The Mama Sherpas is a feature-length documentary film about women receiving their maternity care through midwife-doctor teams.We follow nurse midwives, the doctors they work with, and their patients over the course of two years to provide an investigative lens into how midwives work within the hospital system.

Anchoring the documentary is Producer/Director Brigid Maher who in 2008 gave birth to a 7 pound 15 ounce baby boy via caesarian section, as a result of an induction one week after her due date. Little did she know, the cesarean birth would take her down a grueling road to recovery. In 2011, pregnant with her second child, she couldn’t imagine recovering from another C-section while caring for a newborn and 4 year old. Maher sought out a hospital midwife in hopes of having a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC). With the help of a midwife, she successfully gave birth to a 9 pound 10 ounce baby girl, Josephine. Maher’s inspiring delivery and recovery fueled an intense desire to educate expectant mothers and fathers about the role midwives play within the hospital system.

Introducing the film’s narrative is midwifery patient Mariah who is attempting her second vaginal birth after cesarean in the same practice Maher had her daughter. Mariah finds that her experience with midwife Whitney empowers and helps her heal from the trauma of her first birth; however, the question remains if a VBAC for baby number three is possible.

At Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, midwives train midwifery students as well as work in public health care facilities assisting women on welfare. Expectant mother, Jackie, and her husband are deaf and hearing impaired. After almost ten years together, they finally conceive a child. During Jackie’s labor, she must focus entirely on the interpreter and midwife on duty. When the baby’s heart rate descends and she’s rushed out of the labor and delivery room, the midwife and second year midwifery student, Anna, manage Jackie’s care, leading to a safe vaginal delivery.

Additionally, the midwives at Baystate work with refugee communities to provide them with care and sensitivity as they navigate their new life in the United States. Dahabo, a Somali immigrant, recently transitioned from a refugee camp in Ethiopia to Springfield. Now, pregnant with her fourth child, she receives the harsh news that she has placenta previa, a potentially dangerous condition, that will require a cesarean section. Midwives work with doctors and care for Dahabo during her pregnancy and provide support during surgery as she gives birth to a healthy, baby boy, named, “The Lucky One.”

Dahabo’s story weaves us back to Mariah, who at 40 weeks, is getting prepped by midwife Whitney on what to do when she goes into labor. This intimate exchange between Mariah and midwife Whitney highlights the significance midwives bring to the birthing process prior to delivery.

The story moves to Alexandria, Virginia, where midwives work with doctors in a private practice to provide care for women from low to high-risk pregnancy. Maher follows three expectant mothers as they prepare their homes for their new children. Young mother, Kayt, endeavors to have a safe birth of her first child with limited interventions. Stay at home mom, Kathryn, prepares to give birth to her second child with a planned epidural and a midwife delivered birth. Marathon runner, Emily, continues her training regimen as she too prepares to give birth to her second child, unmedicated, using a pain management method known as “hypnobirthing.”  In the meantime, Kayt reaches full term and has a successful, unmedicated birth welcoming daughter Harper as her husband and family cheer.

Kayt’s successful birth brings the spotlight back to Mariah, who at seven days past her due date still hasn’t gone into labor.  Will she need to be induced?

Finally in Yolo County, California, public health midwives work with the rural poor, illegal immigrants and women recovering from substance abuse to provide primary care and support during their pregnancies. The midwives are supported by Sutter Davis Hospital’s unique model that supports women from all economic backgrounds to have the same level of care: a midwife, a birthing tub, and a doula. Public health care patient, Juanita, gives birth to her third child, in a birthing tub, with her twelve year-old daughter catching her little sister. Juanita’s story is juxtaposed with that of Ashley – a mama having a breech birth baby. The late realization of a bottom-down birth causes drama as mother and doctor weigh risks of a vaginal delivery.

Moving back to Washington, DC, Midwife Whitney meets Maher’s two and a half year old daughter Josie.  It’s the first time Whitney has seen Josie since Maher’s six week postpartum visit.  The story transitions to the hospital where Mariah, now in labor, is hoping for a successful vaginal birth of her son.  With the help and support of midwife Whitney, Mariah catches her second baby boy born after cesarean. The film ends with Mariah greeting her new son, “hey buddy” and holding him in her arms.

Capturing such intimate, dramatic scenes between midwives and the women they care for from pregnancy through the birth of their children creates an intensely, compelling documentary that connects audiences to the midwives, women and their stories. Interweaving personal story lines with four groundbreaking midwifery hospitals, Maher uses direct cinema techniques to reveal how the midwifery model of care – inherently woman-centered – improves outcomes for mothers and babies.

Ultimately, The Mama Sherpas showcases the critical role midwives play in women’s lives across the country as well as how they’re making a difference on the front lines of poverty and beyond.

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