The other night I saw a documentary that, if left to my own devices, I probably would not have saught out. But thanks to a few friends in the medical community, I attended an advanced screening of The Business of Being Born – an eye opening look into how babies are delivered in the United States.

I didn’t expect to like the movie as much as I did. Birth plans? Doulas? Even as a parent – as a man, some of these concerns felt out of my grasp. But the film does a good job of identifying the needs of women in the larger context of the hospital system making the issues there-in less of a “women’s issue” or even an issue for expectant couples – but a human issue.

Like any good documentary, the film is rife with interesting facts and statistics. For example, in the 1900’s, 98% of children were born at home. But after the industrial revolution, medical colleges were spitting out more obstetricians than the country knew what to do with. By the 1920’s, hospitals were participating in active smear campaigns against midwives depicting haggard gypsy women as unclean vestiages from “the old country” and offered hospitals as a gleaming, white mecca for safe delivery. By the 1950’s only 1% of births in America were at home. A statistic that stands firm to this day.

Despite the fact that my own son was delivered with the help of a midwife (one whose practice was associated with a hospital, but operated independently), the stigma against midwives still floats around in my brain. Just mention the word and images of water births and waving wolfsbane over a woman’s head come to mind.

There is certainly a little bit of this “granola” way of thinking on display in the movie among the midwives that are interviewed. There is a lot of talk about an “authentic” birth experience among the mothers-to-be. These converstations take on a less endulgant neo-hippie tone when faced with the business protocol of most hospitals.

As characterized by the movie, hospitals are businesses that – not unlike hotels – are more interested in filling beds and turning them over and, typically, if a woman’s delivery does not fit within a certain window of time, doctors perform escalating levels of “interference” from synthetic hormones to major surgery in order to prompt the delivery of the child.

Probably most shocking are the films statistics regarding c-sections in the last 10 years – which have seen a dramatic increase. In some hospitals, the highest number of c-section deliveries spiked at 4:00 in the afternoon and 10:00 a night. A clear indication – they claim – that doctors and hospitals are not about seeing a woman through a natural process, but treating pregnancy clinically, as if it were a disease. Practices that put both mother and child at risk and have lead the United States to the second worst infant mortality rate in the developed world.

The film doesn’t spend it’s entire time lobbing shocking examples of the medical system’s failures at you. It balances things out by following several women down the path of their deliveries, which brings the film a real sense of humanity. Typically disturbed by the graphic footage of deliveries I’ve seen on television in the steril surgical environment of hospitals, births became much less shocking and violent than pleasantly surprising and relaxed in the context of home births.

At the same time, the film does not dismiss what doctors do completely. The film’s director, Abby Epstein, became pregnant during production and had planned on an at-home birth before her midwife determined that the baby was breach and she need to be rushed to a hospital. So even for someone advocating a certain line of thinking, the value of professional, medical care is a still an important factor.

More than anything else, the film inspires couples to ask more questions about their options rather than accepting the authority of medical professionals with blind faith. There is a time and place for hospitals. But, by in large, going to a hospital to deliver a baby is overkill. A woman’s body knows what to do.

The Business of Being Born is currently in limited release, but keep your eyes open for it later in the year.