Movie Review: Birth Story

by Tess Duncan

Birth Story is a compelling documentary that tells the story of Ina May Gaskin and her husband Stephen, who began a flourishing farming commune in Tennessee in the 1970s. “The Farm” began when Stephen, a spiritual leader and orator, was asked to go on a speaking tour around the U.S. The couple’s friends and fans of Stephen’s speeches asked to join them on the tour. Ina began teaching herself how to deliver on the tour when the pregnant women riding with them went into labor. When the tour ended, the group planted itself in Tennessee, where Ina and Stephen founded an alternative directive community named The Farm.


As the film progresses, Ina demonstrates the importance of her profession and the necessity of midwifery in women’s lives today. Ina and the midwifes of The Farm believe strongly in the spirituality of the process, as it relates to Stephen’s spiritual teachings practiced on the farm.  The midwives are intensely dedicated to eliminating fear in the process of birth, prioritizing the woman’s needs and comfort level during the event. In addition, the documentary raises thought-provoking questions about the rising number of Cesarian sections and the often unspoken dangers associated with this major abdominal surgery. While Ina admits that sometimes C-sections are necessary, she believes they need only be performed when required and discusses the difference that the “spiritual midwifery” methods makes in a pregnant woman’s experience.


Birth Story gives its audience a fascinating and informative look into midwifery and its place in modern medicine. Directors Sara Lamm and Mary Wigmore also portray the spirit of sustainability that lives on in the former Farm members with images of Ina planting vegetables and freezing blueberries for the winter, and another midwife picking berries in a field. Ina May Gaskin is an inspiring Renaissance woman who truly understands hard work, self-reliance, and the female body. The women of The Farm’s stories are awe-inspiring and teach the viewer a great deal about what birth experience can be, as opposed to what it is assumed to be (that is, extremely painful and unpleasant). Although The Farm is no longer a functioning community, Ina and the midwives are fighting to keep midwifery alive and thriving by training young, aspiring midwives.  Throughout the film, we see Ina giving speeches about these prevalent issues and a hopeful tone emerges toward the end when we witness a new midwife successfully deliver a baby. The film makes the viewer think twice about the deep significance of these women’s knowledge and practices, begging the question, “Will midwifery soon become a lost art?”


We certainly hope not. Even if a midwife delivery isn’t for you, Birth Story shows that the Farm midwives are an extraordinary group that believes passionately in the enormous strength of all women.


Birth Story opens at New York City’s IFC Center on January 16th. If you don’t live in the NYC area, hop over here to check out other screenings!

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