Giving Birth: Four Portraits

An examination of American birthing traditions focusing on four couples and four different types of childbirth: a standard hospital delivery with high technology and anesthesia, a Leboyer "birth without violence," a Caesarean section, and a midwife-assisted natural childbirth using the Lamaze method. The first collaboration of husband and wife documentary team Julie Gustafson and John Reilly, GIVING BIRTH illustrates the joys and pains of childbirth in intimate, video vérité portraits. Through interviews with Frederick Leboyer, Elizabeth Bing and Margaret Mead, GIVING BIRTH contextualizes emerging ideas and techniques for birthing. As Mead says, “There are cases when childbirth is surgery, but there is no reason we should take a life process and treat it always like a disease.” One of the first video documentaries produced by WNET’s pioneering TV Laboratory, GIVING BIRTH aired nationally on public television in 1976 to critical acclaim. The Scripps Howard News Service said, “Splendid… absolutely candid…The medical, physical and spiritual points of view explored.” According to John Cashman of Newsday, “Men should see it…Women should see it…Explicit and absolutely real.” Originally shot in ¾” Color and B & W video. Winner of "Best Video Documentary" awards at the Athens Video Festival (1977) and the Chicago International Film Festival (1977).

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00:16Copy video clip URL Title card and countdown.

00:35Copy video clip URL WNET station identification and content warning.

00:50Copy video clip URL Title. A woman gives birth and holds her newborn for the first time.

01:22Copy video clip URL A medical team performs a caesarean delivery. Subtitle, “Four Portraits.”

01:48Copy video clip URL Main credits.

02:07Copy video clip URL Video dedication. Kay holds her newly born child. Text introduces Kay and Dave.

02:55Copy video clip URL “Kay, Dave, and Dr. Bowe. 12 noon.” Dr. Bowe checks Kay’s vital functions as she enters labor.

03:19Copy video clip URL Dave talks about preparing for childbirth through educational classes and reasons why Kay will receive regional anesthesia.

03:50Copy video clip URL Dr. Bowe explains the use and effects of regional anesthesia.

04:20Copy video clip URL “Late Labor. 4:30p.m.” Dr. Bowe explains one drawback of local anesthesia in childbirth and how medical staff attempt to compensate.

04:46Copy video clip URL “5:30p.m.–Pushing.” Medical staff coach Kay on “bearing down” using breathing techniques.

05:16Copy video clip URL “Delivery Room. 6p.m.” Kay is wheeled into the hospital’s delivery room. Dr. Bowe and attending nurses thoroughly wash their hands and arms.

05:55Copy video clip URL Dr. Bowe inserts the forceps. Dave watches by Kay’s side. The medical team coaches Kay through her contractions.

06:52Copy video clip URL The baby emerges and lets out its first cry. Dr. Bowe announces, “That’s a boy,” as the medical staff hold the child up for Kay and begin cleaning the child.

07:26Copy video clip URL The child’s air passages are cleared out by suction.

07:32Copy video clip URL Kay and Dave interviewed in their living room after the delivery. Back in the hospital, nurses check Kay’s vital signs.

08:25Copy video clip URL Dr. Stanley James, Chief of Neonatology, talks about the effects of pain during labor and the role of modern medicine to help women cope with labor pains.

09:19Copy video clip URL Kay describes the anesthetic regimen given to her during labor. Footage of Kay’s childbirth.

10:12Copy video clip URL Dr. James describes the rapid decline of maternal mortality during childbirth in the last century, increased birthing practices in hospitals, and the complications that can arise during the process of childbirth.

11:37Copy video clip URL Dave talks about his experience watching his son’s birth. Footage of Kay holding her newborn baby after birth.

12:44Copy video clip URL Introduction to Mark and Eleanor Anderson and their plans for a “Leboyer” birth for their anticipated fourth child. Footage at the Anderson’s home.

13:33Copy video clip URL Interview with Mark and Eleanor. Eleanor explains her reasoning to give birth at home. Footage of children sitting around the Anderson’s kitchen table.

14:22Copy video clip URL Dr. Fredrick Leboyer, author of BIRTH WITHOUT VIOLENCE. Leboyer emphasizes that birth is not a “surgical process” but a natural one.

15:12Copy video clip URL Back at the Anderson home. Mark explains the economic reasons for choosing home birth. A title graphic shows the economic costs of obstetric care in America.

16:18Copy video clip URL Dr. Leboyer counters the medical establishment’s notion of eliminating mortality in childbirth.

17:10Copy video clip URL Dr. Steven Young, a general practitioner for the Andersons, talks about the advantages of home birth.

17:44Copy video clip URL Early labor–Noon.

18:30Copy video clip URL Eleanor, before labor, talks about the “nesting instinct” for having a birth at home. Dr. Young compares the technologies, medicine, and equipment available at a hospital and how he can use equivalents or alternatives to those devices in a home birth.

20:20Copy video clip URL “Transition–3:15p.m. (last stage of labor).”

22:08Copy video clip URL “Fully dilated–3:35p.m. (ready to push).” Eleanor gives birth to her new son. She cradles her new baby in bed with Mark by her side.

24:00Copy video clip URL “Cutting and tying cord–4:10p.m.”

24:49Copy video clip URL “Leboyer” bath. As the child is given a Leboyer bath, Leboyer expounds on his philosophy of welcoming a child into the world, what a child likely experiences when first exiting the womb and gaining awareness, being touched for the first time, and how this meets a fundamental fear of the unknown and that can be assuaged by creating a familiar sensory environment. Clips of an interview with Leboyer are shown interspersed with footage of the child being calmed by the Leboyer bath. Leboyer then explains his training as a surgeon and doctor of gynecology and his journey to discover techniques and wisdom for reducing suffering and making childbirth a process of enjoyment and peace without the aid of artificial drugs.

30:20Copy video clip URL Introduction to Lisa and Raymond Rodriguez. Lisa and Raymond take a Lamaze class at the New York Infirmary with the hopes of having a natural childbirth for their first child. The instructor, Mary Ellen McFadden, reviews breathing and mental techniques to aid expecting mothers through labor and home exercises to facilitate strength and flexibility.

31:01Copy video clip URL Dr. Margaret Mead, an anthropologist, dispels the idea of a “natural” childbirth. Instead, she says, “But there are such things as giving the mother a chance to participate in the birth.” Footage cuts between McFadden’s class with Lisa and Mead’s interview. She resists narrowing the idea of childbirth either as a disease or surgical process or as something completely “natural” without the assistance of skilled professionals. McFadden practices breathing exercises for use during labor.

33:34Copy video clip URL 2a.m.–Admitted with bleeding and mild contractions. Cut from McFadden’s breathing exercises to Lisa implementing those breathing techniques during labor. Raymond times the duration of Lisa’s contractions.

35:15Copy video clip URL “No progress in labor. 10a.m.”

36:38Copy video clip URL “No further progress. 2p.m.”

37:08Copy video clip URL “6p.m. Dr. Breindel does an internal exam.” No further progress in labor.

38:19Copy video clip URL “10p.m. Operating Room. Emergency Caesarean begun.” The baby is removed safely. Dr. Breindel, Chief of Obstetrics, explains his reasoning for beginning a Caesarean operation and why the anesthesia given to the mother would not affect the baby.

40:37Copy video clip URL Raymond expresses his joy and sees his child.

41:05Copy video clip URL John Reilly asks Dr. Breindel what he checks on during a Caesarean operation.

41:36Copy video clip URL Interview with Lisa after the birth.

42:14Copy video clip URL Dr. Mead discusses the disconnect between the mother-child attachment bond that results from surgical settings where the mother does not see the child until hours after childbirth and does not breastfeed the child. Lisa says that she did not see her baby until three days after giving birth. She describes aspects of “missing out” on the childbirth experience. Nurses mark the child’s footprint.

44:33Copy video clip URL Introduction to Cookie and Alan Ginsburg. Cookie and Alan attend a reunion of their Lamaze class at the Booth Maternity Center.

45:03Copy video clip URL Interview with Cookie and Alan about their thoughts leading up to childbirth.

45:54Copy video clip URL “5a.m. Early labor.”

46:16Copy video clip URL “Elizabeth Bing, Pioneer of Prepared Childbirth.” Bing talks about the essential need for childbirth education and partnership for reducing the suffering related to fear and anxiety surrounding the childbirth experience.

47:19Copy video clip URL Dr. John Franklin, Chief of Obstetrics at Booth Maternity Center. Dr. Franklin explains his clinic’s philosophy to facilitate the natural signs of attachment between mothers and babies.

48:52Copy video clip URL Bing discourages the use of drugs and narcotics as standard practice in labor delivery.

50:30Copy video clip URL “Delivery room. 11:30a.m.” Cookie, in an interview after the birth of her child, explains the benefits of a nurse midwife throughout the birthing process. Scenes of Cookie’s delivery with the voice of her nurse midwife, Ruth Wilf, guiding her in the background. Cookie gives birth to her baby.

56:28Copy video clip URL “Cookie’s and Alan’s Room 20 minutes later.” Post-birth.

58:40Copy video clip URL Title and credits.

59:40Copy video clip URL PBS graphic.



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