Movie Review: The Business of Being Born

“The Business of Being Born” is a Netflix documentary that goes into greater detail what is really going on behind the scenes in American and western hospitals during birth.  Throughout the film, the experts all talk about different aspects of culture, people, and even media manipulation to show exactly how birth changed from a natural process occurring in a home setting to a medicalized, almost surgical, practice.  We hear from many doctors and medical anthropologists in the field, as well as some couples that have elected to try and have home births.  Also, we followed some modern midwives throughout the video and saw through their eyes what they go through everyday on the job.  My reasoning for choosing this video is that it targets one of my favorite aspects of research: the intangibles.  Most of the experts in the film go back and try to use culture to explain why birth has become medicalized in recent time.  The way that birth has been interpreted has changed from a beautiful process of love and relief, to a necessary surgery/sickness that needs to be fixed and gotten through quickly.  It doesn’t help that basically every aspect of our culture views it as just that, and that fascinates me, that we all see this very profound process to be daunting and, to be fair, scary to go through as the female.

So the film really exploits hospitals.  Personally, after watching this film, I was momentarily very apprehensive to a hospital birth for my partner (should she be pregnant) because of the portrayal.  As I feel this mood would come over anybody that decides to watch this particular movie.  Our culture has changed from traditional people to fast paced, technological people.  We have schedules, lives to attend to.  One might argue that we as a society are a little more selfish as to how our day goes and turns out.  We all want control.  This documentary really brings that cultural shift to light and shows a parallel timeline with how birth has basically transformed because of this change in attitude.  They introduced a concept called “designer birth” and it’s best defined as choosing the due date that best suits you and performing a C-section to deliver the child within your time parameters.  Not only that, but statistically speaking C-sections are mostly performed between the times of 5-10 PM.  The reasoning for that is thought to be that the mother believes she is going into labor, and whether she is or isn’t she’ll be coming home with the baby that night.  Why am I bringing all of this up?  We have changed the way we look at natural processes such as birth and this is what it’s becoming, a nuisance; an interruption to our day.  What is wrong with appreciating the journey and beauty of having a child in a non-stressful, natural environment?  The truth is, our “Does is work” has changed from a happy, healthy birth to a “get this thing out of me” kind of birth.  In class, we compared our birthing system with that of the Inuit tribes in Canada and there were vast differences.  They see birth as a reincarnation of their ancestors, so they treat each birth as a rebirth.  The woman is empowered to turn old life into new life with her body.  As a result of this view, their process of giving birth is a very reverent, natural and uninterrupted process that happens on its own time (Gabriel 2016).  Their “does is work” is to ensure that the baby is delivered safely and on its own, there’s no biomedical intervention.  A lot of the couples in the video really wanted to try this and found that it was very empowering to themselves and their partners to have complete control over the birth, like the Inuits.

This then begs the question of who has the power for decision?  In the movie, the experts alluded to hospitals coercing young women giving birth into taking drugs that aren’t necessary so that the pain can be numbed.  These in turn created bigger problems that they had to take even more drugs to try and counteract.  We as patients think that doctors know everything about their trade (I am in no way discounting the work and knowledge it takes to achieve an MD; I’m only suggesting that we may put a little too much trust in our medical system).  The truth is, most doctors haven’t even seen a natural birth, but we give them the power to decide what’s better for us.  People that Have power can influence the health of people that don’t (Gabriel 2016).  In this case, the doc has that power whereas the woman in most cases does not.  Sure, the doctors are usually looking out for the patients’ best interests.  However, why would you trust somebody that doesn’t even know how a proper birth is performed?  The position that they have the mothers in is widely known as the worst birth-giving position.  The drugs are terrible, and there’s virtually no actual selflessness from the mother in the process.  Not feeling the pain of the birth naturally removes the mother from the situation.  Attachment grows when she controls the process (The Business of Being Born).  This is my favorite quote from the movie.  It touches on that intangible of affection between mother and child.  Why give your power away to somebody that doesn’t really know what they’re doing?  Why test your luck with somebody that specializes in fixing the body, not helping bring a new one in.  These are questions we need to ask ourselves as westerners.  Have we grown to rely on doctors for too much?  The answer is simple yet complicated: it depends.

I really think this film should be added to the class because it fits right in with the critical anthropological theory week.  This film really questions the current state of medicalized birth and brings a lot to light about the truth of the matter, including hidden agendas, actual costs, and the ever popular in an anthropology class-the culture shift.  Just about everything in this documentary lines up almost perfectly with a number of the sections we went over this semester.  I’d definitely watch this if you haven’t yet.  It’s short, about 90 minutes, and very interesting and informative.


Gabriel, Cynthia. “Medicalization of Everyday Life.” ANP 370: Culture, Health, and Illness. Accessed August 15, 2016.


Gabriel, Cynthia. “Critical Medical Anthropological Theory.” ANP 370: Culture, Health, and Illness. Accessed August 15, 2016.


The Business of Being Born. The Business of Being Born. 2008. Accessed August 14, 2016.

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