I produced the 2008 documentary The Business of Being Born to educate women about their choices in childbirth, and raise questions about maternity care in the U.S. So many aspects of our system did not make sense to me and did not seem to function in the best interest of mothers and babies. It was shocking to me that 40 other countries ranked ahead of the U.S. in terms of newborn death risk and that our maternal mortality rates were on the rise. Both my children's births were such empowering, transformative experiences for me that I became passionate about making sure other new parents had the same opportunities. I felt most pregnant women were overly subjected to the "what-could-go-wrong" stories and the fear-based information.
The Business of Being Born, (a.k.a. BOBB) became an underground hit, a film that film critic Owen Gleiberman recently dubbed "... the rare documentary that is actually changing lives. It deserves to be called revolutionary." My director, Abby Epstein, and I receive hundreds of emails from parents who credit the film for setting them on the path to a positive birth experience or saving them from a potentially damaging one. Last November, Abby and I released our follow-up series, More Business of Being Born (a.k.a. More-BOBB.) Our new set of four films delves deeper into all things birth and features well-known faces including Cindy Crawford, Alanis Morissette, Gisele Bundchen, Melissa Joan Hart, Christy Turlington Burns and Laila Ali speaking openly about their diverse birth experiences.
Abby and I created More-BOBB to answer essential questions about labor and childbirth, covering topics that are not typically discussed in detail at a routine obstetric appointment. We just started hosting community screenings around the country and I am reminded once again about why this arena is my passion. Women desperately need this information as there seems to be a huge lack of resources and access to birth options. One appreciative mommy blogger wrote: "I really can't express how comprehensive and valuable these DVDs are. Save your Thursday nights and just watch these instead of going to pre-natal class..."
One of our films is titled "The VBAC Dilemma." What's a VBAC you might ask? It stands for "vaginal birth after cesarean." The VBAC rate has dropped from 28 percent in the 1990's to 9 percent today. You also might ask why most people still believe the old adage "once a cesarean, always a cesarean" and are not even aware that a VBAC can actually be a safer option in some cases than a repeat c-section. And you might be surprised to learn that a mother in Los Angeles is able to have a VBAC but a mother who lives 60 miles away in Ventura would be forced to have a repeat cesarean simply because the hospital's insurance policy wont cover it. Access to VBACs is becoming more crucial now that one in three American women give birth by cesarean. By denying mothers access to VBACs, more women are having multiple cesareans which become riskier with each surgery.
For me, this is not about promoting natural birth or claiming one model of care is superior to another. This is about doing the best for mothers and babies. The bottom line is that mothers who receive attentive prenatal care and have a safe, positive birth experience are in a better position to create a healthy attachment to their infants, have more success breastfeeding and enter the experience of motherhood feeling empowered. And, that concept -- the respect for birth as the sacred beginning of motherhood -- is what has become sorely lost in our mainstream medical system.
Globally, in 2009, an estimated 3.3 million babies died during their first four weeks of life. Researchers have estimated that these deaths could be reduced by two-thirds with measures like providing antibiotics and implementing resuscitation techniques. I ask you to join me in fighting for the right of all mothers to have access to safe birth options. How and where you decide to bring your child into this world is a choice that belongs to you. Like the life-changing empowerment I experienced during the births of my children, my work on behalf of global motherhood has revolutionized my purpose in the world.