“Birth story” – a documentary about Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives

What would happen if everyone attending your baby’s birth remembered to be nice to you? What if the obstetricians tried singing before cutting? In the documentary “Birth Story”, midwife, author and activist Ina May Gaskin suggests with amusement that they could consider complimenting you: “You have the best vagina I have ever seen.”

The feature-length film tells the story of Ina May and the Farm Midwifery Centre in Tennessee. The centre started as a group of friends delivering each other’s babies and went on to change the way childbirth is approached today. “Birth Story” reveals Ina May to be funny and refreshingly straight-talking. Anyone who’s read her books Spiritual Midwifery or Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth probably isn’t surprised.

As we follow the history of her pioneering work at the Farm, she calls us to believe in birth. After all, it’s sacred, normal and works. Birth needn’t be overwhelmed by fear and shouldn’t strip a woman of her confidence. And it shouldn’t lead to as many deaths as it does.

I went with a friend last night to see “Birth Story” at a screening at St Michael’s Hospital in Bristol, with donations going to the hospital’s new midwife-led unit set to open in May. The event had been organised and funded by Katheryn and Sharon of bumps n babies, which offers HypnoBirthing® taught by practising midwives.

As we walked out of the lecture theatre, the phrase lodged in my mind was “life affirming”. We are capable of extending such love to one another and love can hugely impact how we bring our babies into the world. As a breastfeeding support volunteer, I felt proud to be part of the community of women holding on to one another in our children’s earliest years.

I also came away feeling more at peace with my discomfort over Talitha’s birth. Induction is risky business and I’m as convinced as ever that this was not the way it needed to be.

For those of us currently in our childbearing years, it may be easy to forget how far birth culture has come. It’s not so long ago that women were unconscious during their children’s births. Near the start of the film, Ina May recalls the birth of her first baby. She was bound hand and foot by people in masks, with an unnecessary but routine episiotomy and forceps delivery. She didn’t see her baby until the following day and when she did, she didn’t recognise the baby as hers. Later on, we hear of a couple who handcuffed themselves to each other before entering the hospital because they didn’t want to be separated. Common practice at the time was to exclude men from the delivery room.

All of this is completely alien to the births that punctuate “Birth Story”. Partners kiss women while they labour. Women vocalise without distress. Other women lovingly lay hands on the mother giving birth. Labouring women are naked. Older children are present. A breech baby is safely delivered. Shoulder dystocia is resolved by helping a woman get on all fours. A stringed instrument plays in the background. A father places his hand on a mother’s shoulder as she births her baby into her own hands.

Spiritually and biologically it just makes sense. Love makes sense.

Here, take a look at the trailer. The DVD will be release in May. I really recommend buying it and watching it with a group of friends. It’s valuable viewing for all of us.

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  • I totally agree – one of the reasons we started down the homebirth route was because I instinctively felt that it couldn’t be right that 80%+ of my friends were having interventionist births and I wanted to try and avoid that

    As we learnt more we realised that we needed to take ownership of making sure we were treated the way we wanted to and decisions were made from a position of knowledge not fear

    We were lucky to have choices, what scares me is the move to outlaw independent midwives risks removing this choice from many women going forward
    Muddling Along recently posted..Helping working parents isn’t a rejection of other parents

    • That’s why I planned for a homebirth as well. I definitely knew a lot of “stuff” but I wish I had done more to prepare myself inwardly. Looking back, I didn’t trust my instincts and my body as much as I could have done. Do you think an independent midwife helped a lot? I’m horrified that the law is changing. It’s really important that we protest.

  • What I dont get is why arent any of the fathers/men around in all of this? Arent they (beyond the obvious) equally important throughout the whole process, being natural and in the spirit of things.. out on the prairie or mountaintop, it would have only been ma and pa in the beginning no? Today in America fathers are thought of as the money, mom is the house.. oh wait, wrong century. OOPS. The whole process is such a personal thing – I agree with the thoughts, just not the methods. Father should be included in everything, start to finish in my opinion. And for what its worth, “deadbeat dads” should be left to their own devices.. the more and more we submit to government “standards” the more and more we lose humane society, where we are free to choose and do as we please. End of/ 🙂

    • Hello! Thanks for stopping by. I have to admit I’m a bit confused by your comment. Fathers are almost always present and very involved in the births in the documentary I’m discussing here. The same is true in Ina May’s books, Spiritual Midwifery and Guide to Childbirth. This post focuses on women manly because I’ve been thinking through my own experience and writing to inspire other women. I agree that fathers (or whomever the women feels safest with – bear in mind some mothers are single, would rather not have a male present or are gay – a father is not always in the picture) have a valuable role in the experience. If you look around elsewhere on this blog, I do talk about fathers, partners, etc. Indeed, my husband was very important in the births of both my girls.

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