On Friday this week, I had the privilege to watch this trending Netflix movie with Jen Kamel of VBACFacts and a few other birth workers. I enjoyed the movie as it invoked many emotions while watching this family unravel around the loss of their baby at a home birth. Pieces of a Woman.
I don’t typically pay attention to trending movies on Netflix, but my daughter – who is soon to graduate Medical School and enter her OB residency – alerted me to the movie with concern that it could harm my practice since it was a ‘home birth gone bad’.
At first I was worried as I thought the same thing, but after watching it, I don’t feel the same way. Yes, it depicts a scenario of a baby in trouble and ultimately dying that was born at home. It also is not very true to reality in regards to the amount of monitoring that we do at a home birth, so that part could be harmful as folks don’t know what we do and might assume that the amount of monitoring is just like the movie. But I also know that no amount of monitoring would have changed the outcome. And the outcome would have been the same if the baby had been born in the hospital. Bad outcomes happen in the hospital, but folks don’t typically say “if the parents hadn’t chosen to go to the hospital this never would have happened”. Yet they say that if there is a bad outcome at home without knowing the details of the case. The parents are blamed for their unconventional choice.
But this movie wasn’t a statement about home birth as unsafe. This movie was a poignant and powerful statement about the isolation and grief that parents suffer when faced with the loss of a baby. We watch the relationship between the couple completely break down as neither one is able to deal with their grief and it drives a wedge between them. We watch the mothers family grapple with their grief and their attempts to “do something” to obtain justice as some sort of compensation for their loss. We see relationships break down and we see relationships heal.
I recommend watching and hope that it highlights the need for more resources for postpartum people and families who are dealing with grief from birth trauma – which can happen even when there is no loss of life.
I am writing this letter to appeal to you to stop portraying birth in the manner that nearly every single movie, sitcom, or miniseries has always seemed to portray birth – that of a screaming, sweaty woman lying on her back with her feet up in stirrups and everyone else in the room standing over her, yelling at her to push. The baby comes out and the cord is immediately cut (even in Call the Midwife – the truest to real-life series which portrays childbirth) – this is not beneficial to the baby, was not likely done back in the 1950s in England, and shouldn’t be done today.
Human birth has been domesticated much the same way we have domesticated animals for our benefit. Human birth (especially for low, risk, healthy women) is the only physiological, normal process of the human body that takes place inside a hospital. It doesn’t belong there. It doesn’t work well with bright lights and loud noises and strangers hovering around. Much like our mammalian counterparts, humans do better to birth in a familiar environment, with dim lighting and no distractions. It is a bodily process that requires no input from the thinking mind.
Ask some of the Hollywood actresses and singers who have chosen to birth at home (or in a birth center) how they feel about this. Every one of them have raved about their experience and found an amazing bond with their baby and an easing into motherhood that doesn’t always happen so easily when babies are born in the hospital. Oftentimes, mothers and fathers are frightened by well-meaning care providers and may be treated disrespectfully or even neglected due to the assembly-line nature of hospital birth.
If birth was portrayed in the media as physiological, natural, and low tech (which it actually is for a low risk, healthy person). Then perhaps more people would have the courage to take responsibility for this bodily process that is more of an intimate experience involving the 2 people who created the baby than of the institutions who seek to profit from it.
After all, having a baby is a lot like pooping – what if we had to go to the hospital and get permission to poop? That would be weird… Clients can easily find well trained medical providers to assist them in the out-of-hospital setting to ensure that any potential complications are handled appropriately. This will have a dual benefit of making birth better for birthing people and unclogging the medical system that exists to help those who truly need it.
Let’s start seeing real birth scenes on TV and in the movies – please.