'The Mama Sherpas' Brigid Maher on Why a Documentary About Midwives Is So Important

ricki lake, brigid maher, abbey epsteinOdds are you've heard of the documentary films The Business of Being Born and More Business of Being Born, where executive producer Ricki Lake and director Abby Epstein inspired thousands of moms to take charge of their births. Now, this power team has produced a new film with director Brigid Maher called The Mama Sherpas, which focuses on one of a mom's key allies in achieving the birth that they want: midwives.

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Midwives, who delivered all babies before 1900, are trained to avoid unnecessary medical interventions like C-sections. And while some may assume that midwives only handle home births, they also work in hospitals -- and are increasingly part of collaborative care practices that combine the mom-centered midwife model with the safety of a hospital setting.

All of which appealed to Maher, who had a cesarean for her first birth but shuddered at the prospect of getting another.

So, Maher hired a midwife at a hospital to help her have a VBAC (vaginal birth after C-section) -- a delivery method discouraged by many doctors but that midwives are skilled at handling. Maher's VBAC turned out to be a success, enabling this mom to give birth to a whopping 9-pound, 10-ounce baby ... and the inspiration for this film was born as well.

"She popped out and as my husband is my witness, I immediately said, 'I have to tell this story,'" Maher says.

Maher soon joined forces with Lake and Epstein -- whose Business movies critiqued how some hospitals subtly pressured pregnant patients into getting costly medical procedures they didn't need. Back then, this pioneering team's message wasn't always well received.

"Just to give you a sense of how far we've come, back in 2007 with the first movie's release, we were booed and screamed at by hospital staff, who said horrible things about us," says Lake. "Yet a couple months ago, I was given a Mother of the Year award. I never thought this personal project would have the impact it's had. Abby and I were so privileged to add our names to this film and to continue the conversation."

More from The Stir: 'Mama Sherpas': A Sneak Peek at Ricki Lake's New Documentary About Midwives (VIDEO)

Epstein was also thrilled to co-produce Mama Sherpas with Lake because this movie seemed like the logical next step. 

"When The Business of Being Born came out, it was primarily focused on home birth and it was very provocative and controversial," says Epstein. "But obviously, only around 1 percent of women give birth at home. So what can we do for the 99 percent who are going to a hospital? How can we make those people have a more home-birth-like experience?"

With one in three U.S. births ending up C-sections today, Maher hopes her movie points women to an alternative.

"I think that The Business of Being Born was such a powerful film in articulating what's problematic and continues to be problematic about a hospital birth," says Maher. "This filmlooks at the solutions. It shows women that there are good options out there for women who choose to have a hospital birth."

Epstein hopes that this movie may help expectant moms challenge what their doctors may be telling them about their options.

"I really hope that people will see this and realize what's possible, as in, 'Wow, I have a breech baby and maybe I don't have to have a C-section,'" Epstein says.

And even if the women who watch this film still decide to go with a traditional hospital birth without a midwife, Maher still feels like she's succeeded in helping women make more informed decisions and become more comfortable with the prospect of giving birth.

"Even if moms ultimately decide the midwife's model's not for them, this movie still normalizes the birth process," says Maher.

Or perhaps this film might help change what "normal" is. After all, as Lake points out, "We have this image of what we think birth is like in hospitals -- of being told when to push, of being numb from the waist down ... I just love that these films are out there. I love that we're doing work that really makes the world a little bit better." 

 

In the photo: Ricki Lake, Brigid Maher, Abby Epstein; image via The Mama Sherpas

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