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Giving Birth: Challenges and Choices Video

Reviewed by Susan Hodges, President, Citizens for Midwifery

Photojournalist, renowned author and now film maker Suzanne Arms wants no less than "to change the pattern of birth in America â?? redefine what birth is, showing it as a continuum that starts with pregnancy and goes through the first year postpartum, and [to] focus on primal significance of the mother-baby as a pair." On July 4, 1998 she released Giving Birth: Challenges and Choices, the first in a series called Birthing the Future, the result of Arms' putting her convictions into form for the public.

How do you change people's perceptions and beliefs? I think Arms avoids the typical pitfall of putting people on the defensive. She uses music and photos that focus on the miracle of birth to create a calm and positive atmosphere. She avoids blame and confrontation by attributing the current medical management model for birth to our culture and history and gently suggesting that we can change our approach for the benefit of mothers and babies. Then she has several obstetricians (two women, including author Dr. Christiane Northrup), a nurse-midwife, a labor and delivery nurse, a doula, along with some mothers and families, calmly relaying their experiences, knowledge and opinions which favor natural childbirth and the choice of midwife-attended birth outside the hospital.

Throughout the film Arms focuses attention on the importance of love and kindness toward the mother and baby during the birth process. She shows the beauty, wonder and transformative power of normal, natural childbirth as well as directly addressing the prevailing concerns of most mothers: Will my body work? Why should I have to feel any pain in labor? What is safe for my baby and me?

The film covers many topics, including an eye-opening view about the difference between a "typical" and a "normal" birth, unexpected advice from practicing obstetricians, and the experience of a mother who came to realize that a c-section was more than having a baby, it was "major abdominal surgery," as a nurse put it to her. Interventions, pain, empowerment and safety are all addressed.

The film features one birth: a home birth (attended by a nurse-midwife), including prenatal, labor, delivery and postpartum scenes. While no birth is "typical," this home birth certainly is not unusual and gives a good impression of a midwife-attended birth outside the hospital. The mother works hard, moves around, uses a birth stool, makes great birthing sounds, and is ecstatic upon holding her newborn.

A variety of birth pictures, both still and moving, are included in this film. There are no obvious "crotch" shots, but many nursing babies.

Arms uses text screens at various points to present factual information. They are clear and easy to read, but some viewers may find them too numerous or distracting from the rest of the film.

One scene at the beginning of the film, of women in a circle lighting candles, is somewhat "new-agey" and might be objectionable to some viewers.

Obviously one film cannot cover everything; in attempting to dispel the "birth as a disaster waiting to happen" concept, the film by omission downplays the fact that sometimes even a well-planned home birth can have serious problems.

Only 35 minutes long, Giving Birth would be excellent as a first film on childbirth, or for people who haven't really thought about their birth choices yet, and this is really the audience for which it is intended â?? the general public. Because it concentrates on the most basic aspects of childbirth, there is no discussion about different kinds of midwives, personal responsibility considerations, or how to find a home birth midwife. These topics and the need for legal home birth midwives such as CPMs would be natural for discussion after a showing of the film.

In my opinion, the beautiful and technically well crafted film is a very valuable addition to the videos available for public education about midwifery and out-of-hospital birth. It would be very suitable for a wide variety of audiences, everything from national TV, to high school health classes, to a community showing in the public library.

The general public can purchase this video for $29.95 (higher prices for professionals and institutions) by calling (877) 247-8446 (toll-free) or (970) 884-4090, or fax (970) 884-9141. Visa/MasterCard accepted by phone or fax. Or mail a check or money order to: Birthing the Future, PO Box 1040, Bayfield, CO 81122. You may also visit Suzanne's website for more information.

To interview Suzanne Arms call (970) 884-4090 or fax (970) 884-9141, or

A news release about the film is also available by e-mail or on paper.

Created and produced by Suzanne Arms and Susan Berthiaume
Video: 35 min.

Reprinted from Citizens for Midwifery News, July 1998

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