A Facebook friend just watched the documentary "Pregnant in America", and asked me if I wouldn't mind elaborating on my thoughts on the film. Who, ME? Mind elaborating? Have we met?
I'm not going to really do a formal review, per se, of the film because it's been about a year since I saw it myself, so I'll just share some impressions.
No, I didn't care for it at all. Maybe it's because I've been spoiled for all birth documentaries by "The Business of Being Born", which is not a perfect film but it IS a very, very well-crafted one. On top of presenting the information well, they manage to include just enough of the personal narratives to make it relatable without tipping the balance. It's entertaining, it uses humor without going over the top, it's paced expertly.
In my recollection, the couple in "Pregnant in America" - or rather, the filmmaker and father, since he is the central figure - don't achieve that kind of balance in any area. It is about them/him. This in itself could be compelling, as there are plenty of films out there that document a person's life or a particular personal story, but I found the director (and star!), Steve Buonaugurio, to be completely unsympathetic. He's abrasive, contentious from the get-go, and even downright combative at times: he seriously ambushes hospital personnel in the parking lot and tries to interrogate them. He's clearly fancying himself Michael Moore, but with none of the perspective and humor. Say what you will about Moore, he's a talented filmmaker (I happen to be a fan, but I understand if you're not crazy about him or his politics or both).
In one segment, Buonaugurio literally has "The hospital is the enemy" written on a flip chart. Let me take this opportunity to state that he does NOT speak for me, nor for many and I would dare say the majority of the birth advocates I know in real life and online. We have major, major problems in this country's maternity care, but the hospital is NOT the "enemy". I do agree that we overmedicalize many things, including birth, but there are times - yes, including some births - when the hospital is not only not the enemy, but the hero. Most of us know people who have been saved by hospitals in one way or another. A statement like that is an insult both to the people who have been saved and to the many people who work in hospitals and DO care very deeply, and have made their life work out of that caring.
So let's battle about policies with which we disagree, absolutely. But alienating the hospital altogether is a boneheaded, belligerent move. I found him so incredibly abrasive that I found myself wanting to disagree with him on just about everything he said, even though I'm ostensibly on the same "side". And yes, I keep referring back to him and him alone, because his wife, Mandy? Merely a bit player, a backdrop for his big opportunity to create a shocking expose.
There are some positives in the film. I really appreciated some of the interview footage, especially that of Joseph Chilton Pierce, along with mainstays Ina May Gaskin and Dr. Marsden Wagner. And . . . that's about it, really.
I'm most floored by his reaction to his own baby's hospital transfer. The couple did have a home birth that went well, until the baby's heart rate started deviating enough that the midwife advised transfer. The baby is kept for observation, but nothing is ultimately found to be a permanent problem. We're left in the dark as to the details. Buonaugurio is furious about the whole thing, and acts as though he is being persecuted by the NICU stay. I can understand being frustrated and scared, but I will always believe in erring on the side of caution. Can you imagine if the midwife had ignored these signs and it DID turn out to be something serious? The outcome could be tragic. But no, it's all about him.
There are so many other far superior films about the same topic. "The Business of Being Born" is the mack mommy of them all, of course. Again, it has its flaws, but it's worlds apart on a technical level, and it manages to maintain an even-handed demeanor despite coming from a clear bias; some opposing views are represented (even if minimal), and the film's perspective comes from clearly presented facts (some would say oversimplified, and they have a point) as well as from multiple personal testimonies. Buonaugurio just bludgeons you over the head from the start and never lets up. And I think he makes us all look like a bunch of narrow-minded, humorless zealots in the process.
There's a lesser known film called "Born in the USA" (not to be confused with the Marsden Wagner book) that is quite good despite being somewhat dated at this point - overall, though, it's still very relevant. I liked that part of the film focuses on a CNM struggling a bit within the limitations of a hospital setting. There's also a scene where a group of OBs and residents all get together for a peer review session that is quite the eye-opener; I'm actually surprised they allowed cameras in. Give it a watch, just keeping in mind that it's not the most current. I would even recommend "Orgasmic Birth" over "Pregnant in America", despite having some reservations about it.
Finally: Also? WORST TAGLINE EVER. Are you ready for it? "Pregnant in America: A Nation's Miscarriage".
I mean, really. I can't make that kind of crap up.