Friday, April 11, 2008


Last spring, my local public radio station (Rolla, Missouri) aired Thin Air Media’s production of BIRTH, a one hour long documentary about childbirth in America today. BIRTH is an audio journey through practices and perceptions of birth in America and was developed by Public Radio International for Women's History Month, March 2007.

This program helps frame birth as an issue of political, cultural, and social concern. Instead of a “fringe” issue accessible only to readers of Mothering or Compleat Mother, a program like BIRTH brings childbearing to national, public awareness. I feel optimistic that the increasing visibility of birth issue via media sources such as this indicate we are reaching a “tipping point”—a critical mass of public awareness generating a pendulum swing to true social change/transformation in support of normal, healthy birth as a family event, instead of a medical diagnosis.

A small criticism of the program is that it is difficult to get any sense of who is speaking at any one time—could be dozens of people (it is) or just five (it isn’t). There is no transition between the speakers or introductions of them. It is confusing and lacks continuity. It may also be difficult for the casual listener somewhat difficult to assess the “message” or primary theme.

One of my favorite quotes from the program is as follows (a young man speaking):

“Anybody who has witnesses a woman give birth, their wife, or whoever it is. Just seeing the commitment, the love. Just phenomenal. I mean, how we have evolved to this point and that we just should be bowing down to women as just these special, special creatures…”

How crucial it is to hear this message. Deeply hear it. Thanks to the BIRTH Tour many people had the opportunity who otherwise may never have done so.

To read more about the program or to purchase a copy of it ($20) visit Thin Air Media's site.

More about the documentary quoted from the site:

"BIRTH: A one-hour documentary about the practices and perceptions of birth in America.
Starting with early perceptions, we move through the process of birth beginning before labor, continuing during labor, and following the actual event. With a multiplicity of voices woven with sound we examine the process of birth from an emotional, physical and philosophical perspective.

As we move back and forth through time and from person to person, we discover how stories from our lives, history, media, and the medical institution enter into the culmination of the actual birthing process.

Birth is a rite of passage through which all human beings pass. Is it the same as it ever was? Why do some women feel deeply empowered by their birth experiences and others feel stripped of their motherhood? Where do our expectations about how we give birth come from, and how do they play out when we approach the event? What is the baby’s experience? And what about the father’s role?

Turn on the television or watch a movie and you're likely to see birth portrayed as an emergency medical procedure. Is this a true depiction of what happens? Perhaps, and yet there are many ways in which to approach the experience. Above all else, we are biologically predisposed to be interested in this topic. Quite simply, when it comes to birth everyone can relate."

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