (too much) regret. BTW: You were never the monkey, Maria. A monkey wouldn’t have agonized over not being able to bond with her baby. You’re human, and it sounds like a good mom.

  • Jenna Foote

    Your son’s birth story was almost identical to my first daughter’s birth. I hadn’t seen The Business of Being Born so my expectations for a vaginal birth weren’t quite as high as yours (and I had no intention of going unmedicated) but you never expect YOU will end up with the C-section. YOUR baby won’t have drastic heart rate decels and meconium in the water.

    That being said, I did go on to have a successful (medicated) VBAC 2 1/2 years later. VBACs are become widely accepted as a safe and responsible birth method, even by regular OBs. You aren’t doomed to the “once a C-section, always a C-section” school of medicine anymore. If you go on to have another baby, make sure you find supportive provider who will help you have the birth you want. They are pretty abundant these days.

    I am sorry you suffered the disappointment of a C-section. I am familiar with the pain associated with not having the birthing journey you desired, even if you arrived at the destination safely.

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  • Kerriann

    I went to Lamaze classes and, since my son was head down early on, I blithely ignored all the gross c-section talk, though I was totally open to drugs if necessary. Then my son is 8 days late, still not dropped and shows signs of being a live-in womb-dweller all his life. So, there I go for induction. The Pitocin amped up contractions and pain, though I held out almost 12 hours before any pain meds. Still, he was not going to budge, even after the doctor-breaking-my-water eviction notice. His heart started to skip beats and I was in for a c-section. Yeah…that c-section I never once contemplated. I ended up having an epileptic seizure on the operating table forcing my husband to think I was dying and after so many hours I had my son. I did love him immediately, I continue to love him more each and every day (he’s now 10). I don’t feel tricked out of a natural birth, though sometimes I feel that I myself cheated by not having to push him out, that I didn’t do ‘real’ childbirth. But, semantics aside, he latched on on his very first try, breastfed like a champ for 6 months til I had to wean, and I don’t think I’d trade anything for my birth experience. It’s ours.

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  • Leslie Loftis

    I see a similar possibility for her Breastmilk film. I linked to this story in an article.