The Labour of Pain and Joy review: A revelatory and insightful look at childbirth practices - Hindustan Times
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The Labour of Pain and Joy review: A revelatory and insightful look at childbirth practices

Mar 20, 2024 01:38 PM IST

The Labour of Pain and Joy follows two Finnish birth attendants, who strive to provide better and safe conditions for women in labour.

When was the first time you heard about labour pain? The lack of knowledge or even an awareness about one of the most life-affirming experiences of human nature is alarming. The first time I heard about it was when a teacher died due to labour complications; and the details were carefully kept hidden because I was a child, and there was mourning in silence. The new documentary The Labour of Pain and Joy, which premiered at Copenhagen Documentary Film Festival this year, affirms how the birth experience affects the whole life of women. It craves for more discussion and preparation. Intimate and revelatory, this is a deeply moving documentation. (Also read: Life and Other Problems review: A strangely moving doc on age-old questions about existence)

The Labour of Pain and Joy premiered at Cph:Docx.
The Labour of Pain and Joy premiered at Cph:Docx.

Karolina Gröndahl, who shares credits for writing, shooting and directing this absorbing film, places the viewer right inside the delivery room in the opening scenes, where the midwife Kirsi is helping a woman in labour. The process is intense, and the camera sensitively captures the atmosphere of the room, where the journey in giving birth is merged in finding one's inner power as well as trusting the other person in charge. Trust, as Kirsi will later explain, is one of the most important factors during labour. "You just have to trust and dare to jump," she says. The documentary follows her process as well as her work, as Kirsi opens up about having a difficult time giving birth to her first child.

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The perspective

As tender and heartfelt the process is, there is also devastating risk and expertise required. The lack of information, that there can also be a violation of the body during childbirth (termed obstetric violence), is one of the definitive points what this documentary is trying to make. "Our system dispenses information regarding childbirth as if it was happening outside of our body," Kirsi says. This is why we also see Kirsi sitting down with other women who are desirous to join this field as a career, and talking about her experience(s).

Some women also have home births and that is completely fine too. But there exists a certain judgment about the decision to have home births as if it needs to justified to a system entirely. From here, The Labour of Pain and Joy focuses on a woman who has chosen to give birth at home. The perspective also shifts gears from Kirsi to Anna-Ritta midway (although not enough), to provide a context about the practices of home birth. There's a lovely scene involving what they would do with the placenta: should they throw it like the hospital does, or eat it like many women do. Studies show that earing the placenta can prevent postpartum depression and increases milk production. But the only other person they know who has eaten the placenta is Tom Cruise! They giggle, but the point is made.

Final thoughts

The Labour of Pain and Joy holds back at a certain structural framework, as it follows the process of childbirth with many experiences, and highlights how each one of them are different from one other. Perhaps that is the only process that can depict, with integrity and vitality, the concentrated force of such an experience. The conversations are as important here, although the documentary could have been a little more compact with the manner in which certain questions could be death with. Nevertheless, this is an important documentary which exists in all its miraculous, life-affirming force.

Santanu Das is covering CPH: DOCX as part of the accredited press.

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