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Reviewed Publisher: 
56 minutes, VHS only. Distributed by Freestone, 40 North State Street, Joseph, UT 84739; http://www.freestone.org.
Reviewed Title: 
A Clear Road to Birth A video (2000)
Reviewed Author: 
Publication Date: 
March, 2003
Starting Page: 
Page Count: 

This remarkable and revolutionary video takes us on a journey not heretofore shared in the visual realm. It documents the unassisted childbirth movement, including how it came into existence in the 1950s and continues to grow, along with the particular experiences of several trailblazing mothers who have given birth without assistance from other than immediate family members.

Laura Shanley wrote a book entitled Unassisted Childbirth in 1994 and was the catalyst for this movement. She became a source of information for other women who felt a deep desire to birth by themselves. The mothers who participated in this documentary sought the help of Laura between 1999 and 2000. Most of them had previously experienced births either in a hospital setting or with a midwife. Some of them were motivated towards unassisted birth by unsatisfactory experiences of previous births and some by easy births that did not require any assistance.

We are witnesses to the most intimate and sacred moments of several births, including some in water. The opening already prepares us for the beauty that will follow throughout the film. We see a mother, who is on all fours and giving voice to soft expressive sounds, anticipating the emergence of her baby with the welcoming mantra of "hi baby." We join her in the ecstatic moment of the whole experience. Then she looks into her baby's eyes for the first time and a sibling comes closer to touch him. Later we watch the toddler and newborn nursing at the same time, side by side.

Through all the images that follow, we participate in the unique space surrounding each birth, an intimate circle where each one knows his/her place and is respectful in a most tender and attentive way. This is the web of family life. The images of this video, and the interviews with the mothers and couples, suggest that it would be unlikely to either create or maintain such a setting in a hospital or birthing center. The mere presence of someone else is an intrusion to privacy, even if it is with good intentions. (This includes midwives, something I never before considered.) The underlying reason for this assertion is that birth is a sexual experience, a concept supported by Jeannine Parvati Baker and Michel Odent, M.D., among others. Some women even experience an orgasm at the moment of birth. And who would feel totally uninhibited in such an intimate moment while in the presence of a stranger?

Jeannine Baker, midwife and multi-gifted advocate for natural birth, is featured prominently in this video, where she shares her own story of six births, three of them unassisted. Throughout, we hear her articulate with passion about the psychology and philosophy of what she calls freebirth. Like many other women, she too had earlier birth experiences that led her to seek satisfying alternatives. Several interviews with mothers in the video reflect their decision to choose unassisted births after researching the topic, talking to other women who had experienced such births, and tuning-in to their own psyches. It was always a deliberate process.

In this video, Laura Shanley also shares part of her personal journey, not only the births of her three children, one of them being breech, but resolving a family tension involving her own parents in regard to one of these births.

The mothers who participated in this project came from a variety of ages, educational backgrounds and geographic areas. It is a quiet movement that is expanding on its own due to an underlying deep yearning of women seeking a holistic birth experience, a radical departure from most of the births that we face in our contemporary settings. The births we see are gentle, joyful, respectful, ecstatic, instinctive and powerful. Sometimes we hear the discomfort of labor but we also see pain-free births. This is the kind of birth we all long for, and it is a reality for those who have the courage to trust in their bodies and psyches. This video could revolutionize obstetrics in America! Of the fifty-four women who participated in this project forty-four successfully gave birth at home unassisted, two called for the services of a midwife, and eight went to the hospital, where one had a C-section. Obviously, not every woman is prepared to walk this path, but there is much we can learn from one another and grow in trusting our innate knowledge about giving birth.

Viewing this video is empowering in itself; it reawakens deeper feelings that may give us the courage to face the fears of life and death and to realize that birth is the responsibility of women. It is our privilege to nurture and bring babies into life, for we have an innate and intuitive sense about its flow. The women show us that it is safe and that siblings enjoy participating in this event. It is an inspiring model for younger women.

Dr. Michel Odent's pioneering work (see his book Birth Reborn) includes his idea of the "salle sauvage" (the primitive room), where is found the equivalent of the privacy one finds in one's home, and where "tenderness matters more than technique" while giving birth.

I highly recommend this documentary, for it opens our minds and hearts to the possibility of giving birth without violence, the potential for healing our present birth practices.