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Mom to Mom: Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin & The Farm Midwives (A Movie Review)

Posted by Becca on 6/24/2013 to Mom Madness

Recently, my husband and I watched the movie Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin & The Farm Midwives due to a recommendation by my own midwife. I watched it while reading the book Ina May's Guide to Childbirth so it was really a double whammy of natural birth, midwife style for me. Honestly, I wish I'd seen the movie first because a movie is never quite as detailed, or in this case as informative as the book, but the movie was still refreshing and wonderful.

If you haven't heard already, Ina May Gaskin is somewhat of a modern-day pioneer in the field of childbirth. Back when she was having babies, women were starting to get tired of the assembly line births they received at hospitals; births that included mandatory medicines, forceps extractions, shaving and enemas, and often up to 24 hours passing before a mother was united with her new baby. For Ina May, it all started because of the communal caravan she and her friends were living in, due in part to speaking engagements by her husband. When these hippies got pregnant, they simply delivered each other's babies--mostly in the same converted buses and bread vans that they were traveling and living in. Eventually, the group decided to settle down in Tennessee--where the land was inexpensive and the neighbors were kind--to start their own community, known now simply as "The Farm." The Farm was not originally intended to be a place known for its exemplary midwifery practice and natural birthing services, but as the community grew and cared for each other, the word spread that women were having amazing births without medical intervention and people not associated with the commune started coming by for their births because they were sick and tired of being forced into horrible and un-natural births regularly experienced in hospitals. The rest is history, and Ina May and many of the other midwives who were there from the start, still live there today and practice their amazing art, now with years and years of experience and success backing them.

The movie seems to have a couple of purposes--to explain the existence of how The Farm came to be in the first place, to go into detail about the great need for midwives and professionals who are re-learning the lost art of natural birth due to the medical (and thus risky) nature of modern childbirth in a hospital, and to show many of these time-tested methods in practice with beautiful videos of women giving birth. The midwives have found that things such as breech babies, twins, and large babies do not have to be delivered via induction or C-section and have many experiences getting these babies through the birth canals successfully. The movie shows videos of births including a breech baby, born genitals first; a very large baby who got stuck in the birth canal and was easily birthed once the mother was flipped to her hands and knees; and a couple of births that had absolutely no complications. Interspersed throughout these birth videos were interviews with Ina May, her husband, and the other midwives detailing both their work on the farm and their work as midwives. Ina May also went into some detail about the traveling she has done as a speaker and a researcher and how much, rich information on natural birth is being lost to history and can now only be found in very rare and often out of print medical books.

Overall, I feel that every pregnant woman should watch this movie. We're a culture who has bought into "painless" births via epidurals or "convenient" births via C-section and most of us aren't even aware of the great risks involved in these. Watching this movie and reading Guide to Childbirth, will help educate and open women's eyes--allowing them to see that they can actually have control over their own births if they choose it. Honestly, the book has more information than the movie, so if you're going to go with one or the other, I recommend the book, but if you won't be able to get around to reading this book, the movie also deals with childbirth in a gentle, non fear-inducing way so as to prepare a woman to birth her child the way God intended her to (God being my word, Ina May prefers the word nature). The midwives stress over and over that our bodies are created to give birth. Men think nothing of having genitals that are normally very small, stretch many times their size because it's something easily visible. Well, women's reproductive organs are also capable of such transformation, but we usually aren't aware of this because it's something that happens on the inside. Our culture, the media, and now medical professionals treat women's bodies as if they are defective and incapable of birth, many women will never fully experience the empowerment that comes from seeing for themselves what their bodies are capable of. Much of the pain American women associate with childbirth, Ina May insists, comes from the fear with which we regard the process. If we could embrace the fact that female bodies, like those of males, are also capable of stretching to enormous sizes, without the need for tearing, then we'd be more likely capable of having a natural birth, and we and our babies would subsequently have a better chance of surviving birth, as the mother and infant mortality rate with midwives is much, much lower than it for births in hospitals.

Though the background story of The Farm and how it came to be is fascinating, I wish the movie dealt a bit more with birth and birthing techniques. As it stands, it is a beautifully put together piece that deals tenderly and gently with the issue of childbirth and I still recommend it to every woman and girl. Yes, there are plenty of graphic scenes, but I agree with Ina May that it is important that women see these scenes so they can know what their bodies are capable of and can be empowered in their own births. I rented the movie through Amazon's Instant Video and spent $3.99 to have it for three nights. It was $4 well spent, and my husband and I watched it together. He, as I, agreed that he wished there was more instruction regarding the actual act of birth, but I also feel that the other information included was helpful and relevant, though not what I was interested in seeing at the time.

If you're interested in this topic, here are a couple of other resources you can peruse:
You can head on over to Netflix and watch The Business of Being Born and More Business of Being Born (I'm sure these are available on Amazon as well). The first of these explores home birth and midwifery from the perspective of normal girls like you and me, simply looking for a better birthing experience. It is a broad overview of the whole topic. The second delves more into topics such as VBACs, C-sections, and there's also a lovely segment full of birth stories given by celebrities such as Cindy Crawford and Giselle Blondet. In addition, I would highly recommend the book Ina May's Guide to Childbirth. It's extremely informative and even though this is my second child, I learned a wealth of knowledge from reading it that I hadn't known before. However, I did find that the last few chapters on interventions such as induction and C-sections can be a bit scary for one who may find themselves facing an intervention for very necessary reasons. Ina May has also written a few other books that I haven't read including Spiritual Midwifery, Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding, and Birth Matters: A Midwife's Manifesta.