I Saw Ricki Lake Naked — And Liked It

Director Abby Epstein, left, and executive producer Ricki Lake from the film, "The Business of Being Born." thebusinessofbeingborn.com

What adolescent wrote that headline? I take the time out to attend a Tribeca Film Festival screening of a touching and intelligent documentary about the state of maternal care in America and someone sullies this serious review with a cheap knock on the film's executive producer.

OK, I wrote that headline. But in my defense, I wrote it before I saw Ricki Lake's new film, "The Business Of Being Born."

Lake and director Abby Epstein explore the intervention of modern medical practices in the birth process, which has led to alarming rates of drug-induced labor and cesarean sections performed in America. Several progressive childcare experts tout the traditions of midwifery and call for getting childbirth out of the hospital and back into the home.

Lake and Epstein, as well as several other brave women, open the doors of their pre-war Park Slope and Manhattan apartments to let cameras reveal the beauty and intimacy of a natural home birth.

When I first heard about the film I had my doubts. But the images of these women laboring in their bathtubs and on their sofas through waves of contractions are intense, at times hilarious, and often exhilarating.

But one question went unanswered: What about the neighbors? Did no one experience the banging of a broom handle on the floor or shouts from the lady in 4D, "Why don't you get an epidural already?"

I couldn't put my stereo above six in my old apartment without getting a call from the landlord. If my wife was splashing around and screaming in our bathroom we'd have the police breaking down our door.

But I digress. The film points out that around 1 percent of American births happen in the home. Presumably most women have been indoctrinated to the cultural norm that a hospital is the safest place to have a baby. Of course there may be other reasons women choose not to have a home birth; maybe they just had their hardwood floors redone. Or they're expecting a package and they don't want to risk an awkward moment with the UPS driver. Or their roommates are totally not cool with it.

The film holds little back from the viewer. But Epstein eases us into the more (how shall I put it?) vivid moments of the birthing experience. So when we see the first extreme close-up of a swollen vagina, it's part of a natural progression and not a shock.

I should point out, I was in an audience of mostly women of child-bearing age and there was still a lot of shifting in seats and peering between fingers during the delivery scenes. (The male equivalent might be watching guys in their PJs with gallon-jugs of water groaning to pass kidney stones, or a documentary on drug-free home dentistry.)

And, yes, Ricki Lake bares all. But it's completely non-sexual — like a nude beach at a senior center. And I really liked it.

Mike Wuebben has written several non-published works, including angry e-mails to former girlfriends and at least three book reports on the Judy Blume classic, "Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing." Prior to that, he couldn't read or write.

If you really want to talk, send Mike an e-mail. If it's urgent, buy an industrial-size spotlight with a W stencil and shine it into the night sky. Mike looks up regularly to check his messages.
  • Michael Wuebben

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