“We want women to be inspired, to feel courage, and to have confidence in their bodies. We want the general public to have a new, viscerally powerful experience of the Midwives Model of Care and to see Ina May’s work as relevant to birth in ANY setting–home, birth center, or hospital. We want to help preserve some of the incredible skills that great midwives have worked hard to learn, and we want to document an important part of women’s history. Also, we hope that people will come away thinking about how much women can accomplish when we work together.”
–Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore
Ina May Gaskin’s first book, Spiritual Midwifery, has been passed from pregnant woman to pregnant woman, touching hundreds of thousands of women and families since its publication, nearly forty years ago. In 2006, a Brooklyn friend passed the book to filmmaker Sara Lamm, who was expecting her first child, with the words, “This is the ONLY book you need to read.” She in turn passed it to another filmmaking friend, Mary Wigmore. Both Los Angeles-based filmmaker/mothers found the positive stories to be a great relief in the midst of the many fear-driven birth stories in our culture, and they loved the photographs and graphic design of the book too, so when doula/ childbirth educator Ana Pula Markel introduced Ina May to them in the Fall of 2009, a new film project was born.
Sara and Mary’s partnership throughout the making of Birth Story was key because they were both mothers with young children. They traveled to The Farm many times over the course of the two years they were shooting, often with some or all of their young children in tow (an infant, and two two-year-olds). They relied on doulas, husbands, friends, and each other for support, and were grateful to be making a film about midwives. Who better to understand the challenge of juggling cameras and breastfeeding than Ina May Gaskin and her colleagues? (Mary gave birth to her second child one week after the film premiered at the LA Film Festival—it was the fifth baby born to a member of the Birth Story production staff since the start of production—all of the babies were born without intervention.)
The filmmakers stayed at The Farm while shooting there, renting rooms and sharing vegetarian meals fresh-from-the-garden in one of the houses that appears in the film—“The Long House,” which at its peak housed over sixty people. Today the house is owned and inhabited by only two of those residents, Will and Deborah Devoursney, amiable hosts who shared their stories and photographs, some of which appear in the film. Most of the archival materials were provided by Ina May and former members of the Farm Video Crew, Leigh Kahan and David Frohman, who documented the midwives’ work throughout the 70s and early 80s.
Robin Pecknold, singer/songwriter for Fleet Foxes, composed original music for the film. Fleet Foxes’ 2011 album Helplessness Blues captured the feeling Sara and Mary were looking for—a sense of longing for community and a buoyant but rich folk sound that echoed music of the 60s and 70s but resonated in a modern way.
At first the filmmakers weren’t sure how they would ever convince a woman to let them film her birth for inclusion in the film, given the exigencies of Ina May’s “Sphincter Law,” but in the end, it turned out to be fairly simple: a trusting relationship with the midwives led them to several clients who were motivated to help others understand more about natural birth and midwifery-led care. Being “on call” for those births (one of which is seen in the film, that of Kristina Kennedy Davis birthing son Dominic) taught the filmmakers a lot about the dedication it takes to be a midwife, doula, or OBGYN. A lifelong career in birthing babies means making sure your phone is by your side, your equipment is ready, and your life is easily able to be put on hold (midwives, in dedication to their art, miss a high number of graduation ceremonies and family birthdays).
Since winning the Audience Award for Documentary at the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival, Birth Story completed a successful 84K distribution fundraising campaign via kickstarter, has been seen around the world in over 150 venues for preview community-based screenings, and it began its theatrical run at New York City’s IFC Center in January of 2013. It will be available digitally and on DVD for Mother’s Day 2013.