A Labor of Love
For Diana Paul, birth is an inside job.
Twenty-eight years ago, when Paul was pregnant with her first child, she knew she wanted to give birth in the comfort and privacy of her own home. But with only three licensed midwives in her state of California and no doctors willing to attend a home birth, it seemed impossible. Paul's husband, who studied contract law at Harvard, poured over the state's statutes to figure out their options.
“So my husband read the law and said, ‘It looks as though if we had the baby by ourselves, we wouldn't be prosecuted,’” Paul recalls. “I was really peeved when I heard that word, ‘prosecuted.’ Right there, I stamped my foot and said, ‘That's what we'll do.’”
Paul did give birth to her first child in her house, with only her husband attending. The experience was such a success she went on to have her second and third children out of the hospital, as well.
Wanting to help women experience the power of natural birth, Paul later became a practicing midwife in Massachusetts and began unobtrusively videotaping some of the home births that she attended with a Sony 900 camera at her hip.
“I could still keep in conversation with the mother and not have it be a big distraction,” Paul says of her setup. “Not everyone wanted to do this, of course, but there were some women who really wanted to share their experience. That was always really special to me: those women for whom it wasn't just to document it for themselves but also to share with others.”
In 2000, she founded Sage Femme and produced her first professional film, Birth Day. The documentary portrays the peaceful home water birth of Naoli Vinaver Lopez's third child. The video, executive produced by Paul, was artfully shot by Lopez's father, Georges Vinaver, with a small hybrid Sony camera. Paul, Tara Alexander, and Frank Ferrel completed establishing footage and follow-up interviews using Canon XL1 and Sony 900 cameras. The piece was edited by Jacob Eidsmoe of LaunchPad in Watertown, Mass.
The documentary is now part of the Museum of Science, Boston's permanent birth exhibit. Paul submitted the piece to the museum after seeing there were only videos of hospital births displayed — one a Cesarean section, the other featuring an episiotomy.
“Children were fainting. It was the best birth control you could imagine,” she says of the museum's first video installations. “I wrote to them and said, ‘Because 80 percent of the births in the world happen at home, would you like a home birth?”
Paul launched Sage Femme, which means “midwife” in French, and www.homebirthvideos.com, which sells VHS and DVD copies of Birth Day and other birthing documentaries, because of the need for U.S. women to see images of natural birth.
“We were down [in the United States] to 1 percent of births happening out of the hospital,” she explains. “And what percentage of those wanted to have their birth videotaped? Very few. I wanted to show that it was a beautiful thing.”
Birth Day has since screened at six U.S. film festivals as well as at other venues around the world.
Paul is currently working on more documentaries, including Midwife's Rap, which tells first-person stories of midwives in the United States and around the world, and The Doctor Said What?, which features interviews with eight doctors reporting their views on hospital and home birth. She sees the videos as teaching tools to be passed along from woman to woman, whether through health education classes or in private living rooms.
Sage Femme also gives free movie nights, offers speakers for conferences, and collaborates with nonprofits.
Even though Paul has now attended and videotaped numerous births worldwide, she says her personal birth experiences are still her greatest teachers.
“What I've realized is that my own experience is the most telling. It will always be my most profound guide,” she notes. “It taught me — and I could really appreciate this attending births — how individual each birth is. Each woman gets her own script, and it comes from the Creator, and she's the one who has to listen to it and do it.”
For more information about Sage Femme, visit www.sagefemme.com.
Kristinha M. Anding is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. Email her at