Briefly Noted ~ Books & Movies Members Recommend

Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank, Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D. (2010). NY, WW Norton and Company. 302 pages, ISBN 978-0-393-06458-2 I heard this author speaking about her new book on NPR radio's Fresh Air program in early February, 2010, and stopped the car to listen to the remainder of the show. A few weeks later, I was given the book as a gift by my daughter's boyfriend who knows of my PPN interest. It is a great read regardless of your orientation to PPN, childbirth, fertility, and health. Hutter Epstein is a female medical doctor and writer as well as a mother. With the baby boom "echo" of the original baby boomers going on these days, this author's book hit the stands at a perfect time in American birthing history! The book is chock full of pertinent birth history and facts. While much of the history of childbirth is horrifying, Hutter Epstein has a wonderful sense of humor that she uses judiciously to lighten up the intensity of it all. The gruesome details of obstetrical interventions and contraptions created to "ease" birth problems, as well as the descriptive history of how unskilled male barber surgeons, and later medical doctors, took over the birthing business from midwives, is harrowing and horrifying at times. One can really sense how birth HERstory became birth HIStory! We learn how slave women were exploited to develop the speculum. We learn about fads that became wide scale practices for a time, such as "twilight sleep," and the ingestion of monkey sperm as a male "pick me up" virility technique along with injecting guinea pig and dog testicles for male hormone rejuvenation. We learn about the earliest c-sections and how Caesar had nothing to do with the operation, which was later deemed a "procedure" to make it more palatable to women. There is a sad trip down memory lane covering the use of DES, and then onward in time into the technologies so many of us in APPPAH are familiar with encountering nowadays. Hooray for this author for creating a book for the masses to read and ponder as they begin to suss out how they want their own families' birthing experiences to go! Now millions of people can learn that what they consider "traditional" or "normal" practices in United States birthing scenarios is really just another craze related to efforts to make improvements or obtain power and control in a medical field. Babies, Thomas Balmès. Focus Features, distributor. (May, 2010) [Review excerpts from USA Today, by Jessica Puig]
This observant documentary offers an up-close-and-personal glimpse of four babies from vastly different cultures in their first year of life. It's not a traditional documentary; there's no narration, subtitles or scientific information imparted. There's far more gurgling and cooing than dialogue. The developmental similarities are there, but it's the differences in behavior and circumstances that jump out. We meet the easygoing Ponijao, her mother and other members of her Himba tribe outside her family's dirt hut in Namibia. Curious Bayarjargal lives with his parents and siblings and a herd of cattle on their farm in remote Mongolia. Mari has a toy-filled existence in a small apartment with her parents in Tokyo. Hattie lives a pampered American life in San Francisco with parents. She is taken to baby yoga, and a book titled No Hitting sits prominently on a bookshelf. Ponijao and other tribal children share easily, Bayarjargal and his brother squabble, but their parents generally let them work it out. Mari doesn't have as much chance to interact with other babies, but gets frustrated by the bevy of educational toys set out to amuse her. Some of the most riveting moments in this cinematic scrapbook are those most removed from American experience. Bayarjargal lies swaddled on his back, watching raptly as a colorful rooster parades around his bed, perilously close to stepping on the infant. When old enough to crawl, he fearlessly makes his way into a herd of cattle. No one is around to swoop him up. But the cows step around him and the boy obliviously ambles off. Ponijao exchanges a kiss with a roaming dog. Ponijao and her family seem the most content, though their circumstances are easily the most meager. This could be because of Balmès' Rousseau-like belief in the nobility of those living closest to the natural state. There does seem to be this subtle point of view, based on his scenes chosen from the 400 hours of footage shot. The procession of youthful behavior is almost hypnotic, but Babies is delivered with refreshing immediacy and joyful humor.
APPPAH member Karen Strange adds, "Just saw this cute, sweet movie. No plot, no narration, just babies from 4 countries. Nothing sad, or bad or wrong (my kind of movie)—just babies. Pleasant and nice to see. If you love babies, go and see this!"