Ina May Gaskin is one of the most influential American women alive today. She’s a midwife– some call her the mother of modern midwifery– but she’s also an activist and a prolific writer. She tends to pregnant and laboring women on a former commune in Tennessee, called The Farm, alongside other off-the-grid midwives and Amish families. She also travels the world, exchanging research and observations with an international coterie of obstetricians, midwives, sociologists and scientists. She’s perhaps most famous for telling women how good their bodies are. “Your body is not a lemon,” she insists at podiums across the country.
Over many decades of assisting women in what are most officially called spontaneous, vaginal births, she’s preserved (and amassed) a great body of knowledge about how birth works when there are few machines and medicinal interventions involved. The birth statistics where she and her colleagues catch babies are outstanding. People scratch their heads looking at them; but birth is so dangerous! How could her c-section rate be so low? Why don’t these women want epidurals? Maybe they’d prefer to kiss during a contraction, says Ina May. Or laugh?
A brilliant new documentary, Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and The Farm Midwives explores all of this.
It won the audience award at the Los Angeles film festival and it’s making the rounds in cities all over the US. I saw it recently and was blown away. The filmmakers– whom, full disclosure, I know and like very much– have done something incredibly clever with this film. They somehow avoided a whole black hole of controversy and mommy-war stir-up by just telling the story of The Farm and letting viewers settle into it as they may.
The birth scenes are especially riveting: there’s an old school hippie birth in instamatic tinges of gold; a shoulder dystocia birth (this is where a large baby gets stuck on the way out) that is resolved quickly and calmly with the “Gaskin maneuver,” a breech birth and a water birth in a suburban home. This is some of the best birth footage out there– a must-see for anyone even remotely interested in the subject. We are all born, after all, so this is arguably the most relevant subject. The filmmakers let us see all of this without much in the way of cinematic manipulation. There’s always a point of view, of course, but this is not propaganda. It’s just a good, long peer into the life of a hugely important American midwife and a glimpse at another way of thinking about womens’ bodies and what they can do if given the chance.
Enjoy the trailer: http://youtu.be/gc_XS8OnG48
This week Birth Story is playing in Philadelphia, Costa Mesa, Sydney, Burlington (Ontario), Minot (ND), Wilmington, (NC), Atlanta, GA and Hudson, NY and many more locations … Check the official website for a screening near you.
Ceridwen Morris, CCE, is a writer, childbirth educator and the co-author of From The Hips: A Comprehensive, Open-Minded, Uncensored, Totally Honest Guide to Pregnancy, Birth and Becoming a Parent. Follow her on Facebook.