(NOTE: The following post will contain discussion of childbirth and related anatomy and medical procedures. There will be no graphic descriptions or images, but continue reading at your own discretion. Information in this article is not intended as medical advice. All opinions that I make are the conclusions of my own research. If you are interested in any of the topics I discuss, I encourage you to do your own research and discuss your options with your health care team.)
VBAC is not an uncommon topic lately, and though it sounds like a vacuum or tech gadget, it’s actually an acronym, meaning “vaginal birth after cesarean section.” Cesarean section, more commonly known as a “C-section” is when a child is delivered from the mother’s womb surgically. Though this procedure was originally used to deliver a child in an emergency – when the baby or mother were in distress – it has become an increasingly common surgical procedure. Despite advances in science (which logically would reduce the necessity for emergency deliveries), C-section rates in the U.S. are at an all-time high. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2007, 32 out of every 100 births was a c-section, up from 21 out of every 100 in 1998.
There are lots of reasons for the increase in c-sections, but not all of them are encouraging. Statistics show, for instance, an increase in c-sections in the afternoon and on Fridays – translation: the births are being conveniently fit into doctor’s schedules. Additionally, for insurance liability reasons, many doctors opt for c-sections in order to cover themselves by getting the baby out as quickly as possible. The problem with these approaches is that they have little, if anything, to do with what is best for the mother and baby, or what the mother and family’s wishes are. C-sections are major surgery and carry serious potential implications and recovery for mother and baby. Increasingly, birth has become a sterile and mechanical process instead of the empowering, affirming, and personal process that it can be.
The alternative birthing movement is not new in the U.S. but it is gaining momentum and cohesion. The evolution of this movement has a lot to do with documentary filmmaking, including movies like The Business of Being Born (2008). These movies are not only educating Americans but demystifying birth and alternative birthing options. Alternative birthing options include the use of a midwife and or doula. A midwife is a skilled professional who delivers babies, often in a birthing center or home setting. A doula is a caregiver who focuses on supporting, nurturing, and adv0cating for the mother during the birthing process. Don’t worry, the alternative birthing movement isn’t about eliminating OBGYNs and hospitals, it is about increasing education about safe birthing methods and outcomes, and making sure that moms-to-be and their families have the necessary information to make the best decisions for their birthing experience. Most advocates for alternative birth acknowledge the critical importance of skilled surgeons, but argue that a surgeon shouldn’t be needed to attend every birth, and that surgeons aren’t necessarily trained for, or open to, the body going through the process naturally, without intervention. The alternative birthing movement is helping to show that there are a variety of skilled professionals that can help a mother through her birthing process – the movement is working hard against generations-old stigmas suggesting that midwives are something akin to witchdoctors, instead of the well-educated and experienced health care providers that they are.
So, you couple all of these (necessary or not) c-sections with the growing dialogue over birthing options, and you get a lot of women who, for one reason or another, have had a c-section, but would like to do it differently the next time around. They want a vaginal birth after cesarean section, VBAC. I happened upon an amazing Kickstarter project a few days ago about 4 such women, called Trial of Labor. This documentary film documents the emotional journeys of these women as they attempt to reclaim their birthing options. I have donated to this project through Kickstarter, but I was so drawn to it that I got in touch with the makers of the film to get a few interview questions in so that you can learn a little bit and help them too! The project has reached its initial funding goal, but that was a “bare bones” budget, so funding is still needed to increase the quality and marketing of the film.
Birthing can be a touchy subject, and I want to be clear that this isn’t about judgement – different things are right for different people. I was born via c-section, and my little sister was a VBAC baby. My sister has 3 children that were all born in a hospital with OBGYNS. For her 4th child, she and my brother-in-law have opted for a midwife and a homebirth. The babies of most of my friends have been born in hospitals. None of these is right or wrong, or better or worse than the other. The important thing to me is increased access to information so that families can make their own decisions. Please know that this post is sent out to you with extra love and hope that the information in it will help empower you or a loved one to find the best birthing solution for you! If any of this speaks to you personally, or reminds you of someone you know, I hope you will donate anything (even $1 will help) to the Trial of Labor project.
Now say hi to Dr. Elliot Berlin, one of the co-creators of this exciting project!
It seems like this project was sort of fated – it came together more organically than a lot of films – can you tell us a little bit more about how it happened.
During my early years in chiropractic I was doing lots of work with fertility. As more and more of our clients succeeded in getting pregnant, they wanted to continue coming in for care. Not knowing much about pregnancy or prenatal care I tried to refer them to a chiropractor who specialized in this field and could not find any in our area. After a bit of study, I agreed to continue seeing these clients and quickly became immersed in prenatal clientele. It didn’t take long for me to see that lots of women were having different birth experiences than they had imagined, due to lack of information. Among the most common issues were unwanted cesarean sections and lack of support for repeat cesareans. After meeting filmmaker Rob Humphreys at the office (his wife was a patient), we decided to interview some of the women who were planning for VBAC. After the first interviews were done, the stories were so compelling that we felt obligated to continue filming the rest of their journeys. And Trial of Labor was born.
What about these specific women and their stories made you think that a documentary was warranted or needed?
Each of their stories is so different. All of them had a strong drive and determination to birth naturally and each had obstacles to overcome. It was hard not to get attached and do everything possible to help them achieve success.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your practice, Berlin Wellness Group?
We are a wellness practice focusing on prenatal, postpartum and family care. Chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, counseling, etc.
The alternative birthing movement seems to be gaining some steam and cohesion. What do you think is the reason for this and how do you think Trial of Labor will help?
People are realizing that in order to have some control over your birth experience, there is work to do educating yourself about the different options and choices, and surrounding yourself with practitioners who are supportive of your preferences. My hope is that Trial of Labor will continue to fuel the movement and bring awareness to more people of the importance of informed choice in childbirth and motivate the medical community to make sure that there is support for those choices.
What is the best part about working on an indie project? The hardest?
The best part about an indie project is being able to retain creative control and tell the stories as they are without creating artificial drama. The hardest part is that with little or no budget, we need to squeeze in all of the aspects of film production when everyone involved can make the time and we each have to take on multiple roles, some of which we have never done before.
Can you tell us about someone who inspires the work that you do and why?
The moms who I work with inspire me daily. The journey to motherhood is filled with twists, turns and bumps along the way and to watch them stay focused on the goal, and transform, and power through the hurdles is very motivational.
Congratulations on reaching your initial Kickstarter funding goal! It looks like this figure was sort of a “bare-bones” estimate to make sure the film got out there. Can you tell us a bit more about what you could do with the film and internet communities with more funding?
Yes, we are so thrilled and excited and thankful to everyone who has contributed and helped get the word out so that we could achieve our minimum funding goal of $26,000. In the final two days we are looking to increase both the number of backers of the film and the funding. With more backers, even if they give a dollar or two, we show stronger support for the subject matter: informed choice in childbirth and for VBAC specifically. With more funding we can position ourselves for the widest release possible, and bring the information to the largest audience. For example, if we hit $35,000 we can do another round of filming.
The Kickstarter project closes on August 24th, so the best-case scenario is for people to get over there ASAP and donate, but if someone wants to contribute to the project after the 24th, will there be another Kickstarter project or is there another way they can donate?
Even after the Kickstarter closes we will continue to raise funds and people can still redeem the same rewards and incentives offered on Kickstarter. Checks can be sent to Berlin, LLC 6221 Wilshire Blvd, #518 Los Angeles, CA 90048.
Do you have any idea at this point when the film might be released? What is the best way for people to stay up to date on its progress?
We are giving ourselves an initial target date of May 2013. We will update through Kickstarter and on our Facebook page.
Anything else you want people to know about you or the film?
We are humbled by the outpouring of support for this project and we look forward to bringing everyone a powerful finished product next year.
Here is the trailer for Trial of Labor:
I hope you are as inspired as I was!
Make sure to head on over to the Trial of Labor Kickstarter page and show your support.
For more information on alternative birthing methods and VBAC, check out these resources:
ICAN- The International Cesarean Awareness Network website
DONA International website – primary doula association – for doulas, to become a doula, or to learn about what doulas do
MANA- Midwives Alliance of N. America website – for midwives, advocates for midwives, and those wanting more information
My Best Birth online community
Pushed: The Painful Truth About Childbirth and Modern Maternity Care by: Jennifer Block
The Business of Being Born movie
More Business of Being Born movie
U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Birth and Natality Statistics webpage
Thanks for stopping by, thanks for your open mind, and thanks for supporting Trial of Labor!