Saturday, June 23, 2012

LA Film Festival Interview: Mary Wigmore and Ina May Gaskin from 'Birth Story'

Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives
Last week I had the chance to check out the Los Angeles Film Festival entry Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives, directed by Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore. (Read my review here.)

I also had the chance to speak with director Mary Wigmore and Ina May Gaskin, and I wanted to share my interview here. They were both down-to-earth, funny and, like me, in total awe of the birthing process. As a bonus, I found out that Wigmore has one 4-year-old son and is pregnant with her second child. How fitting!

L.A. Story: Mary, what brought you to this film? Why now?

Mary Wigmore: I became interested in Ina May as I read her book Spiritual Midwifery when I was pregnant with my son, and I found that the book made me feel less afraid. It made childbirth seem like a great adventure and part of life, rather than something to be feared. And I feel like her books are great examples of how the power of positive stories can be so helpful for people vs. stories based in fear.

(Sara and I) were introduced to Ina May, and I felt like when I read her books and when I was pregnant, I was sort of searching out for the documentary about her and it didn't exist. And there was just this luck of meeting her, and there was no film about her, and we just decided to go to Tennessee and interview her.

L.A. Story: Were there any surprises for you while you were filming?

Mary Wigmore: We filmed two births, so it was sort of tricky going there because we live in Los Angeles. And waiting around for births, we felt like we were midwives or got a feeling of what it would be like to be on call all the time. That was surprising how every time the phone would ring, you'd sort of jump up and get ready to go. There were sleepless nights, wondering when that call would come.

The two births that we filmed were seamless and very calm. There were no complications whatsoever, so in terms of surprises that way, no. ... The big surprise is how the majority of births are uncomplicated, and through love and kindness, these women are able to have babies in a calm, sweet environment, where they feel supported, and I think that's more of a surprise to know that that can happen at the Farm and, obviously, elsewhere.

L.A. Story: Had you seen someone else give birth before filming the documentary?

Mary Wigmore: No, it was thrilling. We were nervous when we were shooting. You're one step back, and we were right there. We had a physical reaction -- I was shaking, I was excited. It was so beautiful and amazing to see.

L.A. Story: Ina May, what are some misconceptions (so to speak) about home births and midwifery?

Ina May Gaskin: Everybody likes to set it up as an opposition. Everybody should have their babies at home, or everybody should have their babies at a hospital. In an ideal system, you have the option of both of those. We're not trying to get rid of hospital births. The home birth rate is 1%, and we're arguing whether 1% can exist, when there are quite a few women that don't have long enough labors to even get to a hospital.

Women need to have the option of home birth. It makes a lot of sense if you're Amish. I mean, how are you going to harness up your horse and get your buggy ready to get to the hospital on your 10th labor? Are we going to criminalize your culture because home birth is a necessity? Or if you're one of these fast birthers? Or someone who has agoraphobia? It should be a choice. If it's not a choice, guess who does some births -- truck drivers. If you Google 'truck drivers' and 'childbirth,' you're going to find out that there are a bunch of truck drivers who carry birth kits with them.

Having home births be part of an acceptable choice means that this is the laboratory where midwives who attend home births, we learn things from women. No matter how old we are or how many births we've attended, some woman is going to come along and teach us something new. It's sad to say, but hospital guidelines have become almost like rules or laws now to where you can't bring new elements of practice in very easily that are brilliant because everything is so frozen.

(Midwifery) is a kind of laboratory for innovation and rediscovery of ancient skills. ... We don't want to become more ignorant as we go, we want to keep learning as we go.

L.A. Story: Did you ever consider getting your medical degree and becoming a doctor?

Ina May Gaskin: *laughs* No, no, no! I was actually crowned obstetrician in 1999 when I'd given a grand rounds lecture at the University of Florida at Gainesville. The head of the department there said the technique I taught him was a message from God because it had saved this baby's life. ...

He brought me over to the lectern, and he put the baseball cap on me that said OB-GYN on it. So I'll take that.

The final festival screening of Birth Story will be tonight at 7:20 p.m. at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live. Tickets are $13 and available at the door only.

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