In 1900, 95 percent of births in the United States took place at home. By 1955, less than one percent did. The U.S. spends twice as much on maternity care as any other country, but has the second-highest infant mortality rate in the developed world. Neurological disorders in children are skyrocketing, while designer births-a scheduled C-section immediately followed by a tummy tuck-are no longer just for celebrities. Producer Ricki Lake, who gave birth to her second child in her bathtub, and director Abby Epstein (Until the Violence Stops), who became pregnant during filming, take a hard look at how birth culture in our country is in crisis, and why the solution may be midwives-who already attend over 70 percent of births in Europe and Japan, but less than eight percent in the United States. Lake and Epstein follow a New York midwife as she practices her ancient tradition with modern tools and several couples who decide to give birth on their own terms. The film simultaneously traces the obstetrics profession's century- long campaign to bring childbirth into the hospital: from blind- folds, restraints and pelvic X-rays to the disastrous histories of drugs like scopolamine, thalidomide and Cytotec and the introduction of the electronic fetal monitor, after which Cesareans went from four percent to 25 percent in a decade. As doctors become increasingly risk-averse, medical decisions are being made for all the wrong reasons and interfering with the crucial initial mother-child bond. This impassioned person- al critique of the medical-industrial complex is a plea for the rights of women and children in a system that long ago spiraled out of control.
ABBY EPSTEIN made her directing debut at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival with the documentary feature Until the Violence Stops. The film went on to play at the Miami, Santa Barbara and Locarno Film Festivals and won the Golden Audience Award at the Amnesty International Film Festival in Vancouver. It had its broadcast premiere on Lifetime Television and received an Emmy. Epstein began her career as a theater director in Chicago, where she founded Roadworks Productions and premiered works by Eric Bogosian, Patrick Marber and Mike Leigh, earning multiple awards. Returning to New York in 1998, she became Resident Director of the Broadway musical Rent and directed the Rent premieres in Mexico City, Barcelona and Madrid. As associate director of The Vagina Monologues, she directed over 100 celebrity actresses in the New York production and then directed the national tour, for which she received a National Broadway Theater Award Nomination.