This week, we are thrilled to feature the voice of a leading birth advocate, Ricki Lake. The below interview features Ricki and her producer and coauthor, Abby Epstein, as they speak to their film, The Business of Being Born, their book, “Your Best Birth,” and the inspiration behind their mighty movement.
How have women responded to The Business of Being Born?
Ricki Lake: The reaction has been really incredible. Everyday I meet people who have been affected by it, and it’s not just women, it’s everyone. Even people who do not think they have an interest in the subject matter are suddenly interested in the story — are sucked in to the personal tales and the statistics that we reveal, and realize what an important issue this really is.
Abby Epstein: I love the stories that we hear. Someone saw the film, and then at 35 weeks dropped her OB and went to a birth center and a midwife. We also hear stories about those women who didn’t necessarily change providers or birth locations, but were able to advocate for themselves and talk their way out of a C-section. I love those stories, because I think that is the message of the film. It is not that everyone should have a home birth, that everyone should be at a birth center, or that everyone should use a midwife — at all. It’s really about education. Knowing your choices, being a really informed consumer, and not falling prey to the fear that so many women feel that makes them consent to things they may not have, had they known differently.
So you are actually changing people’s lives.
Abby: They tell us we are!
Ricki: We are definitely helping to make birth a better experience overall, and that feels really good.
What stories are you hearing from midwives? How are you changing their lives?
Ricki: Their practices are definitely doing better than before the movie. In many cases, we are hearing that their practices have doubled, that they’ve had to take on more midwives — it has definitely helped their businesses. And it has helped to change the perception of them.
How has the movie changed your own life?
Ricki: It is so hard to put into words. I always felt like my life had a lot of meaning — I am a mom and feel really fulfilled in that role, and I love the work that I do — but I have now given back in a way that is bigger than I had ever hoped. I feel that given my former career as a talk show host, I now have some legitimacy. I have something to say, and people want to hear it. It is just a really good feeling to have done a project that I believed in so whole-heartedly — a project that is from a really good place and is having this kind of positive effect.
What about the difficulties? What challenges have you encountered as a result of the movie?
Ricki: Day to day, I don’t really come up against a lot of opposition to the film. I am sure there are obstetricians out there that still don’t believe in our message, but I don’t know how you can argue with the message of women having choices. That is ultimately what it comes down to. I don’t feel that women walk away from the film feeling judged by the birth that they ultimately ended up having, or are going to have.
Abby: I agree, and one thing that worked in our favor was including the outcome of my birth in the film. I won’t spoil it, but because you see a birth that required intervention, you see a really lovely transfer from home to hospital, from midwife to OB, and the system working in the way that it could. I think including my birth in the film really mollifies the medical community in terms of saying, “Of course, there is a place for the hospital. Of course, there is a place for surgeons and technology when it is needed.” So I think that has really helped us balance the film and receive more respect from the medical community. Even though a lot of people really don’t agree with a lot of the points we make in the film, on some level they do embrace the message.
What do you think The Business of Being Born is accomplishing?
Ricki: It is definitely raising awareness; it is educating people and getting them to fight for their own choices.
What are your next steps?
Ricki: I am continuing to put myself out there and advocate for choice in birthing. I hope to make the system better and safer, to give women access to the information for their decisions, and to hopefully lower both the C-section rate and the maternal death rate. We want all of it. We want better maternity care, and for women to have as amazing, empowered experiences as possible.
How has this movie or being a childbirth activist changed your mothering style?
Abby: This whole idea of awareness, of being fully conscious to all the levels of motherhood. Ricki has a quote in the film that her peers just seem to want to “get this baby, acquire this baby, get this baby out,” and oftentimes, that is where motherhood starts. I think it is really a shame that a lot of women are not approaching birth and motherhood prepared, not doing their homework, not getting access to the right information. That many are having birth experiences that are disempowering and depressing, or that they are separated from their babies at birth — all things that can be very deeply wounding.
Do you want to tell us anything about your book?
Abby: It is called “Your Best Birth,” and it is meant to be a very practical guide to navigating your choices in the current maternity system that we are in. It is not a pregnancy guide, or a “What to Expect When You Are Expecting,” that tells you what your baby is doing at 34 weeks. It is totally about how to pick your provider, how to build your birth team, whether you should hire a doula or not, whether you want a midwife, explaining the different types of midwives and how they work, what you should be looking for in an OB, what a typical hospital experience is like, things you should ask on the hospital tour, things you should ask on a birth center tour. It’s a very practical, handholding guide aimed at women who may want totally different types of births. It’s definitely not just for women who want natural birth. But for women who want a more empowered, more personal birth experience.
This interview, conducted by Maria Iorillo, was repurposed with permission from Mindful Mama.
Maria Iorillo, CPM, has been a practicing midwife serving the San Francisco Bay area since 1986. Maria co-produced It’s My Body, My Baby, My Birth, an educational childbirth film that tells the story of seven mothers in their emotional journeys to natural childbirth.
Have you seen “The Business of Being Born,” or read “My Best Birth?” How did these tools inspire or empower your birth?