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MOVIE REVIEW

Making the break from tradition

Abby Epstein and Ricki Lake's new documentary focuses, really focuses, on the case for natural childbirth.

January 16, 2008|Gary Goldstein | Special to The Times

Though "The Business of Being Born" sometimes feels more like a reality TV pilot ("Manhattan Midwives"? "Celebrity Bathtub Births"?) than a full-fledged documentary, as an advocacy piece for natural childbirth, the film delivers.

Director Abby Epstein, along with executive producer Ricki Lake, takes a startlingly intimate look at the birthing process and the lesser-known options available to expectant mothers. In fact, this film is so persuasive that, if enough women see it, there's likely to be a serious boom in the midwifery trade.

Epstein introduces us to several New Yorkers who, like the filmmaker and Lake, chose to give birth at home versus in a hospital. These progressive women have courageously allowed cameras to capture their most physically revealing and painful moments -- up close and very personal.

As a result, this unflinchingly shot picture is not for the squeamish. Epstein and Lake's own commitment to you-are-there realism is remarkable as well, each bringing new meaning to the phrase "naked truth."

A cogent array of obstetricians, health experts and midwives (most notably the spirited Cara Muhlhahn) are also on hand to paint a grim picture of institutional deliveries. With their frightening emphasis on financial expediency -- and to ensure the fastest turnover of beds -- hospitals often employ a host of questionable birthing interventions, such as painkilling epidurals, labor-quickening drugs and highly invasive and almost trendily prevalent cesarean section surgeries.

According to the film's pundits, these methods are not only stressful and risky, they can also impede the physiological and emotional bonds that naturally occur between mother and newborn. A former director of the World Health Organization offers the blanket summation, "If you really want a humanized birth, the best thing to do is get the hell out of the hospital."

While the movie definitely favors midwifery, it doesn't dismiss the practical, time-honored reasons for a hospital birth, not the least of which are brought to bear when director Epstein herself goes into labor. She unexpectedly provides a finale so urgent and apt it couldn't have worked better if scripted.

Pregnant women -- and involved dads -- would be well advised to check out this provocative portrait.

"The Business of Being Born." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes. Exclusively at Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 848-3500.

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