Stephanie Assisi, 32, knew since college that when the time came, she’d want to try for a natural, drug-free birth with a midwife in attendance. But when Assisi attended natural childbirth classes, she found the videos outdated.
“The material we watched in class was from the seventies and eighties, maybe early eighties if we were lucky,” she laughs. “I just felt like the [films] were not something that would help convince the modern woman that she wanted to go this route. It was a totally different style than we’re used to seeing in our movies and documentaries now.”
So Assisi, who had already planned to have her labor and birth experience filmed by her friend and videographer, Casey Peek, decided she would turn her footage into an autobiographical documentary. The result, Birth in Action, follows Assisi and her husband, Trevor Weaver, from the point right after Assisi’s water breaking (and her subsequent castor oil chugging) to the moments after of her son Nelson’s birth. Interviews with natural birth class instructors, Assisi’s own doula, Nicki Ryan, midwife BJ Snell, CNM, and another midwifery client are featured throughout the film, beginning with a discussion about the reasons a woman may choose to birth with a midwife, without the use of drugs, in a non-hospital setting. Assisi’s “birth team” weighs in throughout, talking about the different stages of labor, the potential dangers of intervention, and relaxation techniques.
Birth in Action trailer: VIDEO In her interview, midwife client Brittany Orahood-Paskowitz, holding her new baby, contrasts her hospital experience with her firstborn versus the birthing center experience with her newborn. She wanted a natural delivery in the hospital environment the first time around, but says she didn’t feel supported. “When you’re having a miraculous moment in your life, you shouldn’t feel scared to ask questions of the people around you,” she says. “It makes you feel really down to have someone tell you your choices are not okay or to roll their eyes.” During the film, Assisi draws from a large well of support. Her beginning contractions came on very strong, and laboring at home was painful and difficult, although she had a helpful partner in Weaver. “My water broke, then I took that castor oil and it was vomiting, the whole bit—I was already feeling so exhausted,” she says. “Even though I had taken classes, I didn’t really understand what was happening, because the contractions came on so strongly all of the sudden. I was very confused. It just really freaked me out because I had always considered myself to be someone who could handle a large amount of pain. I was really thrown off and I think, like a lot of first time pregnant women in labor, you panic early on.” Assisi went to the birthing center, but Snell told her that it was too early and sent her back home. “That’s when we decided to call the doula, Nicki, and she really talked me back into it… helping me to remember what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do a natural birth.” Assisi’s painful early labor at home stands in marked contrast to her calmer, more focusedlabor in the birthing center bathtub, surrounded by Weaver, Ryan, Snell, and midwife assistant Melanie Tongren. Weaver helps Assisi by telling her to visualize “Nelson’s little smiling face” when a contraction hits, and Ryan and Tongren calmly answer Assisi’s questions about transition and pushing. “When I got in the tub, everything started to sync up,” says Assisi. “I think by then I understood what was happening with my body, that these were the contractions, and Nicki helped me breathe through it.” The film concludes with Nelson’s birth and also includes bonus features: An expanded interview with Orahood-Paskowitz on hospital versus birth center birth, advice from postpartum doula Sabine Henrie, and Assisi’s delivery of the placenta. Assisi says she hopes her film will help normalize drug-free, midwife, and doula-attended births for women and families who may not have considered going this route. “What I’m aiming to do with my film and all my work is just to make it normal, something that the mainstream could see themselves doing,” she says. “That’s my whole goal, that people who would never really consider it, or who think that doesn’t seem safe—I really want to take a lot of the misinformation out of it.” She adds “I want husbands and partners to see that being there for the whole birth, there’s something very magical about that.” If you’d like to host a screening of Birth In Action, please contact Stephanie Assisi at firstname.lastname@example.org. The film is available for purchase on Amazon.com.
Photo: Stephanie Assisi, Trevor Weaver, and their son Nelson by