In 1907, researchers Bernhardt Kronig and Carl Gauss combined the drugs morphine and scopolamine to induce twilight sleep in women during childbirth. Physicians in the early twentieth century in Germany used twilight sleep, Dammerschlaf, to cause women to enter a state of consciousness in which they felt no pain and did not remember giving birth. Twilight sleep was associated with increased use of forceps during delivery, prolonged labor, and increased risk of infant suffocation. Because of those disadvantages, physicians stopped using morphine and scopolamine to prevent pain during childbirth. Morphine and scopolamine were among the first anesthetics to be used during childbirth, and after physicians stopped using them, researchers searched for safer alternatives.
In 2008, Barranca Productions released a documentary called The Business of Being Born, detailing the topic of childbirth. Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein produced and directed the documentary. The documentary explores pregnancy related healthcare in the US, including the history of midwives and obstetrics. The film also discusses potential consequences of medicalized childbirth common in the twenty-first century. The Business of Being Born provides viewers with information about home-births, midwives, and the positive and negative aspects of going to the hospital for childbirth.
In 2015, the Public Broadcasting Service, or PBS, released a three-part documentary series, Twice Born–Stories from the Special Delivery Unit, hereafter Twice Born, that follows several pregnant women and their experiences with fetal surgery. Trailblazer Studios produced the film, which predominantly features two women, although it includes the stories of many women. The two main women are pregnant with fetuses diagnosed with physical deformities. One woman’s fetus is diagnosed with spina bifida, an incomplete closure of the fetus’s spinal column. The other woman’s fetus is diagnosed with an oral teratoma, a tumor of the mouth. All the pregnant women in the series went to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, or CHOP, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to have in utero surgery to correct the fetus’s birth defects. Twice Born examines the benefits and risks of performing surgery on a fetus still in the pregnant woman’s uterus. Due to the popularity of PBS, the documentary reached a wide audience and brought the topic of in utero surgery to the public’s attention.
In 2014, Big Belli, a media and social networking brand, released a documentary called 40 Weeks online. The documentary, directed by Christopher Henze, followed multiple women during their pregnancies. The film predominantly features three women, though it includes the stories of many. Throughout the film, women detail their accounts of the physical and emotional changes that occur during pregnancy. 40 Weeks provides viewers with information about different aspects of pregnancy including the importance of nutrition and hydration, knowledge about safe medications, and the possible complications that can affect a pregnant woman and her fetus.
On 26 April 2014, Gravitas Ventures released the documentary The Milky Way, a film directed by Jon Fitzgerald that compares breastfeeding in the US with breastfeeding in European countries. The film was produced by Piece of My Heart Productions and Cause Pictures. In the film, producers Jennifer Davidson and Chantal Molnar travel to Berlin, Germany, and Stockholm, Sweden, to observe how people perceive breastfeeding there, compared to in the US. Breastfeeding provides multiple benefits to both the infant and mother, including infants developing a healthy immune system and mothers recovering from birth at an increased rate. The film shows how women in the US are inhibited by limited maternity leave compared to women in European countries. The Milky Way provides viewers with information about breastfeeding in the US compared to other European countries and the impact that formula companies have on women and infants.
In 2016, Runaway Films released the documentary Vegas Baby. The film, directed by Amanda Micheli, follows three women who struggle with infertility problems as they undergo in vitro fertilization, or IVF treatment, to become pregnant. In IVF treatment, a woman’s egg is fertilized by a sperm outside of the woman’s body. Once the sperm fertilizes the egg, a fertility doctor places the fertilized egg back into the woman’s uterus. The three women in the film enter the I Believe contest hosted by the Sher Institute of Reproductive Medicine in Las Vegas, Nevada. A panel of judges chooses the winner, who is awarded a free single cycle of IVF treatment. Although only one of the women presented in the documentary wins the contest, the other two women still undergo IVF treatment. Vegas Baby brought awareness to both the infertility problems experienced by couples and IVF treatment as an alternative method for causing pregnancy.
In 2015, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) partnered with The Open University to produce the three-part documentary series, Countdown to Life: The Extraordinary Making of You. Michael Mosley, a British television producer and journalist, hosts the documentary. Along with narrating animated scenes of a growing fetus in the womb, Mosley meets with individuals around the world who experienced mutations that can arise in the womb. Introduced over the course of the three episodes, several people share their personal stories of how their bodies did not develop correctly prior to birth. Throughout the documentary, animations of fetal development and individuals’ stories about their own birth defects transition back and forth to show how a fetus develops. Countdown to Life: The Extraordinary Making of You informed the public of what happens to the fetus at the point of conception to the point of birth at forty weeks.
From February 2003 to December 2010, researchers of the Management of Myelomeningocele Study, or MOMS, clinical trial compared the safety and efficacy of different treatments for a specific type of spina bifida, called myelomeningocele. Myelomeningocele, the most frequent and severe form of spina bifida, is a condition in which the bony spinal column does not develop correctly, which causes an opening of the spine, exposure of the spinal cord, and formation of a small sac containing cerebrospinal fluid. Myelomeningocele affects 3.4 infants per 10,000 live births in the United States and is fatal in ten percent of affected infants. Investigators in the MOMS trial aimed to find a more successful treatment for myelomeningocele through different types of surgery. To accomplish that, they performed prenatal, or in utero, and postnatal repair operations in their study. The MOMS researchers concluded that prenatal repair improved motor and neurologic outcomes, such as the ability to activate and coordinate the muscles and limbs, and reduced the risk for fetal death.
In 2003, HBO Original Programming released the documentary Chernobyl Heart. Maryann De Leo directed and produced the film, which is about the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident and how the radiation from that accident has affected people living in the area. Side effects have included mental disabilities, physical disabilities, and genetic mutations. The documentary follows Adi Roche, the founder of Chernobyl Children International, a non-profit humanitarian organization headquartered in Cork, Ireland, as she interviews people who live in the areas that Chernobyl contaminated with radiation. Roche travels to mental asylums, hospitals, and orphanages to interview people who take care of the children affected by the radiation. Chernobyl Heart provided viewers with information about the side effects of radiation exposure and the long-term effects that this has on people, especially children exposed to radiation during their developmental years.
Twilight Sleep (Dammerschlaf) was a form of childbirth first used in the early twentieth century in Germany in which drugs caused women in labor to enter a state of sleep prior to giving birth and awake from childbirth with no recollection of the procedure. Prior to the early twentieth century, childbirth was performed at home and women did not have anesthetics to alleviate the pain of childbirth. In 1906, obstetricians Bernhardt Kronig and Karl Gauss developed the twilight sleep method in 1906 to relieve the pain of childbirth using a combination of the drugs scopolamine and morphine. Twilight sleep contributed to changing childbirth from an at home process to a hospital procedure and increased the use of anesthetics in obstetrics.