Mary Louise Perkins (left), Ina May Gaskin and Carol Nelson stand and deliver.
BIRTH STORY: INA MAY GASKIN AND THE FARM MIDWIVES Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore). 95 minutes. Opens Friday (March 29) at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. For times, see listings. Rating: NNN
Midwives and doulas are popular subjects these days, so the timing seems right for Birth Story, a profile of midwife and author Ina May Gaskin, who is partly responsible for resurrecting a profession older than the Old Testament.
Gaskin is a septuagenarian hippie who wears T-shirts with psychedelic patterns when delivering babies. She still lives on and works from The Farm, the Tennessee commune she co-founded in 1971. In this film, she convincingly schools us in the advantages of midwifery and her process, which can be viewed as a reaction to a medical system that made childbirth feel less intimate and miraculous than cold and clinical.
Filmmakers Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore ignore the improvements in today's medical birthing system, the better to paint a saintly and heroic portrait of their subject. To that end, they also leave out much of Gaskin's counterculture background despite the fact that life in a commune was exactly what made her a midwife. Somebody had to do it.
A simple Google search reveals what's been swept under the tie-dyed rug in this one-sided doc, like the polygamous marriages (including one with Gaskin), the fact that The Farm wasn't growing just vegetables (hint: something smells like skunk) and Gaskin's own loss of a premature baby. These details would have added more shades to her character and made for a more interesting narrative.
Instead, Birth Story focuses narrowly on the labour process, with uncut footage (crowning and all) that may make the uninitiated queasy. For those who've been through it, there's nothing here you haven't seen already.