Pieces of a Woman, by Hungarian screenwriter Kornél Mundruczó, portrays the aftermath of a home birth that “went wrong” and examines the ancient battle between midwifery and midwifery, a struggle steeped in racism, misogyny and interprofessional conflict.
Since its debut on Netflix in January, the film has appeared on many must-see lists, seeing female lead Vanessa Kirby win Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for her performance.
A British study of a midwifery service in a socially deprived area of south east London, with a large proportion of ethnic minority families, showed that those who were cared for by a dedicated midwifery team had lower rates of preterm birth and caesarean section, with positive results for maternal and child health.
The film’s writing and director team based Pieces of a Woman on the story of Ágnes Geréb, an obstetrician from his home country, Hungary.
Geréb, who graduated in 1977, began delivering deliveries at a large university hospital and soon realized that she wanted to practice a form of humanized maternal care that was not popular at the time in her country.
It began by smuggling fathers into delivery rooms without permission, resulting in a six-month practice ban.
Realizing that the hospital would not allow her to practice in a way that felt respected for women’s rights, Geréb took matters into her own hands and trained as a midwife offering home birth services.
In a span of twenty years Geréb helped deliver more than 3,500 babies at home, won international awards and became an internationally renowned home birth expert.
Geréb’s practice achieved superior results for women and babies compared to many of the maternity hospitals in Hungary.
At one birth, Geréb called an ambulance to transport a patient to the hospital, something she had done dozens of times before.
This time, however, he came across a police van. Geréb was arrested and charged with attempted murder.
Obstetricians I quickly forgot that she was one of their own and started a media campaign to label midwifery as “risky and self-indulgent eccentricity.”
Globally, midwives have provided essential reproductive health services for millennia; midwifery is the original and oldest profession of mankind.
However, at present, throughout Central and Eastern Europe, institutional mechanisms are still used to hinder the practice of midwifery, creating conditions in which midwifery is possible in theory but not in practice, or relegating midwives to “helpers” without any professional autonomy.
When that doesn’t work, midwives are publicly shamed, persecuted, and in many cases criminalized for doing their job.
It is no accident that pushback eliminates women’s reproductive care options and destroys a predominantly female-led profession.
In many Central and Eastern European countries, new parents are expected to provide cash payments to obstetricians in public hospitals.
Cultural expectation creates a social contract between older men, disproportionately affecting poor women of color and, in the case of Hungary, Roma women.
The state effectively ignores corruption and tax evasion, as illegal payments cannot be reported on tax forms, to the detriment of women’s reproductive and mental health.
In Hungary, home birth is not in itself illegal, its constitution preserves the equal rights of women to give birth at home, but far-right legislators are increasingly implement policies that, according to them, “will protect women’s health”.
They have also made little public investment to improve understaffed and understaffed hospital maternity services or to make midwifery and home birth a safe and accessible option for families.
In 2010, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld the right of women to choose the circumstances of pregnancy and childbirth in the Ternovsky decision against Hungary.
Hungarian Anna Ternovszky argued that she could not benefit from adequate professional assistance for a home birth in view of the relevant Hungarian legislation.
In practice, this ruling meant that Hungary had to stop criminally prosecuting midwives and obstetricians for providing home birth services.
The case forced EU states to fund maternity care systems that protect the health and human rights of all women, supporting the professional autonomy and responsibility of both obstetricians and midwives, including support for childbirth. In the home.
States must be held accountable for their obligation to provide sustainable, accessible, community-level reproductive health services that include abortion, contraception, and maternity care.
In Pieces of a Woman, the grieving protagonist, Martha Weiss, defends her midwife before a jury.
In the case of Agnes Geréb, the ECHR affirmed the rights of her patient as a user of the service and, through her, of the obstetrician as a service provider.
We believe that it is up to everyone to advocate for reproductive choice and that includes midwifery care and home birth.
Since 2011, Human rights in childbirth has brought together lawyers, physicians, midwives, medical anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, teachers, and human rights advocates globally to establish support for and realize human rights in childbirth globally.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism