From left: Executive Producers Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein; Director/Producer Brigid Maher; Co-Producer Kari Barber and Associate Producer Kelsey Marsh. Photo courtesy of Jenny Quicksall Photography

From left: Executive Producers Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein; Director/Producer Brigid Maher; Co-Producer Kari Barber and Associate Producer Kelsey Marsh. Photo courtesy of Jenny Quicksall Photography

Nearly four years after having a VBAC delivery attended by a hospital nurse-midwife, CMSI co-director Brigid Maher’s social impact documentary The Mama Sherpas: Midwives Across America premiered this week at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, CA and at the UCSF Nursing School in San Francisco, CA. Executive producers Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein (The Business of Being Born) were in attendance.

The premiere events were organized to raise awareness about barriers to midwifery practice and specifically brought light to California AB1306, a full practice authority bill currently pending in CA legislature.

Maher’s work building partnerships throughout the production of the film was apparent at the premiere events, which were attended by hundreds of people, including dozens of nurse-midwives, and sponsored by the Pregnancy Awareness Month, American College of Nurse-Midwives, California Nurse-Midwives AssociationLucina Maternity Foundation, UCSF Department of Family Health Care Nursing, Bini Birth, The Pump Station & Nurtury,MotherLove, Medela and Every Mother Counts.

“Developing partnerships throughout the film’s production was incredibly important. We have been focused on social impact from conception, and now that the film has been released, we are immediately seeing it being used as a tool by organizations working to improve maternity care for women,” says Maher.

The film depicts collaborative care models between doctors and midwives at four hospitals in the United States. The film features a diverse range of birth experiences, including a vaginal breech birth, a VBAC birth (vaginal birth after cesarean), a medically necessary c-section and a water birth at Sutter-Davis Hospital paid for by Medi-Cal, California’s low income health care system.

Barbara Boehler, a certified nurse-midwife featured in the film who has been practicing at Sutter-Davis Hospital for 34 years, said in the Q&A session following the premiere that “the midwifery model of care makes sense, and it doesn’t just make sense for white middle-class women.” Boehler added that “collaborative care doesn’t mean a doctor is there looking over a midwife’s shoulder, it means that everyone brings their best experiences to the table to provide the best care possible for patients. That’s what collaborative care is, and that’s what it can be for women across the country.”

In a panel discussion featuring the midwives, doctors and mothers from the film, the on-the-ground challenges of expanding access to midwifery were discussed, including the shortage of midwifery education programs, insurance coverage limitations and hospital level policies.

The film’s social impact campaign is focused on three distinct areas: 1) educating viewers about their birth options and dispelling myths about midwifery care; 2) engaging federal, state and hospital level policymakers; and 3) educating medical and nursing students on collaborative care models. The campaign will include measurement and assessment at every phase.

“There is solid evidence that family-centered care provided by midwives results in better outcomes, and expanding access to midwives for all women is an important social justice issue,” says Maher. “In our work at CMSI, we are working to bring light to this and other social justice issues affecting women and girls.”

The film is screening across the country this summer.