Ben Shaberman wasn’t sure what to expect when his girlfriend took him to see “Orgasmic Birth”. Yes, you read that right.
I wasn’t exactly aroused by my girlfriend’s offer to see the film “Orgasmic Birth.” True, it did have the word “orgasm” in the title. But as part of the Baltimore Women’s Film Festival, I didn’t imagine it would be orgasmic in a steamy, orgiastic sort of way. In other words, it wouldn’t be porn.
It was a Friday, and Jeannie and her friends Keryl and Melanie had decided to venture downtown that afternoon to see the movie. I found it strange that this unmarried, child-free trio — with absolutely no interest in husbands or kids — had been drawn to this type of film. For me, it was a good excuse to take the afternoon off from work, and if nothing else, enjoy a big bucket of popcorn.
I see about 75 films a year, mostly in independent theaters, and have endured some pretty strange, obscure, and awful stuff. Except for the two-hour French film, “L’Heure d’été,” about a family who sits around talking about their dead mother, art, and furniture, I can tolerate almost anything. I don’t know what “L’Heure d’été” actually means, but I suspect it can be loosely translated into English as “Nothing Happens.”
When Jeannie, her two friends, and I walked into the theater to see “Orgasmic Birth,” the place wasn’t exactly crawling with men. In fact, there was only one other guy, who like me was inhaling a huge tub of popcorn. There were, however, about six women who brought their newborn babies into the theater. Normally, I abhor screaming children in movies. But it occurred to me that screaming kids in the audience might nicely augment the screaming newborns on the screen, in a harmonic sort of way. Think: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young as infants in a hospital nursery. “Four Dead in Oh Hi Oh. Waaaaaahhhhh!”
So, Jeannie, her two pals, and I settled in with refreshments, popped our feet into the stirrups, and waited for the orgasmic birthing to begin. Jeannie gave me a dirty look when I instructed her to hold my hand and take deep breaths.
For the record, I have never had any children of my own. A broken rubber is the closest I have ever come to that eventuality. Maybe once I saw a PBS special on child birth, and witnessed the actual delivery process — the crown of the head popping out of the….well, you know how it goes. I do remember in fifth grade watching a film of a German shepherd delivering her puppies. Actually, it looked like the poor dog was giving birth to jellyfish. As you can tell, when it comes to childbirth, I am still pretty much at a fifth-grade level.
There were no ads or previews or dancing hot dogs to lure you into the snack bar before the showing of “Orgasmic Birth.” The film just started. And frankly, all I remember of the opening scene was a very pregnant woman, half submerged in a kiddie pool, in a heightened state of pleasure, her mouth agape and her eyes rolling back into her head. And for reasons I still can’t exactly explain, I began to laugh uncontrollably. The scene reminded me of the sublime comic irony found in a Saturday Night Live skit. It was a woman giving birth, yet at the same time, it looked and sounded like porn. I was so hysterical, I couldn’t catch my breath. I began to cry because I was laughing so hard.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to regain my composure, so I bolted for the exit, crushing feet, knocking into legs, and spilling popcorn, as I hurried my way down the aisle to safety. As I made it out into the lobby, giggling and snorting, one of the Festival’s organizers blurted to me, “Leaving so soon? A little too much for you?” I just wiped the tears from my eyes as I gasped for air.
For the record, I have walked out of a movie once or twice before, but not after just 30 seconds. And never has a movie I’ve seen ever started with a climax. Usually, they work up to it. Usually, there’s a chase or some dramatic dialogue. Even a guy needs a few minutes of foreplay.
So I scanned the other theaters to see what movie I could watch while Jeannie and her pals watched the orgasmic birthing, and came across something with Robert De Niro. He was just what I needed during a crisis of manhood like this. The Godfather. The Deer Hunter. The Taxi Driver. A guy’s guy. The film was called “What Just Happened?” in which De Niro played a movie producer going through the trials and tribulations of life in Hollywood. It was a perfectly entertaining story, and there was nothing messy like childbirth; just infidelity, drug addiction, and a little funeral near the end.
Surprisingly, Jeannie waltzed in about 20 minutes into “What Just Happened.” Apparently, there were technical difficulties for “Orgasmic Birth,” they had to stop the film, so she decided to see “What Just Happened to Ben?”
We all reconvened in the theater lobby later on, and ultimately, neither Jeannie nor her friends were upset at me for my less than respectable behavior; they actually applauded me for going to the women’s documentary in the first place.
In the coming months, I continued to wonder about “Orgasmic Birth” — both the movie and the concept. I thought if a woman could have an orgasm while delivering a baby, wouldn’t word about this get out? Wouldn’t this be a special on HBO? Wouldn’t they be lining up to go to the Clinique de Erotique to have their kids? Forget the epideral; show her the vibrator!
The nagging curiosity didn’t go away, so on a slow and chilly Sunday afternoon in early spring, I Googled “orgasmic birth” and found that I could rent the movie online for $1.99. Call it my version of March Madness, I decided to watch the flick and get answers to my questions.
Ultimately, “Orgasmic Birth” was about the pleasures and benefits of natural childbirth, and I have to admit, the film was very moving for me. It showed 11 different couples having children, and each birth was amazing. Watching these little babies pop out of their mother’s vaginas just blew me away. What a way to enter the world! I even teared up a few times. Equally amazing were how supportive and loving the husbands and boyfriends were. I was convinced they all had frontal lobotomies.
In a nutshell, the film nobly challenges misconceptions (no pun intended) surrounding childbirth and reveals that birth is something a woman can enjoy rather endure. According to the experts interviewed in the movie, 90% of all births, those pregnancies at low risk of complications, could take place at home, and that in a natural and comfortable setting, the birthing process can be a highly pleasurable and fulfilling experience for the entire family. They added that clinical births, with their requisite anesthetics and inducements, actually inhibit the flow of hormones that make birthing easier. I’m no expert, but I suspect they have a point.
As for orgasms, there were none after the opening shot that sent me running for the exits, though they did return to that same woman’s delivery at the end of the film. It wasn’t clear to me how likely it was for a woman to orgasm during delivery, but ultimately, that really wasn’t the main point of the movie. A more apt title might have been “A Pleasurable Birth,” but surely fewer folks would have turned out to see it with that less dramatic moniker.
I am proud of myself for having gotten so much out of the film. It didn’t exactly inspire me to rush out and start planting my seed, but it definitely upped my appreciation for what women and couples go through in having their kids and the miracle of childbirth.
And hopefully, the next time I’m caught by surprise at the movie theater by shocking subject matter, I can ride it out and avoid another premature evacuation.