DVD Review: Birth as We Know It

Birth as We Know It: Educational Edition. DVD directed and produced by filmmaker Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova. 2006, www.birthintobeing.com (40 minutes), $39.95.

Reviewed by Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE, Talk Birth

As a birth educator, I am always on the lookout for the “perfect” video to show in classes. Though not a film I would show in its entirety to the average class, Birth as We Know It is a gorgeous compilation and I’m delighted to have it amongst my educational resources.

The film is available in two versions—the feature film edition and the “educational edition.” The feature film contains almost 4 hours of total footage (a number of bonus features), including 11 births. The educational edition consists of two condensed versions of the feature film—a 40 minute presentation and a 25 minute version designed to show in groups. I chose to purchase the educational edition and this review is based on that edition. I have not seen the full length feature film.

The forty minute version of the film contains gentle, moving footage of 7 births. All the births occur in water—some in the ocean, but most at home. It also includes footage about birth trauma, cesarean section, and circumcision that is not included in the 25 minute presentation version (which also includes only 6 of the births). The DVD also contains instrumental versions of both.

The births included on this film are all exceptionally peaceful, beautiful, gentle, quiet, and calm births. Some of the birth footage is in slow motion, the sounds are muted, and there is instrumental music as the soundtrack as well as occasional voiceover commentary by the filmmaker. The film alternates between birth footage and spoken descriptions/interviews about conscious birth, emotional presence, limbic imprinting, etc. The voiceover commentary addresses things like toning and healing one’s own birth trauma.

The births are wonderfully undisturbed and unhindered—in most the only hands near mother’s perineum are her own and this is such a profound difference from the usual media representations of birth! A highlight is during “Tanya’s Birth” in which she speaks to her older child, smiles with extreme beauty and peace, then casually glances down again and as the camera follows her glance, we see the baby’s head has emerged between her legs and she is cradling it gently. I love for people to have a chance to see this powerful moment!

Though interesting, I find the voiceover content and non-birth portions of the film to be too abstract or “metaphysical” to appeal to the average birth consumer. It is even a bit too metaphysical for me and I find that the concepts she mentions are not well explained and do not seem immediately reasonable or easy to accept in stride. The instrumental version is one way to gloss over this element, but then you are unable to scene select to specific content the way you are able to do in the regular versions.

So, though I do not show the complete film in classes, there are several birth clips that I do show routinely. I find two of the births in particular to be potent educational tools and they have been very well received in classes and have had a profound impact. The births are so different from general media representations of birth that they leave couples stunned with amazement about what birth can be. Since the births are in water, they are a very gentle, non-messy, not very “graphic” way to expand people’s understanding of normal birth. People in my classes have said things like, “wow! You never see something like that!” or, “that was so beautiful, I’m just in shock.” I find men in particular are more receptive to this footage than to other, more detailed, videos I show and I have had a few request to borrow and view the whole video instead of just the clips I have chosen for class.

In conclusion, this is a lovely film and though I have some reservations about showing the entire educational edition, some of the birth footage has been a powerful addition to my work with birth.

This review was previously published at Citizens for Midwifery.

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