I just finished watching the Happy Birth Day series, a vignette of real birth experiences produced and filmed by Healthy Children Project’s Dr. Kajsa Brimdyr, PhD, CLC and Emmy nominated producer Judy Blatchford with my two- and four- year-old-daughters… I am so excited to give birth again!
For me, watching these mothers, their partners and their babies reaffirms how remarkable normal birth can be. Birth in its realness and rawness. Not some glammed-up, sensationalist reality birth show, like the ones I grew up watching obsessively.
“When you watch those other TV shows, it’s like you’re an anthropologist,” Brimdyr comments. “You’re learning, ‘In my culture, this is how we do it.’”
My first birth followed suit. Supine, legs spread, as I wailed in horror.
Then thanks to normal birth advocates like Brimdyr, I learned what birth can be. My second daughter was born differently. After Iris came earthside, I wanted to parade my new family around our neighborhood. I was so proud, so triumphant
The idea that a healthy baby is not all that matters during childbirth is beginning to take hold in our country. Google “A healthy baby is not all that matters” and you’ll find several great articles. But what does a respectful, family-centered, empowering birth actually look like? Happy Birth Day gives moms something tangible, something attainable.
“We learn so much from watching,” Brimdyr says. “And so much of natural childbirth doesn’t show up in our TV shows, in our movies, in our YouTube videos.”
Unlike their reality TV counterparts, the Happy Birth Day vignettes “entice through compassion and empathy rather than enticing through drama.”
“You fall in love with every one of these couples,” Brimdyr says. “You watch their experience and you’re drawn in. It’s amazing. Birth doesn’t need extra drama.”
When I talked to Brimdyr for this article, I argued that the majority of moms aren’t birthing in Baby-Friendly facilities nor with midwives, but she reminded me of the prevalence of midwives in our country and of our increase in Baby-Friendly designated facilities. Currently, 12.8 percent of births occur at Baby-Friendly Hospitals, which exceeds our 2020 goal.
Brimdyr’s inspiration for Happy Birth Day stems from her most recently published research The Association Between Common Labor Drugs and Suckling When Skin-to-Skin During the First Hour After Birth (available here.) The research shows the negative impact of common labor drugs on breastfeeding and babies’ behavior immediately after birth. What’s more, most primiparas mothers who give birth in the U.S. will get some sort of epidural concoction. A 2011 National Vital Statistics Report concludes that “overall, 61 percent of women who had a singleton birth in a vaginal delivery in [the 27-state reporting area] in 2008 received epidural or spinal anesthesia…”
Saddened by the results of her study, Brimdyr says that ethically she needed to offer mothers an option as to what is possible when birthing their babies.
“If I’m giving a worry, I want to give a hope at the same time,” she says. “This is what’s possible.”
The Happy Birth Day project offers a unique setup of short videos that can be rented or purchased individually.
“We want to make sure that they’re really accessible to moms, dads, grandmas and anyone who is thinking about getting pregnant,” Brimdyr explains.
The setup also makes it easy for childbirth educators to incorporate the videos into their classes. Likewise, the Birth Strategies portion of the project is a great tool for educators. The videos include much of the same footage as the Birth Stories, but it’s reorganized to showcase key concepts like movement and massage.
While I see Happy Birth Day as a great tool for parents, I also think it is invaluable to healthcare providers who have never seen normal birth.
“Sometimes you are only familiar with what is happening in your institution,” Brimdyr comments. “It’s fun to be able to see a glimpse of what’s happening in other areas.”
When Brimdyr first presented her project to Tobey’s primary midwife Louise Bastarache, CNM, NP, MS, Bastarache didn’t understand Brimdyr’s interest.
She said that because birthing mothers typically go through the same stages, natural childbirth wouldn’t make compelling enough television.
“But every mother’s experience is slightly different and every mother’s experience is amazing and life-affirming and magic,” Brimdyr explains. “To get a glimpse into this time of a woman’s life is such an honor.”
Happy Birth Day documents how partners are transformed too. It is so refreshing to see fathers as active participants during their babies’ births.
Brimdyr specifically recalls one of the participating partners.
“He was unprepared for how profound it was going to be for him,” she explains. As he retells their birth story, Brimdyr goes on, you hear his passion of realizing how important it is for him to become a father.
“That authentic passion is so important,” Brimdyr comments.
Happy Birth Day oozes with “authentic passion.” There’s no doubt you’ll be struck by one mother’s exclamation, “That’s the best feeling in the world!” after she births her baby.
Another mother describes birth as “bliss.”
“Everybody deserves this feeling,” Brimdyr says.
Watching each blissful, Happy Birth Day with my young daughters was both special and enlightening. They had so many comments and questions! Is it going to be a girl or a boy baby? What is that bucket? What’s on her arm? Where are her feet? That baby needs some milk. What is she eating? Is that the midwife? She needs a pillow. Boobie!
I’m so pleased that there is a resource like this available, so that each new potential parent has the opportunity to explore the beauty of birth.
Find out more about Happy Birth Day here!