Monday, June 18, 2012

2012 LA Film Festival: 'Birth Story' Review

To tell you the truth, I didn't know much about midwives before watching Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives, which world premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Saturday.

But after checking out this thoughtful and thought-provoking documentary by directors Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore, I became fascinated with the idea of having your baby at home, surrounded by women (and your husband) who were caring, gentle and affirming. These midwives were carrying out the ideal set forth by the founder of this modern birth alternative, Ina May Gaskin, who said that Rule No. 1 in the delivery room should always be "Be nice."

Gaskin founded this movement in the early 1970s after going through her own delivery with her daughter and not being impressed with the process, to say the least. She objected to the hyper-clinical attitude that seemed to almost take the mother and her considerations out of the picture entirely. She was not -- and still isn't -- a fan of forceps, induction or Caesarean sections, saying that women should feel confident that they can do this without the surgery or the potentially harmful instruments. (Our bodies are not lemons, as she says.)

That said, midwives don't discount medical science entirely (which, admittedly, was what I had thought before watching the film). If things start to go awry, it's the midwife's job to call an ambulance and get help.

Wigmore and Lamm do not shy away from the birthing process, chronicling two present-day births (one in a tub of water at home, no less) while also making great use of archival footage from births at the Farm, a commune started by Gaskin and her husband, Stephen, in rural Tennessee.

They also did a beautiful job of capturing Gaskin's no-nonsense personality. Living a modest rural existence, she speaks her mind with humor and a knowing sense of the fast-moving modern world.

But for me watching children come into the world, while their mothers were being encouraged, cuddled and supported, was simply breathtaking. It was calm, it was peaceful, and I couldn't help but see the appeal.

There will be another screening of Birth Story on Friday, June 22 at 7:30 p.m. at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live. Tickets are $13.

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