LOS ANGELES—There may be something to be said for doing things the old-fashioned way, the way nature might have intended. In Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and The Farm Midwives, Ina May Gaskin and other midwives show a number of natural births, just as they took place: right there with husbands, children, friends, and the mother ready to give birth.
The film took home the Documentary Film Award on June 14 at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
It shows it all—no drapes, nothing blocking the camera. Yet, you’re caught up in this event, for what it is: a natural rite of passage that has been taking place for millennia. These births were assisted or included the presence of one or more a trained midwives as a new life entered the family. Many in the audience nodded, and some said watching it was a “sacred” experience.
Ina May Gaskin is a pioneering midwife, and the founder and director of the Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee. She has assisted in over 1,200 natural deliveries in her 40-plus year career. Her demeanor and approach is pragmatic and down-to-earth.
The documentary was co-directed by Sara Lamm (Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox) and Mary Wigmore. The movie starts with a travelogue of family film footage of those families that decided to leave the modernized California landscape in 1971 and go to the Tennessee countryside to start a new life.
Drawing upon her years of experience, Gaskin’s passion is to “share the benefits and joys of natural childbirth by showing women how to trust in the ancient wisdom of their bodies for a healthy and fulfilling birthing experience. Based on the female-centered Midwifery Model of Care gives expectant mothers comprehensive information on everything from the all-important mind-body connection to how to give birth without technological intervention,” she writes in her book Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.
Gaskin and her husband Stephen and other families founded the famous community known as The Farm in Summertown, Tenn., in 1971. The Farm is an intentional community of families and friends who left California to live on three square miles in Tennessee. The Farm started with the goal of “establishing a strongly cohesive, outwardly-directed community. We want, by action and example, to have a positive effect on the world,” states their website.
Over the last 40-plus years, The Farm has become well known for many natural things: healthy vegetarian cuisine, assisting native cultures, alternative technologies, and of course, natural childbirth and midwifery.
Gaskin said, “We choose to live in a community where we share our lives and fortunes, good times and hard times. We feel that we can be stronger and more useful together than we could be separately.”
Gaskin and The Farm midwives established one of the first non-hospital birth centers in the United States. The Farm’s model is based on recommendations of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Unlike many hospital deliveries, family members and friends commonly attend and take an active role in the birth.
Gaskin travels internationally to network and lecture with other midwives and organizations. She has lectured at midwifery conferences and medical schools all over the world. She is also the author of Spiritual Midwifery, the classic book on homebirth, now in its fourth edition.
What’s Wrong with Gravity?
Explaining the origins of the modern birth position, U.K. Dr. Françoise Barbara Freedman, a medical anthropologist teaching at Cambridge University and midwife, said, “It was French King Louis XIV who insisted on watching his mistress Madame de Maintenon give birth, and the royal doctor had her lie down on the bed rather than sit in the birthing chair so that the king could see his child being born. This unfortunately coincided with the invention of forceps by the Chamberlain brothers in England, so that it became officially the lithotomy position, what a cascade of horrors…”
Forceps are seldom used anymore, because its use can cause spinal neck misalignment or tissue damage to both mother and baby. However, women are still required to lay flat on their backs, and sometimes, even worse, with their feet in stirrups. This inhibits dilation and the woman’s ability to bend over and apply pressure with her contractions to facilitate a shorter natural delivery. The current science hasn’t changed since Louis XIV—350 years ago!
After 350 years, the question should be asked, “Can’t a team consisting of a medical equipment designer, an OBGYN, and an experienced midwife design a birthing chair that would also allow a reclining table feature for the convenience of treatment and accessibility, should a medical intervention be necessary?”
Child Birth and Medical Intervention
Medical intervention is very important with high-risk births or unexpected complications during and after birth. However, some are claiming that medical intervention is utilized when not medically required.
Another intervention is separating the baby from its mother at birth, not letting her and the baby bond for even a minute. This may have consequences for bonding later on.
Medical intervention is far less frequent in natural home births when compared to the hospital setting. The episiotomy (an incision made to ease the exit of the baby) rate was 2.1 percent for the home-birth group, compared with 33 percent for hospital births, and labor was induced in only 9.6 percent of home births, compared to 21 percent of hospital births. Medical intervention is where most problems occur.