“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.